The daunting task of turning an epic fantasy series into a merely huge fantasy TV show has been met with bravery by the makers of Game of Thrones. And by bravery, I mean that writer-producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have taken George R.R. Martin’s capacious, wordy prose and adapted it with fidelity for his large fan base. Which in turn poses a challenge to an HBO-size mass audience: Will viewers who haven’t read the tomes A Game of Thrones is the first volume in a series titled A Song of Fire and Ice be willing to follow multiple story lines, each packed with numerous important characters, set in a vast imaginary realm? Will a big audience care to know Westeros from Winterfell, Cersei from Sansa?
I think they will. The series stars actors as striking and varied as Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent), and Lena Headey (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). Just as impressive, it nearly always maintains a narrative pace that keeps you engaged even during the talky parts, and Game of Thrones is loaded (like the books) with talkiness. After all, it requires a helluva lot of explanation to lay out the geography of the kingdoms of Westeros, as well as the various families and dynasties that are fighting for control of this world. True, there are stretches where Thrones gets mired in visual clichés from other fantasy or medieval-times dramas. I could have done with fewer sword fights and tedious slogs through ancient mud. (The series was filmed largely in Northern Ireland.)
Game of Thrones has had a lot of advance hype for being full of sex and violence, and I don’t want to deny the pleasure those things can bring us in entertainment. But the sex ’n’ violence is also better grounded in plot and motivation than in other recent TV efforts such as The Borgias and Spartacus that’s where working with quality source material helps a lot.
If I had to single out a few performances among many excellent ones, I’d say that Bean’s Lord Eddard Stark, an almost Hamlet-like, brooding man of action, makes a wonderful pairing with Stark’s old friend, now the king, Robert Baratheon (Still Standing’s Mark Addy). Among the women, young Maisie Williams is a little star in the making as Eddard’s plucky tomboy daughter. And if Dinklage doesn’t get an Emmy for his clever, rude Tyrion Lannister, I’ll be gobsmacked.
You may find yourself beginning Game of Thrones and getting lost in its thicket of who’s related to whom and remembering what grudge one clan holds against another, but I implore you: Stick with it. Free your eyes to take in the spectacle, and your brain will magically start following the intricate storytelling. And there’s a magical realism to Game of Thrones. A-