This review may contain spoilers.
HBO has slipped into the seat of author George R.R. Martin’s coveted iron throne and smartly proved that its the king of redefining genres and expectations. “Game of Thrones” is another jewel in the network’s prestigious crown.
Martin’s books are ripe material for HBO. His sprawling saga — from a series titled “A Song of Ice and Fire” — weaves together a dizzying array of complex characters, most mixed with so many conflicting feelings and motivations that they are rarely just your traditional good or evil character. They walk through a medieval world steeped in unflinching sex, violence, incest, betrayals and deadly political intrigues — think slices of “Deadwood” mixed with a good dose of “Rome” and “The Sopranos.”
“Game of Thrones” joins an addicting renaissance that has swept cable. I find shows such as this a superior platform to motion pictures, which year-by-year seem to pale in comparison. Feature films offer speculate, but can’t complete with the storytelling depth a series such as this enjoys or cable’s freedom from censorship. “Game of Thrones” in a theater would be a neutered disaster.
Executive producers David Benioff (“Troy,” “The Kite Runner”) and D.B. Weiss tell the tale of a treacherous clash among royal families to secure ultimate power of Westeros, a vast kingdom where life is often fraught with peril and shockingly short. Ned Stark (Lord of the Rings’ Sean Bean), the ruler of Westeros’ northern most region, is visited by the king, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), who seeks to appoint Ned as his top lieutenant, a position that offers considerable authority. This event, and the death of the previous man who held the position, spurs the tale forward into a web of political intrigue, where the game for power often has — as in real life — heartbreaking and widespread ramifications.
Points Of Interest
1. For an adaption of a densely layered novel, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” comes out of the gate with a respectable interpretation of its source material. There are naturally some changes from the book in the pilot, but nothing significant to derail the feel or complexity of Martin’s world. However, as the series continues, and his elaborate details mount, it will undoubtedly be difficult for the show’s writers to convey parts of Westeros’ background and the deeply rooted relationships that exist there. Benioff and Weiss will have the unenviable task of weaving much of it into dialogue as the story moves forward. It’ll be interesting to see how they manage this crucial step.
2. Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage (pictured at right) made Martin and the producer’s casting wish list early on. With little surprise, both actors excel in their roles. Dinklage is a hoot as Tyrion Lannister, the cunning dwarf brother of queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” fame). He seems on track for an award winning run.
3. In addition to Tyrion, two other fan favorite characters from the novels, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), thankfully turned out to be examples of casting done right. These two charismatic characters will have many demands placed upon them as the saga develops, and it seems Williams and Clarke should easily pull more fans into their ranks.
4. The opening scene involving a Nightwatch patrol north of the wall was an interesting beginning for the series. It had an eerily grim, horror movie vibe to it that seemed both surprising and appropriate.
5. Introducing the Stark children with a scene not in the book, the producers effectively establish these characters, especially Arya, who without dialogue immediately comes to life as Ned’s rebellious daughter.
6. The opening title sequence is a brilliant, and useful, introduction to the series. Cool stuff!
Just about every facet of this gorgeous production works. Acting, directing, script and score are firing on all cylinders. This is a fantastically filmed pilot, which captures the epic details of Martin’s world and brings them to life with stunning clarity.
Despite possessing a smaller budget than a big-screen blockbuster, “Game of Thrones” still delivers impressive imagery and settings, especially the ice wall that serves as a barrier to the spooky, icy wilds north of Westeros.
Directed by Timothy Van Patten (“Boardwalk Empire,” “The Pacific”), the pilot carries the bleak tone of the tale’s northern setting well. The production department has done an admirable job of presenting a believable, well-worn world. They have mixed cultures and designs styles from around our world to ground the setting with familiar touches. This really helps to sell the drama that is rapidly developing.
Another selling point is the show’s stellar cast. HBO has a phenomenal roster of actors at work here, which backed by Weiss and Benioff’s juicy script will undoubtedly launch a number of big careers and pull in a few gold statues too.
What Didn’t Work
As I’ve mentioned earlier, conveying the relationships between the families, kingdoms and various historical details will be a challenge for the series going forward. Many more characters have yet to be introduced. All this adds up to an extremely complex television series that will need to carefully juggle these demands as it entertains. So far, so good.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
“Game of Thrones” stars Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Michelle Fairley, Jason Momoa, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington. “Winter is Coming” was written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It was directed by Timothy Van Patten.
“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
During this week, HBO is giving its audience additional opportunities to catch the pilot. On Monday, “Winter is Coming” will air again at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, HBO2, HBO Signature, HBO Comedy, HBO Zone and HBO Latino. HBO2 will also encore it Monday at 10:05 and 11:15 p.m. ET.
View a recap of the pilot with Benioff and Weiss here.