Monday, April 18, 2011

TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Episode 1 (Winter is Coming)

If you’re like me, or the hundreds of other fans pulled in by the fantasy series A SONG OF FIRE AND ICE, then you were watching the premiere of its small screen adaption, GAME OF THRONES, last night. Based on the works of acclaimed writer George R.R. Martin the show deals with the labyrinthine and Machiavellian manoeuvrings of the fictional realm of the Seven Kingdoms.

Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King is dead. Without his presence Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), leader of the Seven Kingdoms, has no one he trusts to help him rule. In desperation he turns to Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), Warden of the North and an old comrade at arms. Baratheon, along with his Queen, Cersei Lannister (Lena Heady), and much of his court, travels to the northern reaches of his realm in order to persuade Stark to join him.

Initially reluctant to leave behind his home and his family; Eddard is finally persuaded to accept the position when he receives a letter from Arryn’s wife, Lysa, claiming that her husband’s death was the result of the Queen’s political machinations.

Last night’s episode was all about setting the table for Things to Come. After giving viewers a little taste of the mysterious threat that will come to define this series, events were mostly confined to introducing characters, establishing the complicated relationships that govern them and giving the audience a bit of back story to help provide them with a grounding in the politics of the Seven Kingdoms.

The problem I have with this series is that I lack the objectivity to do a proper review. As a devotee of the books I’ve been quietly salivating in a corner, for awhile now, waiting for this thing to make it to the screen. And the truth of it is no matter how well they’ve adapted the original source material its never quite going to be able to live up to the world I’ve constructed in my mind.

So yes, after the title sequence ran and the novelty of the thing began to wear off there was a little bit of a letdown with the final product, call it PHANTOM MENACE syndrome if you want. And even when it was apparent that the producers had managed to put a quality program on the screen I still couldn’t tell you if it was any good.

I mean, it seemed good. The acting for the most part was compelling, if a tad restrained. (It never hurts anything to put Sean Bean on screen for an hour and let him chew the scenery.) And Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau were excellent as the devious and lecherous brothers Lannister. But as the cold and calculating Cersei Lannister Lena Heady came off as flat and shrewish and rest of the extended cast did little to distinguish themselves from one another.

Visually the entire series is quite fetching. It’s sometimes hard to believe that HBO, a company that redefined itself in the modern age on the back of the grimy and gritty SOPRANOS, would branch out into genre work. But they’ve managed to create a rich and detailed setting that would stand up against any fantasy series out there.

The writing was strong as well. I can’t recall any off phrases and for the most part the dialogue seemed to be quite in tune with the feel of the books. But once again I found myself pulled out of the show, mentally comparing the adaptation to the original.

What had been kept in?
What had been taken out?
Had they moved some scenes around, and why?

I was more concerned with the architecture supporting the show then I was window dressing I was supposed to be enjoying. Whenever a new character popped up onscreen I’d run-through what I knew of their timeline and what was in store for them. After awhile it started to feel like watching a movie when someone has given away the twist ending. It was pretty clear that there wasn’t going to be any surprises for me here and that was disappointing.

It was too bad and entirely my fault.

While I was able to appreciate GAME OF THRONES on its technical and artistic merits it lacked the one element that would have really drawn me in as a viewer, not knowing what happens next.* Anyone I’ve spoken with, who has read the books first, really seemed to enjoy it.

But I’d be curious to get the POV of someone who hasn’t been exposed to the books to see what they think. Because let’s face it, GAME OF THRONES isn’t really meant for the hardcore devotee. Unless they do a total hatchet job we’re almost certain to tune in. HBO hopes to sell this thing to the casual viewer, because that’s the only place where they’ll be able to make up the necessary viewership numbers to keep the show on the air.

So what are their thoughts?
*AMC’s adaptation of THE WALKING DEAD was so fast and loose that I never knew what to expect, which was great because it allowed the whole show to stay fresh and new for me. On the other hand, I still wanted the producers to hit certain key touchstones of the comic. So I’m a hypocrite when I need to be.


  1. My husband hasn't read the books and after watching the show yesterday he looked at me and said, "If you hadn't been there to explain what is going on, I wouldn't have known what the hell I was watching or what it was about." He was VERY confused and it resulted in lots of "okay, pause the show and let me give you some background" discussions. He keeps saying, "I hope HBO realizes that this show really doesn't seem geared toward people who have never read the books. It looks like it will be awesome, but I wonder how many people who haven't read the books will stick on past episode 1."

    I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I was rather disappointed about some bits of it. I think you reviewed the episode nicely.

  2. Hodor!!


    No seriously. I dugs it.

  3. It would have been RERALLY helpful to the casual viewer to have a pre-script of text like:

    "The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros were conquered by Aegon Targaryen. For centuries, the Targaryen dynasty ruled from the Iron Throne in the capital city of King's Landing, until Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King, was deposed by Robert Baratheon with the help of his allies, Eddard Stark and Jon Arryn. XX years later, Robert sits the Iron Throne, but Westeros has grown restive. Far to the North, beyond the barrier of the Wall, an ancient and unseen threat stirs - Winter is Coming."

  4. Same impression for me. I have read the books and still I felt no scene made any sense without the book knowledge. I also had to explain a lot to my wife, but I also felt cheated by the changes of the script. The start suggested some weird I Am Legend revenants instead of cold creatures that can shatter steel. The wolf pups weren't shown much, either :-( I doubt they will be able to make the viewer empathize with the characters if they don't allow for scenes that can explain complex emotional relationships.



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