Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 1 – March 31, 2011
Status: First Season coming to HBO April 17
I had the privilege to get an advance screening three weeks before the premier of the first episode of the new HBO miniseries Game of Thrones. For those of you living in a hole, it’s based on the stunning (and huge) series of novels by George R. R. Martin called the Song of Ice and Fire. The TV series is named after the first volume, Game of Thrones, and the first season covers the first novel. Currently there are four books to the series, with a fifth due this July.
These are arguably my favorite fantasy books (read them all twice) and fantasy is my favorite genre. I’m not reviewing the books specifically here, but it is worth noting that they are stupendously good. Political, dark, complex, and full of very human characters. While this is fantasy, set in a sort of medieval-England-like kingdom, the fantasy is light. There are no armies of trolls and orcs. Just good old fashioned human sex and violence and a touch of the magical.
Which makes it perfect for HBO, and if the first episode is any indication they have done a stupendous job of adaption. I was blown away. I wanted to like it. I love HBO dramas so I hoped I would. But I’m critical by nature, so I was thrilled to find it exceed my expectations on all accounts.
This is a very faithful adaption of fantastic source material, but the series also plays to television’s strengths. The production is lavish, landscapes, sets, costumes, food, everything looked tremendous. And sounded tremendous. I saw a 35 mm print on the big screen with a serious sound system. After the titles alone (gorgeous) and the pitch perfect music I had goosebumps.
The casting/acting is also fantastic, and combined with the great writing is going to make this ambitious show work. These books have a lot of characters, and very well written ones. There is no big Sauron-type villan, there are only conflicted people. The Lannister brothers are awesome. My favorite character is Tyrion, the Imp, brilliant, sharp-tongued youngest son of the land’s richest (and meanest) Lord. This is a tough role, and made even more difficult by the inherently limited roster of actors short enough to play it. Peter Dinklage is off to a tremendous start, stealing every scene he’s in. Awesome, and cudos Peter! Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is also superb as his taller and prettier older brother Jaime. Both are complex characters, and it’s good to see them nailed out of the gate. The Stark daughters and Jon Snow were also great, plus Sean Bean dominates with all the powerful gravitas that Ned Stark deserves. Emilia Clarke is gorgeous and appropriately vulnerable as Daenerys Stormborn — I’ll be interested to see if she can handle the character changes in store for her. Some seriously good casting across the board.
The writing is also great. This episode pounds through a LOT of material. A lot of introductions, and a good amount of setup and action, and it does it without feeling rushed. I’ll be curious to see how viewers who have not read the books cope with the staggering array of characters. It seemed to me that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff (they had the writing credits) did an incredible job unfolding the parallel threads of the book’s many viewpoints into one seamless narrative. They’ve linearized the story a bit, which actually makes it clearer. I hope that newbies give these characters a chance to unfold because as startling and brilliant as the first novel/season is, it’s really with books two and three that things really get crazy.
The atmosphere was perfect too. Detailed and moody. Filmed mostly in Ireland and Malta (across the narrow sea) it feels authentically “celtic.” And there is the now HBO standard hefty dose of nudity. We’ll also see what the producers make of some of the books’ more sordid moments — which are one of the things that make them such a dark pleasure to read. Now the only problem is that I have to wait a couple weeks for the second episode!
Congrats HBO and George R. on such an awesome job. Now just make sure to green-light the next 6 or so seasons!