In Game of Thrones, HBO’s new hour-long drama, the literary world of the A Song of Ice and Fire series is brought to life in a very direct translation of the first novel of the series, A Game of Thrones. The show is HBO’s offering into the recent surge in medieval themed shows, like Showtime’s historical The Borgias and Starz’s fantasy Camelot.
While Game of Thrones is fantasy, it is centered more around themes of political plotting and the pursuit of power than anything else. It draws more inspiration from the historical conflicts over feudal dynasties such as the Hundred Years War and The War of the Roses than it does typical fantasy stock.
Its power is in watching the collision of the main characters’ starkly different aspirations and world views on a stage where the stakes are high and there are no rules. And I mean no rules. Game of Thrones is a world of warfare, assassination and general debauchery where the winner of a conflict can sometimes be the one who has sunk the lowest.
The first episode of the series captured this atmosphere perfectly and thus has set itself up to be a depiction of one of more dark, but also compelling, series of fiction written in the last 20 years.The story of Game of Thrones revolves around the competition for control of the kingdom of Westeros, a massive mythical kingdom spanning a continent and enveloping seven major political factions.
Twenty years prior to the start of the show Lord Eddard Stark, played by Sean Bean, and Lord Robert Baratheon, played by Mark Addy, led a rebellion which overthrew the previous despotic dynasty, the Targaryen’s, killing almost the entire dynasty and placing Robert on the throne, in hopes of him being a more just ruler.
Things since then have gone awry, however. To solidify his rule, Robert married Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey, the aloof daughter of the powerful Lannister family, another potential contender for the throne. The marriage has turned cold as Robert has followed his hobbies of hunting, drinking and whoring more than ruling and fathering a dynasty. Ruling the kingdom has effectively fallen to the Hand of the King (think vice president) Jon Arryn, who has just died under sudden circumstances at the show’s start.
In the first episode Robert journeys to Eddard to ask him to take Jon’s place as the new Hand of the King and to bring his family with him to the king’s court. It’s a move Eddard is apprehensive over even before he learns that Jon’s death may have been far from natural, but his conviction to do what is right above all else leads him to accepting the offer even if it places him and his family in significant danger. The series promises to bring the viewer through this journey as Eddard collides with multiple plots on the throne and ultimately finds many lives at peril.
The actors and actresses all do excellent jobs in capturing their character’s personality as depicted in the novels. Sean Bean pulls off Eddard Stark as driven, realistic, and cold while Mark Addy captures Robert Baratheon as jolly, distracted, and generally blind to what is occurring around him.
So too well captured are all of Eddard Stark’s six children, whose role in the plot expands later in the series, from tomboyish Arya, played by Maisie Williams, resisting her place in the world as a princess, to bastard son Jon Snow longing for acceptance, played by Kit Harington.
And there’s many, many more characters; the series has as wide a cast as dramas like The Wire and The Sopranos, allowing the viewer to see the story unfold from multiple viewpoints while requiring them to follow multiple plots.
As someone who has read the books, it is hard for me accurately to judge the approachability of the television show to newcomers to the series. While the first episode moves fast to establish the main characters and leave the viewers with the novel’s first major twist as a hook to keep watching, it did so at a pace which introduced all the main characters properly and gave them all a good start at developing their characters to the viewers.
The show’s generally grim world view can certainly be the deciding factor as well, it’s not for the lighthearted, but for those willing to make the plunge it will no doubt wrap them in fully inside of three episodes. Game of Thrones is both a worthy HBO drama and the best new medieval/fantasy themed show on television. It translates the series to television while carefully streamlining the story to flow in the one hour format.
Game of Thrones brings to life probably one of the more deserving series to be brought to television in some time and has the opportunity to become a long running addition to HBO’s line up. Its a must watch for any fan of the novels and anyone interested in political intrigue.