This past Sunday HBO aired the first episode of their sweeping adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic “Game of Thrones” from the gargantuan “Song of Ice and Fire” series, of which the long awaited fifth installment is slated to hit bookstores this spring. The show was greenlit all the way back in 2008 and I’m guessing that the timing is not coincidental. This show is heavily hyped and is either viewed as a return to form for HBO, being called a medieval equivelent of “The Wire” or conversely being lambasted for stooping to the levels of Showtime or Starz by using fantasy and sex to sell a series ala “Spartacus.”
The difference of course is in the quality. The source material, which is dense and intriguing and admittedly a chore to get through at times, provides a rich tapestry to draw from that can only lead to some of the most complex and well developed character arcs in modern television if handled properly. I’m not sure how the series will progress, in all honesty. The series is named after the first book. Will each book be it’s own series? Will they keep the title and adapt each book as a season of the series? What are the odds of Martin finishing book six by the time they need to adapt it for the screen? All these questions linger in the back of my head but for the moment they are irrelevant and the important thing to focus on is the quality of the show as it is presented.
The first episode begins with three of the Night’s Watch venturing into a wall-to-wall white forestscape and happening upon a massacre believed to have been perpetrated by the “White Walkers,” a group of beings who have supposedly been long gone for centuries. We don’t ever get a clear look at these mysterious fellows, what we get is a fairly bloody decapitation and some ominous glowing blue eyes leading into the opening credits sequence, which are actually pretty damn impressive in their own right, showing us the map of Martin’s world and giving us at least a little bit of a look into the geography of the seven kingdoms.
What follows is a whiz-bang introduction of what will probably one of the largest ensemble casts in recent years. Sean Bean plays Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark, guardian of the northern city of Winterfell and we are soon introduced to his family which is a large group in and of itself, something that seems common when writing a noble family. We are then introduced to the royal entourage including King Robert and his wife Cersei (played by 300/Terminator’s Lena Headey) and her twin brother Jaime. The King is an old friend of Eddard’s and wants for Stark to become his right-hand man at his court in King’s Landing, a position of which Eddard is reluctant to take. The King also proposes that Stark’s elder daughter marry the prince so that their two houses would be joined in marriage, something King Robert had hoped would happen if he’d been able to wed Eddard’s sister as he’d hoped. We soon learn that the sister was murdered by the villainous Viserys (played by Harry Lloyd who creeps me the ever loving f##k out and always has ever since that episode of Doctor Who that he was in) who lives in exile across the sea and intends to marry his sister off to a vicious barbarian lord named Drogo, here played by Conan-to-be Jason Mamoa with gutteral intensity one would expect of a barbarian lord, in the hopes of utilizing his army to invade the kingdom he was forced to flee.
That last paragraph should paint the picture of exactly how intricate the storyline of this series is going to be, especially considering that I didn’t even cover all the bases. That was a tertiary outline of events. Not even bothering to get into Cersei and Jaime’s machinations, Stark’s bastard son, the very strong implications of rape in Drogo’s wedding night escapades, or the unexpected cliffhanger ending. The storytelling in this show is first rate in every sense of the word, and if they stay close to the novel in that regard the adaptation should be fine.
The only problem I did have with the first episode was that the direction seemed overly pedestrian considering the sort of sets and surroundings they had to work with. It all felt very flat most of the time, with the opening in the forest and the discussion between Stark and King Robert in the crypt as the two standouts that broke the mold. That having been said, it’s easily overlooked when you realize how engaging the story is. They could have shot it all in a dark room somewhere and it still would have been enthralling.
Do yourself a favor and give the show a watch. If fantasy isn’t your thing, you don’t need to worry as this isn’t really comparable to most high fantasy. It’s the political machinations and the character arcs that make it so amazing, not battles with dragons or other such tropes. Seriously, you will not be dissapointed.