SPOILERS!!! SPOILERS!!! SPOILERS!!!
I knew my wife was hooked when she gasped at the end of the first episode of Game of Thrones. It was one of the major scenes from the book and I was curious to see how it was handled. I should have known that HBO wasn’t going to pull any punches. Sure enough, Jamie Lanister pushes Brandon Stark out of the tower window after Bran happened upon Jamie having sex with his sister, Cersei who also is the queen of the Seven Kingdoms. And there you go, just another day in the crazy world created by George RR Martin. HBO made it clear this new series is going to be unlike any fantasy series or movie we’ve ever seen, least of which are all the boob shots and beheadings. No, the first episode did exactly what it needed to; it let us know that there is a kingdom in the midst of an uneasy peace and it won’t take much to upset the balance. It also let us know that the characters aren’t out of the typical good versus evil dichotomy. The King is a whoring drunk; the man he wishes to run his kingdom fathered a bastard; I already told you about the Lanister twins, but their brother the Imp might be a bigger lech than the King; the pretender to the throne sells his sister to a barbaric prince in order to gain an army. I suppose the children we meet are decent enough, but like children they don’t necessarily come off as good, but rather naïve. Speaking of the kids one of the few changes HBO made was advancing the age of the children, forced weddings of fourteen year old girls and the like don’t make for compelling television, just kind of creepy.
Other than that, the first episode was pretty much spot on, right down to keeping the prologue. I have to hand it to HBO, one of the best things they do with the series they produce is making the perfect opening titles. I know this may seem like I’m reading too much into things, but hear me out. I remember seeing David Chase talking about the opening sequence of The Sopranos. He said that he wanted it to be New Jersey. He wanted to let you know that this was not your typical New York/East Coast organized crime story, that it was unique, gruff, uncomplicated, like New Jersey. The opening sequence of Game of Thrones has the same effect. Not only does it provide a wonderful map of Westeros, but as we watch the major cities and regions of the world erupt on the map, we get an idea that this world may seem familiar, but this is something new.
In many ways, I liked the series a little more. I didn’t have to constantly keep reading Martin’s strange affectations like using “ser” instead of sir and referring to breakfast as broke fast, as in, “they broke fast with an Egg McMuffin and coffee.” I enjoy the books, but it’s not a new language and if like so many fantasy and sci-fi authors Martin is going to use the device of “the common tongue” for a universal language, then let’s just keep it common, ok? Also the great thing about visual mediums is that much of the description in books can basically be summed up with one good panoramic shot. Instead of wading through the description of a banquet that gets tedious if done multiple times in a novel, isn’t nearly as unbearable in a film. I have a feeling that as the characters travel across the Seven Kingdoms much of the actual travel time will be set to music, getting us to the city or castle that holds the next bit of action.
It was not the most action packed episode, but it established many of the major story lines of Game of Thrones, and the Fire and Ice series as well. The tension of the Seven Kingdoms is obvious as King Robert comes to Winterfell to ask Ned Stark to be the Hand of the King. (NB The Hand is kind of like a chief of staff, with a little more power and a lot more risk. After reading the books, I’m pretty sure the only way to stop being the Hand is to die or be killed.) Ned is obviously conflicted between the loyalty to his friend and the love toward his wife and children. Of course it wouldn’t be very compelling if he decided not to go, so we know what will eventually happen. Other than that we see there is a bit of a rivalry between the Stark and Lanister houses. We also get introduced to the major players in both families. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lanister is just fantastic and Sean Bean as Ned Stark is a great choice too. So far the rest of the cast seems strong as well. After the scene with Jamie pushing Bran out the window, my wife said, “I thought he was good!” So I think Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie Lanister is a good choice. I can’t comment on the children just yet. Discussing the relative merits or problems with child performances seems a bit unfair in general especially hasty after one episode. I guess it’s still my distaste for Star Wars Episode I affecting my judgment, so I don’t want to be too quick to judge.
Speaking of the kids if there is one deficiency of the series versus the books it is that we don’t see how strong the relationship is between the Stark children. We get some idea of what the children are like and where they will be in the story, but the bond that is developed in the novel isn’t readily apparent in the TV show. Of course, they have the entire season to develop it more, but my guess is that things are going to progress pretty fast so the Stark family dynamics are going to get the short shrift. However, if the lack of the Stark children’s relationship is my biggest criticism, then I think we are in for a great ride.