I normally stick to anime and the occasional manga when it comes to this blog, but I thought I’d make an exception for “Game of Thrones” for a couple of reasons. One, it’s relevant to my interests, being an epic fantasy adaptation. It’s also HBO, which has a sterling track record (mostly) when it comes to quality. It’s also quite the topic in the news these days. The latest kerfuffle is a New York Times review which calls it “Boys fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.” Whatever the hell that means. So what’s the verdict?
I haven’t read the books – though I plan to now – so I can’t really speak to the series quality as a pure adaptation. But as TV the premiere, “Winter is Coming” is damn good. For starters, it looks and sounds as phenomenal as you would expect an HBO series with a huge budget to look and sound. It puts me in mind of “Rome” in that it has the sheer production quality of a lavish feature film, and there’s no reason to suspect that won’t continue with what HBO is spending. None of that would matter if the show weren’t entertaining, but I was hooked pretty much from the start.
I won’t recount the enormous plot – for one, I hardly think I have a grasp of it myself, and there and plenty of places to read detailed (watch out for spoilers) summaries online. The natural inclination is certainly going to be do compare this to “Lord of the Rings”, and it doesn’t hurt that Sean Bean (Boromir) is the closest thing to a main character here. He’s wonderful, BTW – just as he was in LOTR. And there are other reasons to make the comparison because, of course, every epic fantasy of the 20th and 21st Centuries is to some degree derivative of Tolkien. We even have a dwarf here, but in this case it’s a real one – Oscar nominee Peter Dinklage. On the whole, though, this a darker, uglier, more violent and much more sexed-up world than Middle Earth. The premiere starts off with children nailed to trees, gives us a beheading within 10 minutes, and moves smoothly onto the rape of a 14 year-old on her wedding-day to a warrior savage.
Politics is the order of the day, here. Seven kingdoms, intrigue, incest, murder… We’ve pretty much got it all, and things are going from bad to worse as winter descends on this land. And it’s not winter like we think of it, apparently – terrible undead things called “Whitewalkers” start roaming about and the winter lasts hundreds of years. I told you it was a big story. Fortunately, we have a great cast of – mostly British, naturally – actors to pull all this off. Bean is the heart of the story here, as the King’s (Mark Addy) faithful right hand Eddard Stark. But the story is going to focus not just on the two of them but on his wife, their seven children (one a bastard), several other royal families, and the aforementioned warrior savages. This is slated for a 10-episode run, but if it’s popular – and I suspect it will be – HBO will probably pony up the dough for more. There are 4 books in Martin’s series and they aren’t petite – they don’t call it “epic” fantasy for nothing. This is going to require a commitment if you plan to see this story through. But based on the first episode, my sense is that it’s a journey worth undertaking.
EDIT: Well, that didn’t take long. HBO has already renewed the series for a second season in 2012, likely another 10-episode run based on the Martin series’ 2nd book, “A Clash of Kings”. Game reportedly pulled in about 2.2 million viewers in it’s premiere, with a total of 4.2 for three airings Sunday night.