Unless you’ve set up shop under a proverbial rock or happen to be an extraterrestrial form of life just joining us, you must’ve already heard of HBO’s most recent, awesome-as-expected offering, Game of Thrones. The first season now being officially over, the time is ripe for an overall review that should also serve as an introduction card for rock-dwellers, aliens and latecomers alike.
The TV series is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire medieval fantasy saga. It would seem, going by the feedback provided on various internet boards, that the move from the book(s) to the screen was accomplished successfully and the devoted readers are pretty pleased with the way things have been handled. Yours truly must confess she doesn’t count herself among those people previously familiarized with the story and the characters, but the show is strong and enticing enough to be judged on its own merits and not in comparison to the source material, legitimate though such analogies may be.
The narrative of the first season is driven by multiple storylines that sometimes converge and other times run parallel to one another, but the way things are going it seems they’ll all inevitably clash in the second season to generate unfathomed levels of awesomeness.
Most of the action takes place on the fictional continent of Westeros, ruled by King Robert Baratheon, who’s based on King’s Landing, the capital. His ascension to the throne was aided by his wife and her relatives, the powerful and extremely unpleasant Lannisters. Robert’s oldest, most trusted friend is Eddard “Ned” Stark, who lives down in Winterfell with his wife Catelyn and their five children. Ned also has a bastard son called Jon Snow who is set to join the Night Watch, a brotherhood of celibate (ahem) soldiers who guard the far northern border of the territory. Here a giant ice wall stands against the intrusion of outsiders, the most interesting of which are the Others, a supernatural race of beings who have allegedly been extinct for years (key word: allegedly). There’s also a major storyline that happens on Essos, another continent across the sea from Westeros. Essos is where the Targaryen family, the previous rulers of Westeros, took refuge after being deposed by Robert Baratheon. By the way, the Targaryens have mystical ties with dragons and a thirst for vengeance and getting back what they believe is rightfully theirs, quite the combo.
The basic idea behind Game of Thrones, then, is that of a land being torn both by internal struggles between Houses and external menaces. The scheme is pretty classic and if you pick it apart until nothing but the bones show, you’ll find it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. In a contest execution will always trumple originality though, and there’s no questioning the series is exquisitely executed. It’s a story that’s been told before under other disguises, but it’s so well told the familiarity is actually welcome. As viewers we may find ourselves capable -up to a certain extent- of guessing what might happen next, yet the slight predictability doesn’t diminish the enjoyment, it somehow heightens it because we feel privy to the joke. There’s well oiled story-telling cogs at motion here, they take a while to get going (the first three or four episodes might seem somewhat slow-moving) but it’s infinitely entertaining to hear them whir. You have to give props to a show that can be thoroughly engaging without having to constantly rely on cliffhangers and twists. That’s not to say Game of Thrones doesn’t have surprises in store, but they’re few and very neatly placed, so that their significance is all the greater.
The best part, however, and the main reason to keep coming back to the show week after week, are the characters. Again, most of them are archetypes and if you’re more or less versed on medieval fiction, you’ll instantly recognize the role each one’s meant to play. The king’s fat, lazy and much too engrossed in his past glories to notice the conspiracies and negotiations going on under his very nose; Ned (played by the ever reliable Sean Bean) is the stoic family man willing to uphold honor against all odds; Daenerys Targaryen, a classic example of the legitimate heiress who’s lost everything but will rise from the ashes. Some of them are loveable and some of them are completely repelling, but either way they remain wholly interesting and compelling despite their more than recognizable traits. Though the promos and posters for the first season would have you believe the main focus is placed on Ned, the truth is it’s hard to pinpoint a single leading man or lady here: the ensemble cast is altogether excellent. Naturally everyone will have their favorites but a few remarks have to be made about Tyrion Lannister (embodied by the amazing Peter Dinklage), the quick-witted dwarf who always manages to expertly talk himself out of trouble; Arya Stark, Ned’s adorable and engaging tomboy daughter; and Jon Snow, part outcast, part burgeoning hero who will likely play some very cool cards come season two.
There’s no need to go into aspects such as cinematography, score, wardrobe and overall production values because, let’s face it, this is HBO so it’s all forcibly first-rate. The important thing is that Game of Thrones has heart to spare where it matters most – plot and character development and the season ended on such a mouth-watering note that Fall 2012, the scheduled date for the airing of the second one, certainly can’t come fast enough.