I'm a horrible reader. Simply awful. In the Reading Olympics I would get the old-gum-wrapper medal. My lack of attention forces me to reread passages, I can't keep track of characters, and staring at letters that form words that form sentences that form too much reading puts me to sleep in an instant.
That all changed when I plowed through George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, the first book in his fantasy novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire. I began reading the tome upon hearing that HBO was adapting it for television, and one thought stuck in my mind as I navigated the complex tale of royalty and power struggles: There's no way they can put this awesomeness on-screen. No way.
Snap! I owe producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss a sincere apology. What they have done with Game of Thrones is more than just respect the source material and Martin's vision; they've brought the impossible to life and changed the fantasy genre—in both television and film—forever. A new bar has been set. Good luck to the next guy who tries to make a swords-and-sorcery show for people who aren't fans of swords-and-sorcery shows.
I'm assuming that most of you haven't read the books and are just breaching the world of Game of Thrones for the first time, so I'll approach these recap-analysis articles with that in mind. Okay, let's do this.
Game of Thrones does a fantastic job of not insulting our intelligence, a rare feat in television these days. There's no heavy-handed exposition. The characters' traits (i.e. Arya being a tomboy) are delivered in quick, easy-to-swallow doses—yet the the characters are developed appropriately with each carefully chosen line of dialogue (much of it lifted or at least paraphrased directly from the book). The first main question, "Who killed Jon Arryn?" isn't presented along with a pre-established lineup of suspects who are then shot down like targets at a carnival shooting range. This is rich, intelligent fantasy that your children definitely should not be watching.
Casting has long been one of the faithful fan's biggest questions, and there isn't a weak link in the bunch. If there's a character in the show you don't like (*cough* Sansa *cough*) it's probably because you aren't supposed to like said character. In fact, some members of this immense cast are meant to be downright despised—does anyone out there NOT want to put a dagger through Viserys' eye? Likewise, our feelings of love for mischievous Arya (Maisie Williams), of respect for honorable Eddard (Sean Bean), and of loathing for bitchy Cersei (Lena Headey) are products of fine acting all around. Special recognition goes to the children, many of whom are performing in something other than a community theater production for the first time. Bravo to Williams and Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Arya and Bran, respectively) especially.
The show is not without its cheesy factor, but all fantasy stories have a stench of Limburger to them. It's inherent to the genre. Did Jon, Robb, and Theon have to stand around shirtless while being primped for King Robert's arrival? Probably not. But in this world, that's how it happens, and there's a certain sense that all of the show's sexuality is necessary. Some viewers may consider the sex gratuitous, but it's really not; sex is important to the series because it's used as a weapon by the female characters and it's a weakness of the horny male characters.
In Sunday's premiere, Daenerys' scenes were probably the most shocking. It was uncomfortable to watch her horrible brother Viserys undress her and run his greedy finger across her nipple—and that's exactly how the producers wanted us to feel. it was cringe-inducing to see Khal Drogo undressing her near the sea (a very romantic move, in Dothraki terms), and that uncomfortable feeling is what's consuming Dany. She was walking around Pentos in a sheer dress to emphasize the fact that that she is merely an object of Viserys' disgusting plan. This is not gratuitous. This is effective.
The same should be said for the show's violence. It's not thrown out there like a music video (as it is in Starz's Spartacus: Blood and Sand), and it's not hidden as it is in family-friendly fantasy. People are getting their heads cut off by the White Walkers or whatever those things are are because that's what the White Walkers do. This show isn't joking around; if it wants us to be scared, it's going to scare us. Violence is a part of that, and Game of Thrones has found a perfect balance between giving us what we need to see and what we want to see.
HBO has thankfully taken the time to get the details correct. The story's four major locations are done splendidly: The snow-blanketed North, the bleak grounds of Winterfell, the lavish interiors of King's Landing, and the barren and beautiful landscapes of the continent across the Narrow Sea really transport us from our humdrum surroundings. It's not quite as good as a tropical vacation, but as an escape, Game of Thrones offers a close second. The costumes are appropriately simple except where armor and weapons are concerned. Did you see Eddard's gorgeous sword? Or Jaime's platemail and scabbard? Details, details, details. Beautiful details.
As for the end-of-episode revelation and cliffhanger, your eyes did not deceive you: That was Jaime Lannister (a deliciously arrogant Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) banging his twin sister Cersei, Queen of Westeros and wife to King Robert. Disgusting! And scintillating! And poor Bran! Mom told you not to go climbing, but you did—and now you're falling several stories and about to hit the ground.
How badly do you want the next episode to start? Did this year's most-anticipated new series meet your expectations?
Also: Those of you who've read the books, please do not post spoilers in the comments section!!!