Monday, June 20, 2011

Review - Game of Thrones, Season 1

WARNING: Minor Spoilers to Follow.


After two or three episodes of jolting twists and betrayals, the first season of HBO's Game of Thrones came to a (mostly) subdued close last night with dozens of plot threads still left hanging. But you can't really fault the show for that; the season ended almost exactly as the first novel did, covering almost exactly what the novel covered. It is in fact such a faithful adaptation of the books, that long-time fans of George R.R. Martin's series will always know exactly what's going to happen next. For those who haven't read the novels, however, Game of Thrones serves as an excellent introduction to this compelling historical fantasy.


Game of Thrones, adapted from "A Game of Thrones" by the aforementioned author, is set in the fictional land of Westeros, a world where seasons last for indeterminate periods of time and dragons were once used as war machines to subdue entire nations.. Despite this and several mentions of sorcery and witches, viewers should be aware that this story is in fact very magic-lite. Don't expect Harry Potter or even Lord of the Rings - there are very few flashy effects - magic in Game of Thrones is subtle, more metaphorical than mythical in its application.

Arya wonders what she's doing at a Lord of the Rings convention.

Events prior to the start of the series see the Seven Kingdoms crown King Robert Baratheon, a rebel who successfully defeated the mad-Emperor Aerys Targaryen. The story begins just as political and civil unrest begin to sweep the land once more. The Hand of the King (the King's chief advisor) has just died under uncertain circumstances, and King Robert summons his old friend Eddard "Ned" Stark to replace him. Ned's wife, however, suspects that the Hand may have been murdered by none other than the Robert's wife, Queen Cersei Lannister and her House. Across the sea, Viserys and Danaerys, last surviving heirs of the Targaryen Dynasty, seek to raise a barbarian Dothraki army to reclaim their homeland. In the North, a sinister threat rises to engulf all of the world, with only the dwindling force of the Night's Watch and the Wall to defend against it.

Confused yet? Don't worry - this is only the most simple of background summaries. A whole mess load of other characters and plots are introduced throughout the series. Though the plot of the show follows the novel closely, there are just a few snippets of new scenes embedded into what is overall an unfailingly loyal tribute to "A Game of Thrones." These new scenes provide additional insight into characters and don't distract from the overall plot, but rather add depth and layer to already compelling storytelling. Alliances are forged, honor is tested, and backs are stabbed, all to varying degrees of success but indubitably high levels of entertainment. 

One wall to belittle them all?
You would think that the story might become incomprehensible, but it surprisingly does not. Part of the show's (and novel's) success derives from its ability to weave all of these plots together into a fascinating tapestry. While the first episode or two is a little overburdened with exposition (introducing dozens of characters, locations, and cultures in the span of 50 minutes), what follows is a deep, complex tale that is just plain fun to watch.

Writing and Acting:

Despite the seemingly countless faces, the characters are all memorable, with several that are quite easy to root for and a few more that you just love to hate. Some of these characters include Arya Stark and Tyrion Lannister. Arya is the youngest daughter of Ned Stark, a tomboy often scolded for her penchant to play swords rather than sew dresses. Tyrion (played by Peter Dinklage) is a dwarf, an embarassment for the other-wise perfect House Lannister, but he makes up for this deficiency in size with a quick wit and sharp intellect. The Crown Prince Joffrey, on the other hand, is a total douchebag to the 50 bajillionth degree. You can't help but want to smack him upside the face every time you see him, and its a testament to his child actor that he is able to pull off such a instantly despised role.

Jon Snow, Sam Tarly, and Guy whose name I don't remember.

The rest of the cast do not disappoint either; Sean Bean (Boromir!) serves as a wonderful Eddard Stark, and Lena Headey (who fans might recognize from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) plays a wonderfully manipulative Cersei. With such a large cast, the show is surprisingly adept at spotlighting each character just enough to both give viewers a good understanding of each one, while also allowing them room to develop and grow.

Bitch, please. Don't make me go get my terminator.

Game of Thrones does not disappoint technically, either. The production values are simply amazing, with realistic sets, costumes, and weaponry joining together to really immerse viewers in the Seven Kingdoms. The barbarian Dothraki language created for the show is particularly impressive, and the various actors who have to speak it do so with a smooth fluency as if they were indeed foreign savages. The cities of King's Landing and Winterfell also deserve particular praise for their attention to detail and distinct styles.

King's Landing, capital of the Seven Kingdoms


This is not a show for minors (which, being an HBO original program, is probably self-evident). Still, if you have any qualms about brutal and gruesome deaths (I'm talking throats being slit, violent stabbings, and people being burned alive), then this might not be the show for you. There's also quite a bit of squick factor, including but not limited to rape and incest, so please - don't watch this with a minor! Finally, the series tagline is: "You Win or You Die" - don't be surprised when characters - even beloved characters - are suddenly snuffed out.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Please also note that the first season does feel a little bit like a long prologue. The season finale in particular is also a bit anticlimactic after the penultimate episode's events; you're left with more questions than you began, for sure. Still, given the fact that the show is based on a seven-book epic, we can at least be hopeful that seasons 2 - 7 will sate our thirst.

I wonder if actress Emilia Clarke knew how often she would be getting naked on this show. Oh, now you're going to watch it? Pervs.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, Game of Thrones impresses as a compelling political drama splashed with just the right amounts of action, intrigue, and fantasy. Fans of the novel series would do well to give the series a look; you won't be disappointed with how well the novel comes to life. Fans of the genre should definitely take the time to watch this show. Despite some long-winded exposition, and a season finale that resolves very little, the series is an easy recommendation for any adults who enjoy a good epic tale. You win, when you watch Game of Thrones.

Recommended For:
+ Fans of George R.R. Martin's "A Game of Thrones" from the "Song of Ice and Fire" series of novels.
+ Fans of historical-fantasy.
+ Fans of political thrillers.
+ Anybody who enjoys a good story.

Not Recommended For:
- Children/Minors. Don't let them watch this show!
- People who only care about action - there is a fair amount of fighting and combat, but it is definitely secondary to the plot and story.
- If blood, violence, or squicky squick is not your thing (See the Warnings subsection).
- People who think George R.R. Martin should be working on his next novel rather than working on the TV Show. Two more books still left to be completed in the series. At the rate he's going, the tv show will be done before the novels.

Game of Thrones has been renewed for a second season. Watch the title sequence from the first below, which animates a map of the Seven Kingdoms and gives a good impression of all the major locations within the first season.

1 comment:

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