I watched it this morning but i was half asleep and spent more time analysing changes and pre-empting dialogue than enjoying it. I'll watch it again tonight and hope I can forget about the book and try and take it on its own merits.
Mostly it was pretty faithful and hit a lot of the important story beats. Unfortunately the quality and how well it got things across seemed to vary and i suspect that new viewers will be lost and bewildered for large portions. Some of that through how dense the story and backstory is and how many characters there are but also there's a few bad choices in dialogue and exposition which unecessarily muddy things.
****Here be spoilers ****
I'm going to go on a bit so apologies in advance.
There's probably 3 scenes in this portion of the book that stand out to me. First Bran and Ned's talk after the beheading and the speech about bravery which didn't make it in (although i hope it is just moved about to not have Ned spouting wise quotes like a confucius handbook). Next is the scene in the crypt between Robert and Ned which is one of my favourite sections in all the books. It has so much history, character development foreshadowing and hinting that i suppose it was inevitable it would be pared down. Unfortunately i'd consider it butchered.
I know it pretty much off by heart so maybe i'm unfairly critical but the changes didn't make it easier to understand what was going on or cut out extraneous stuff. Instead they made things even more confusing. For example:
Robert says "in my dreams i kill him every night" which is odd as it's not clear who "he" is or why Robert is saying this. Admittedly Ned's next line makes it clearer ("the targaryens are gone") but the books line of "I vowed to kill Rhaegar for what he did to her" seems to me a lot better. Even if they replaced Rhaegar for the more nebulous "him" it would make the scene and what it's trying to convey clearer for newcomers, giving a bit of history and motivation for only a few words more. The link to Dany works quite well and could still be included ie:
R:"I vowed to kill him for what he did to her"
R:"Only once! In my dreams i kill him every night."
then *as in the show*
Trying to imagine myself as a new viewer i'd be utterly lost as to what is going on. We get Robert was "engaged" to Lyanna but no idea of what happened, why Robert has a vendetta against them or even who the Targaryens are. That this important scene got cut in half by a utterly pointless visit to a brothel to see.. well tits and ass. The entire sequence does nothing more than establish tyrion likes whores which does nothing to build his character. I understand that this scene would be very wordy and exposition heavy but it's important and assuming your audience will have the patience to sit through good dialogue between two strong actors is what makes a show adult, not nipples and blood. It must be hard to get all the stuff in the book into the show so why add something of no merit. It's not even like they need the nudity as there's Dany breasts in about 2 minutes anyway. When i see what was cut it makes me slightly bitter
The Jon Tyrion scene is also greatly reduced but serves as a much better intro to Tyrion's character with his comment about his status as the Queen's brother being his "greatest accomplishment". The great line "All dwarves are bastards in their father's eyes" is there too. I missed Ghost and the other pups but i understand they were hard to train so fair enough.
The wall looked great and the intro was very atmospheric and spooky. They got the feel right. Unfortunately they never conveyed the passage of time or distance well so it seemed like the whole thing happened almost in the shadow of the wall. I guess that isn't so important but it will probably throw up inconsistencies. The other big problem here was the others or white walkers as they primarily call them (presumably because of lost) weren't particuarly well introduced or differentiated from the wights. The White Walker seemed like a cross between an orc and a predator and was brutish rather than elegant and intelligent like the book. It all made it a bit more generic horror movie than i'd have liked.
Tbh i'm slightly suprised they kept this intro given how little it has to do with the tone of the show. It puts the fantasy elements front and centre but i can't say i'd have overly missed it.
Intro of Stark kids was decent and managed to get across a lot of personalities quickly without feeling too forced and Winterfell looks great. Maybe an aerial shot would have better demonstrated the size and reinforced the godswood was inside the castle as the scene in it seemed to be off in the woods. Not that it matters much just that it would confuse newcomers slightly and failed to convey that bit of history/world building it was intended.
Theon and Robb's relationship doesn't seem as close as in the book. Admittedly they only had one proper exchange but Robb snapping at Theon over the wolfcubs puts them at odds much earlier than in the books. It also suggests, by the wording, Theon is loyal to Ned rather than has a brotherly connection to Robb. I guess this makes sense given what happens and might mean there's less to be done later to explain Theon's betrayal.
I was suprised how much i liked Lena Headey as Cersei. She may not be the Cersei of the books but it's good and fitting. That scene where she "compliments" Sansa on her dress and the look on Catelyn's face was gold. Probably my favourite moment in the show. Tyrion aside the added scenes were pretty good. Having the incest scene's dialogue moved to KL worked fine and the Sansa character was perfect as the dreamy teen.
Still got tons more to say (like how the Dothraki looked like Xena extras) but i'll stop for no