Thursday, March 1, 2012

TV Review: Game of Thrones (revised) (2011-????)

This article posted at Big Hollywood (LINK).

With Season Two of HBO’s Game of Thrones starting on April 1st, this is a good time to review the series to give you a chance to catch up. You may also recall that I reviewed this before and didn’t like how it had started. Well, I’ve changed my mind. To bottom line it, Thrones is a gripping series, but you have to give it time to grow on you.

Game of Thrones is based on the book of the same name by George R.R. Martin. This is part of his epic fantasy series called “A Song of Ice and Fire.” First published in 1996, Thrones won lots of awards in 1997 and has since been turned into several games. But it wasn’t until January 2011, after HBO announced the series that the book finally hit the New York Times bestseller list.

The series stars Sean Bean (Ronin, LOTR) as Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark, and it revolves around the political intrigue which surrounds his family and several rival families, most notably the Lannister family. One of the producers has jokingly described the series as “The Sopranos in Middle Earth,” and in some ways that’s a good way to describe it. Indeed, the show involves murders, plots, betrayals and family rivalries. And like The Sopranos, the show is highly unpredictable. People you don’t expect will get killed. People you trust will betray their friends. And your opinion of the characters will change over time.

Nobody highlights this better than Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), the dwarf brother of Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey from 300). Dinklage plays Tyrion as a vile, arrogant monster of a human being. He’s also a bit of a joke. But as the series progresses, Tyrion becomes much more sympathetic and, strangely, he earns your respect despite his evil behavior. In fact, Dinklage steals the show and Tyrion easily becomes the most compelling character.

The plot is Sopranos-like too. It is complex, nuanced, and there are a great many characters. This is why I cautioned you above that you need to give this show time. There are several major storylines and then a half dozen additional minor storylines, and it takes a couple episodes before the show develops a rhythm. Once it does however, the show does an excellent job of keeping all these different stories moving and gives you lots to care about.

I would not, however, compare Thrones to Middle Earth for several reasons. For one thing, the sets, while excellent, are not fantasy sets. You will not see incredible castles and stunning landscapes. Instead, you get a more “historically accurate” feel from this show, i.e. lots of wood construction, furs, torches, and a “brooding ‘til ye can’t brood nay more” atmosphere. There are fantasy elements, but up to this point they have been rather few and far between. In the east, where the last survivors of the albino Targaryen family have fled, there is the prospect of a dragon. The Targaryens are seeking the help of the Dothraki, a group of barbarians led by Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa of Stargate Atlantis and Conan), and have in their possession dragon eggs. In the north, you have an incredibly large wall, guarded by the Night’s Watch, who are tasked with keeping supernatural creatures out of the realm. These creatures apparently thrive in winter, and winter in this world can last for an indeterminate number of years and is extraordinarily cold.

I also wouldn’t compare this to The Lord of the Rings because Thrones is cruder. For one thing, the dialog in Thrones has a more modern cadence to it than LOTR. Also, there is a lot of swearing in Thrones. I’m not averse to swearing by any means, but it feels anachronistic and unneeded here, and the show could have been stronger without it. The same is true of the sex. There is a good deal of sex in Thrones, and while I have no problem with sex on film or television, it feels gratuitous here as few of these scenes add anything to the plot and they go on far too long. It feels at times like the writer/director wasn’t sure the audience would entirely buy into the story and wanted to give the audience something else to keep them tuning in. And that’s too bad because I think the time could have been better spent dealing with the complex plot.

So, to sum it all up. The sex and swearing may turn some people off. The lack of fantasy elements so far may turn others off. The difficulty in getting into the show may also stop some people. BUT.... I recommend looking past all of that. This is a solid show with fascinating characters. It builds suspense very well. It will surprise you repeatedly. And it holds a lot of promise that it will just keep getting better and better.

