One of the unsurprising themes to emerge over the course of these reviews is the disruption of viewer expectations. This is obvious with Ned’s death, as most shows don’t kill their heroes so abruptly. But I think even that doesn’t get to the source of the issue. Game of Thrones’ first season holds its shocking power because it kills its patriarchs; it kills the exact sort of people who survive other shows and other stories.
Consider: there are four major deaths in the first season. In order, they are: the rightful King Viserys, the sitting King Robert, the Hand of the King, and the Great Khal, Drogo. Tywin Lannister aside, you could make the argument that these are the four most powerful/important men in Westeros and Essos. They are the patriarchs who are supposed to be leading the story. And they are the ones who end up dead.
Most TV shows prefer to kill the weak. They abide by unspoken rules that if a character is important, he or she is too important to die. Certainly some dramas do kill off their cast members, but far more often than not, they’re side characters, while whoever the main core is moves through until one of the actors bails. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, abides by the rule that the more important a character is within its world, the more likely he is to be a target.
Perhaps the best metaphor for this in “Fire and Blood” occurs in the show’s oddest scene, when Pycelle speaks to Roz and then prepares to meet the Small Council….