Friday, 31 August 2012

TV - Game of Thrones, Season 1

This is my second look at Game of Thrones, as I commented on it in May after seeing the first two episodes. Now I've seen all ten episodes of the first season so it's time for a round-up (the second season is not yet available on DVD hire in the UK).

To recap, the plot is set in an alternative medieval world with its technology, social development and politics very similar to that of the Europe of six or seven centuries ago. At the beginning, the principal difference seems to be that the seasons last for years at a time, with winter being a long period of bitter cold. Initially, there is very little in the way of fantastical elements, just hints and rumours, although these start to become real in dramatic form at the end of the first season. The main plot thread concerns the struggles among the noble families of the land of Westeros for control of the Iron Throne. Two other plot threads run in parallel. One is set overseas in the land of Essos where the last members of the Targaryen family which formerly ruled Westeros have taken refuge. The third plot thread is set on the northern border of Westeros, where an immense Wall, guarded by the Night Watch, protects the land from the frozen territory beyond, where nothing but the Wildings and the dreaded but mysterious White Walkers live.

In Westeros, Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell (Sean Bean), the northern part of the land, is called to the capital city King's Landing to take up the post of the Hand of the King. Here he finds himself in opposition to the rich and powerful Lannister family, which includes Queen Cersei (Lena Headey). Meanwhile in Essos, the young girl Daenerys Targaryn marries the warlord of the barbaric Dothraki and she and her brother plot their return to the Iron Throne. On the northern Wall, the dreaded winter is on the way and the legendary White Walkers are rumoured to be on the move.

The most significant aspect of GoT is that it takes the best part of ten hours to cover the events of only the first of the novels in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. This gives the programme producers huge scope to do full justice to the story, compared with the usual frantic compression which goes on to convert a novel into a two-hour movie. The pacing is therefore deliberate, with time taken to develop the plot and, most importantly, the characters. Even the wicked ones are given well-rounded personalities which allow viewers to feel some sympathy for their positions (especially Queen Cersei); conversely, even the most honourable of the characters faces difficult moral dilemmas. This pacing also gives viewers the time to appreciate the superb production, script and acting.

On the subject of the actors, it is interesting that most of them are little known, with the notable exception of Sean Bean. Although the actors seem to be mostly British, I can only recall having seen a couple of the others before. Most surprisingly, I had never heard of Lena Headey, despite her acting ability and considerable beauty, and the fact that she has been appearing in films for twenty years. Evidently she has resisted the usual self-publicising efforts which sees film stars constantly appearing on the front covers of magazines and in the gossip columns. A special mention is also due to Peter Dinklage who plays the dwarf Tyrion to such effect that he dominates every scene he's in; he's rightly won an Emmy and a Golden Globe. He's my favourite character in the series, if only because he's the only one to demonstrate a sense of humour.

I find it impossible to fault this series on any objective grounds. It is simply magnificent in every respect, and isn't just the best ever effort in the field of screening adult fantasy, it is leagues ahead of anything else. It makes even the best of the current crop of superhero movies look ridiculously juvenile and trivial. Subjectively, some might be uncomfortable with the frequent nudity and sex (this is very definitely an adult fantasy in every respect), while I found the relentless and often grim realism, plus the overall sense of impending doom, rather daunting. As I observed before, this would not be a pleasant world in which to live even as one of the ruling class, and there is a certain predictability that events are going to keep on getting a lot worse before there is any chance of them getting better. Accordingly, I found I had to brace myself before watching, girding up the loins and stiffening the sinews so to speak, but once each episode started I became engrossed again in the tale and am now completely hooked. Even the music and the fascinating animation in the title credits are real treats.

I am looking forward to the availability of the second season. I note that the book series currently includes five novels with two more on the way, so there could be many hours of high-quality viewing still to come.


Chimeradave said...

Glad you're enjoying it. I still prefer the books themselves and I'm glad I've already read them, but watching the tv show is fun.

Anthony G Williams said...

I've never read the books. I did read several books by the author while he was concentrating on SF (and have fond memories of Windhaven, which I still have and need to read again), but his output of fantasy seems to have coincided with a period when I was reading far less in that genre.

Unknown said...

When I first started watching, I ran across a lifeguard at my local pool reading one of the later books in the series (I have since devoured them all). He warned me to beware that the author has no compunctions about killing off any of the characters at the least expected time. You might think the story is about a particular person, but you'd be wrong.

Anthony G Williams said...

That's an interesting point, Bill. It's rather unsettling,since we get used to following key characters through a story from beginning to end, and often associate with them. On the other hand, it does make for more edge-of-the-seat drama!