Back in early July I began reading through George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series again beginning with A Game of Thrones hoping to get caught up and read the newest installment along with everyone else. I suppose it is a bit of a testament to how dense those books are or how slow a reader I am that it took me until about a week and a half ago to get to the fifth installment released earlier this year entitled A Dance With Dragons. I actually had planned on doing full reviews for each book but then I got lazy and decided that it would probably be best just to do one for the latest entry. Believe me, you don’t want to read me gush for 2,000 words about how amazing A Storm of Swords is because that may be my favorite novel of all time. Seriously one of the most compelling pieces of literature I’ve ever read, not just in the fantasy genre. Seriously. That thing is the balls.
I barely made it through the fourth novel, A Feast For Crows, because my favorite characters didn’t get any spotlight during that particular installment and some of the new characters given focus were less than interesting to me. Also it falls into one of the classic missteps of writing where a character knows less than the audience and never quite catches up until the very end. The fact that we know how pointless their quest is makes it difficult to get through those chapters. There’s a lot less of that from A Dance With Dragons. The book runs alongside A Feast For Crows chronologically for a majority of the book but handles the characters who didn’t get covered in the last book; Bran & Arya, Jon Snow, Tyrion, Dany Targaryen, et. al.
Let me be perfectly frank, the Dany chapters can be a slog. I know. But there is enough intrigue there to keep you going to the more riveting chapters. Anything with Jon Snow, Tyrion, Bran or everyone’s new favorite villain Ramsay Bolton is great. I’m not going to mince words. It’s great stuff. There is a lot revealed here that sets up everyone to the point where we can begin moving to the ultimate climax. Basically, the shit will hit the fan in the next installment in ways we haven’t seen since A Storm of Swords. There are hints of it here but the real nitty gritty is going to come in the final two books.
I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t read the books but there are some major reveals that will make people geek out and the novel ends much stronger than A Feast for Crows. It’s not near as good as A Storm of Swords but then again it would take a miracle to surpass that particular book. That thing is phenomenal.
Now let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another five years for the next book.
Whatever reservations I may have had regarding this series with the first episode were cleansed with this week’s installment. To say that they knocked it out of the park would be a massive understatement. This episode SOLIDIFIES what makes the series a standout and that is the vivid nature of the intrigue between the Stark and Lannister families. The seething discord between the two needs to feel genuine for the series to work and I’ll be damned if by the end of the episode they didn’t establish that element as firmly under control. The little son-of-a-bitch playing Joffrey exudes a level of pretentious elitism that you cannot help but despise and young Maisie Williams portrays Anya Stark with a state of stone-willed confidence that she seems poised to become the breakout star of the series.
I cannot truly explain how well produced this show is. It’s been quite a while since I looked at the source material. I was fairly young and only at the beginning of my foray into fantasy literature. The book was overwhelming to the point that I never ventured onto the second novel. I plan to rectify that soon, as the show has more than rekindled my interest in the books. But no matter how faithful it is or isn’t to the source material, the show stands on its own as an amazing work of television excellence. The actors all portray their characters with refreshing zeal and it never comes off as overly hokey or disorienting as some fantasy adaptations can and often do. I haven’t felt this engaged in the – of a show on television since The Wire or Deadwood. I suppose HBO has some secret that I’m just not privy to.
The one element that keeps cropping up is the focus on sex, sex, all the time, sex. The King reminisces about past sexual conquests with starry-eyed glee. Drogo’s new bride learns the secrets of carnal pleasure in a pseudo-sapphoerotic display of lesbianic ho-mance. The major crux of the conflict comes as a result of a young boy witnessing some vividly portrayed incestuous relations for Crom’s sake. All of this might seem like they’re going overboard in attempts to draw in the over-sexed adolescent male demographic but at the same time none of the sex in this series feels gratuitous to me, instead coming from an organic point of view. Sexual norms and taboos are part of what drive the political landscape of the seven kingdoms. We learn in this episode that the Night’s Watch conscripts rapists into their ranks as an alternative to punitive castration. The prevalence of sex in this series is not an attempt to titillate, in most cases, but it is instead an undercurrent that is always in motion to provide the narrative with a tie to the basic nature of human existence.
In the simplest possible terms, this is a series for mature audiences with themes that run deeper than many will give creedence to simply because of the genre. I hope that the stigma wears off and more converts flock to the show because it really is a true gem of modern television and I’m saying that with only two episodes having aired.
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.