Ironic that Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin has found himself embroiled in an intardweb feud (not really) with Lost creator Damon Lindelof, seeing as his sword-and-sorcery-and-politics (-and-politics-and-politics-and-more-politics) epic is positively brimming with an enormous cast of characters and a complex web of interconnected stories and plotlines. I’ve not yet read the series of novels from which the new HBO series is adapted, but I can already tell that there are going to be at least as many, if not more, threads that will need to be woven or cut in the tapestry of this tale than there were in Lost. So Martin’s stance on that show’s narrative failures (in his opinion), as well as those of Battlestar Galactica and even Citizen Kane, theoretically set him in an awkward position of now having to seriously bust his ass to pay off his own magnum opus or draw uncomfortable comparisons.
But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here to talk about tonight’s premier, “Winter is Coming.”
As I said, I’ve not read the books (yet), and have only watched the pilot episode once as it aired, and have not done any research to particularly familiarize myself with the goings on here. So all I can comment on are my initial impressions.
First and foremost, the show is visually stunning. Locations appear fittingly alien and epic in scale, from the titanic ice wall the Night’s Watch patrol must travel beyond to enter the frozen northern kingdoms, to the vast and verdant plains of the lower kingdoms and the rocky coastland empire across the sea. Production values are duly impressive as well. Costumes and props, in particular weapons, have a very real world, lived in and functional appearance. One sword in particular, wielded as an executioners axe in an early scene, was massive and heavy, and I can’t wait to see it in actual combat.
I’m not sure what I can say about the story thus far. If I understand correctly, there was a rebellion some years ago that divided the kingdoms. Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), aided his friend Robert Baratheon (an almost unrecognizable Mark Addy) in overthrowing the king and taking the throne of Westeros. King Robert appointed Stark as Lord of Winterfell, the northernmost city of the kingdom, where he serves to protect the land from some ancient evil the dwells across the Ice Wall in the snowy wastes. But now court intrigues and the death of the King’s Hand (advisor) under suspicious circumstances have lead to Stark being offered the position. A position he doesn’t want, for it will take him away from his wife and children, and also thrust him back into the ugliness and deception of royal politics.
Part of that ugliness and deception appears to be the Queen herself, Cersei (Lena Headey) and her brother Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, for whom I’ve had an unnatural fondness ever since New Amsterdam). There is an ill-defined air of menace about the pair from the beginning, one that is made much more clear with the final scene of the episode. Also, the two share a very, VERY “close” bond to each other. So there’s that.
Meanwhile, across the sea, the surviving heirs of the old King overthrown long ago, Daenerys Targaryen (newcomer Emilia Clarke) and her manipulative, Machiavellian brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd), plot their return to power. Big brother sells his sister into a slave marriage with a tribal lord in the hopes of building an army. Daenerys is meek and waifish, and this is HBO, so there’s nudity and at least implied graphic sex. I suspect we’ll be seeing the tempering of a weapon in the spirit of the slave-bride over the course of the series, and her brother may find that she no longer shares his vision of a glorious return when the time comes.
There really are a metric TON of characters in this show, and it’s only been one episode. There’s no way I can possibly remember all of them. Everyone is good, but of those I’ve already mentioned Sean Bean is the obvious standout. The wounded majesty he presented as Boromir in the Lord of the Rings films is channeled here, though Eddard Stark seems a much more level headed warrior than was Boromir. Also, I’m not sure I can explain why exactly, but for several years now I’ve been of the opinion that Lena Headey can do no wrong. Debate if you like, but I adore her in everything she does. Here she’s clearly twisted, and there are plots behind her eyes, but I also imagine there will be backstory that casts her in a more sympathetic light. Maybe.
Her brother, on the other hand… It will be interesting to see what sort of sympathy could be cast on the character of Jaime “Kingslayer” Lannister after his actions in the pilot. Assuming that’s even something the story will try to do, I really don’t know. But I’m intrigued.
And lastly, in the category of actors that jump off the screen at you, we have the ever-compelling Peter Dinklage as Cersei and Jaime’s younger brother Tyrion. Known insultingly as The Imp, Tyrion will undoubtedly be the unexpected knife that will stab into someone or others carefully laid plans, I can just tell. In the meantime he contents himself with being the hard-drinking hedonite working his way through every whore in the kingdom. And every once in awhile dispensing some small pearls of wisdom as well. I look forward to the bond that may or may not be forming between him and Eddard Stark’s illegitimate son, Jon Snow (an early favorite of mine, played by Kit Harington). I have pictures of a high fantasy buddy flick, The Imp and The Bastard, running through my head.
Anyway, I have no idea if I’ve said anything at all worth reading in this review. In summary, the pace seems to be rather glacial, so if you suffer from American TV viewer ADD, this might not be for you. I personally like “deliberately paced” epic storytelling, so that’s not a problem for me. I’m enjoying the characters, and the cast is obviously strong. The threat (promise?) from the opening moments of the episode of some supernatural horror from the north, an army of angry savages from across the sea, and the threat of backstabbing and double-dealing in the royal court all grab my interest. The series has one of the best opening title sequences of any show currently airing.
Oh, and of course I want to see if Martin can put his money where his mouth is and actually tell a complete story with a “satisfying” ending. Bring it, George.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays, 9pm/8c on HBO.