Say what you will about Game of Thrones — and we have — but it’s one of the strongest shows on television with regards to its sheer continuity. Give or take discarding an entire character or two (ahem, Gendry). If you revisit its very first season, you’ll find references and plot points that only recently became relevant in its sixth season. Eagle-eyed book readers probably spotted them, but for non readers who haven’t undergone a re-watch in a while, you might have missed these details.
In “Lord Snow,” the third episode of Season 1, Jaime Lannister tells Robert Baratheon his first kill was an outlaw from the Brotherhood. Of course, we now know that he’s referring to the Brotherhood Without Banners, which Sandor Clegane recently joined forces with in Season 6. Perhaps Thoros of Myr even resurrected Jaime’s first kill.
But when we first saw Season 1, we didn’t know the Brotherhood from the Night’s Watch from the Kingsguard. In the halcyon days when we were new to Game of Thrones and as naive as Sansa used to be, we probably assumed they were all the same. Impressively, we don’t even see the Brotherhood onscreen until two seasons later, when Arya encountered them on the road with Gendry and co.
Of course, Game of Thrones isn’t the only show to drop hints that take several seasons to pay off; Buffy The Vampire Slayer foreshadowed Buffy’s Season 5 death and Dawn’s entrance in Season 4’s “Restless,” and Black Sails foreshadowed Flint’s true motives in its first few episodes before revealing them in Season 2’s “XIII.”
But no other show can claim as long-running a payoff as Game of Thrones. Jon Snow’s mother was an ongoing question for six whole seasons. When Jon and Ned part in the second episode of Season 1, as Jon heads to the Wall and Ned heads to King’s Landing, Ned tells him, “The next time we see each other, we’ll talk about your mother. I promise.”
Obviously they never saw each other again, and the issue of Jon Snow’s mother remained an (admittedly clear) mystery until the Season 6 finale. Six seasons of build-up is a longevity no other show can claim.
And the scenes themselves echo each other in their wording, as Ned says to Jon, “I promise,” and in Bran’s vision of the past, we see that as Lyanna Stark dies, she implores Ned to raise and protect Jon by saying, “Promise me.”
Game of Thrones is at times an exercise in frustration when it botches your favorite character’s storylines (looking at Season 6 Arya, here) or when you have to wait a very long time for Winter to finally come. But its longevity in plot points is second to none. Ned Stark kept his promise, and so does Game of Thrones.