The series starts off in a wintery forest north of a huge wall that separates the untamed north from the “civilised” land known as the seven kingdoms. The Wall was built to keep out the creatures that are supposed to emerge from the northern forests during particularly hard, decade long, winters. But they have not been seen in a thousand years and most people think of them as being just legends. However, in the first scene we see they are not. Undead creatures with a hatred for all living things. The first few minutes shows dismembered bodies of men, women and children and then one of the undead beheading a ranger from south of the wall on a scouting mission. Harry Potter this ain’t.
Most of the series concerns three families. The dour but noble Starks headed by Sean Bean (Surely he must be a dab hand at the swordplay at this stage.) The Lannisters headed by Lena Headley. She is queen to Robert Baratheon, a once proud warrior and friend of Ned Stark (Bean) who is now gone to seed. He has no interest in his royal duties or his marriage-of-convenience wife Cersie. She also despises her husband and is having an affair with her twin brother….. yep, you read that right. The other family is a brother and sister: Dany and Viserys Targaryen. They are the last of their family. Their father was the previous king. He and all the rest of the family were killed when Robert assumed the throne. They fled to another country across the sea deep to the south. Viserys is dying to get his throne back and marries his sister to a local tribal chieftain in exchange for use of his large tribe in regaining the crown.
The fantasy elements are kept to a minimum. The creatures behind the wall are only briefly seen throughout the season, magic is mentioned but is never seen and seems only to be the appliance of science and medicine. There once were dragons but they are now thought to be extinct.
Instead season one concerns the rivalry between the Starks and the Lannisters and the scheming of Viserys.
The big draw (and criticism) of the series is the reliance of sex and violence. Initially it almost became a parody of itself. All of the adults seem to get naked at some stage in the show (Prompting critics to nickname it “Game Of Bones”) and the violence in it can be extreme for a TV show.
The other big draw of the series of books (And, as the viewers of the series are finding out) is that you genuinely do not know what is going to happen next. Alliences are formed and betrayed almost weekly and nobody is safe.