Finally, let me make one point. This show is truly innovative in a way. Up to now, most fantasy films have been of the “farm boy goes on quest” variety. This is one of the first to reject that formula and instead present a more complete fantasy world, where you delve into political and familial relationships. These aren’t cardboard characters playing pre-determined roles on a specific quest. These are complete people struggling to make the best of the world around them and overcome whatever challenges they face. This approach feels much more original, offers more to work with as a series, and I would venture to say, this is the future of fantasy.

23 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

I posted this as BH yesterday. So feel free to join the conversation over there or feel free to comment here if you prefer....

DUQ said...

Andrew, Thanks for the review. I don't go to BH much, but I am shocked to hear about Andrew Breitbart. He will be missed. RIP

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, It is bit of shock. He was very young. Only a year older than me actually. Life can be too short.

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, It's interesting that you changed your mind. Any other films you've changed your mind about? :D

Doc Whoa said...

Also, shocking news about Breitbart. RIP

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, There are probably a couple. I should do a "revised opinions article"! ;)

I'm going to do a tribute to Andrew B. later at the main site. Drop by.

ScottDS said...

I haven't seen the series or read the books... but after watching the Conan films for the first time last year, I realized fantasy just isn't my genre, and I much prefer spaceships to dragons. :-)

That's not say I'll never check out the show but I find it hard to connect to this stuff sometimes.

On the other hand, it's nice to see Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage find the success they so truly deserve.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Not all genres are for all people. I like fantasy a lot, but I find it had to find good fantasy. Most of it is just so cliche or it's so poorly done that you're left wondering why they bothered.

This is a quality production. I could tighten up the writing a good deal, but all in all, it's well worth the time. I think what the series gives, which is normally missing in fantasy, is a more human element.

Paul S said...

I've been avoiding this series so far because I understand the books really go down hill after a while. Might get sucked in spite of that.

I wish, wish, wish HBO or someone would pick up the Honor Harrington saga as a series.

AndrewPrice said...

Paul, I've enjoyed the television show a good deal. As far as the books go, I'm only through 2.5 of the books at this point and I've liked it so far, but a lot of people in the comments at BH did say that the books get very depressing and stay that way for a long time.

rlaWTX said...

I read the first 3 books - long and complicated. Started off really good, then I lost interest (about 1/2 way thru 3rd book).

Don't get HBO so I'm not worried about the series...

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, A lot of people said in the comments at BH that they books get very depressing. The series is good so far.

Kit said...

On swearing, I haven't seen the movie or read the book (but its on my list).

However, I do believe in Exeter there is a little stream called "Shitbrook".

Largely because that is where the whole city put its, well, "shit".

Just about all of it.
Well, what they didn't dump in the streets.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I'm not at all opposed to swearing (or sex) but it feels very anachronistic here. These people don't just swear, they swear in modern terms. It's not as bad as Deadwood, but it's pretty much unlike any other fantasy story I've ever encountered.

Kit said...

You neglected to mention Sean Bean's role in the SHARPE series.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Fy3tSim3to

Kit said...

Ok.

I'll have to watch the show to see for myself.

I have the first book sitting on a shelf waiting to be read.

But it'll have to wait until I finish re-reading LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT.

Kit said...

Or at least until LORD OF THE RINGS.


I have decided to avoid reading any other fantasy works until I finish re-reading LOTR.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, The Sharpe series is awesome. I would have mentioned it except I wasn't sure how many people knew it so I mentioned his more famous films. Here's your link. (LINK)

I've re-read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit too many times to count! In fact, I just recently re-read The Hobbit (first Kindle purchase). Good stuff!

Kit said...

Heard good things about the Honor Harrington?

Is it good?

AndrewPrice said...

Honestly, I don't know it. But several people mentioned it at BH when this article posted over there and they all seemed to like it.

Kit said...

I know its a sci-fi novel series that can best be summed up as Horatio Hornblower as a woman in space.

AndrewPrice said...

That's about all I know as well. It's probably worth checking out. I need a month off to go through my reading list!

Anonymous said...

nice idea..thanks for sharing....

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