GAME OF THRONES “Winter Is Coming” Review

GAME OF THRONES (HBO) "Winter Is Coming"

GAME OF THRONES “Winter Is Coming” Season 1 Episode 1 – Winter has arrived! Whether you’re a hardcore GoT fanatic or a newcomer to the world of Westeros, HBO has done a damn fine job of making the television adaptation of George RR Martin’s fantasy series, A Game of Thrones, totally unavoidable. Expectations for the epic tale for the clashes between the House of Stark and Lannister and Targaryen were humongous. Were they met?

Abso-freaking-lutely. And kinda.

What struck me within the first seven or so minutes was that this is quite possibly the first time I’ve ever tuned in to a television series and found myself thinking I was watching a film. Game of Thrones has always been more high medieval with magic than high fantasy with swords. The sets are gorgeous and the writing (by creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss), when not burdened by the obligatory but nonetheless heavy handed exposition, skilfully adapts Martin’s dialogue and peppers it with lovely original moments (how about the Stark lads getting their hair cut? On behalf of all girls and gays I’d like to give a warm “hubba hubba” to the genius behind that ab-alicious scene.)

I have no idea how this would have played for a Game of Thrones virgin, but as a fan of the books, some things work better than others: Bran’s love of climbing is way more exciting on screen than as introduced in the books. On the other hand trying to fill in the history of Westeros worked far better on paper than in clumsy exposition

Game of Thrones swiftly gets about establishing the world, introducing the direwolfs (aww!) and bringing in main plot: the House of Stark, a self-sufficient bunch of sturdy folks who live a simple life in the cold north, find their lives disturbed when the patriarch Ned Stark (Sean Bean, AKA Boromir!) is sought out by the King of the Seven Kingdoms Robert Baratheon, to become his new Hand (AKA his administrative bitch). Against his wife’s wishes, he must take the job because you don’t say no to a king or a kingpin, so he heads off to the King’s Landing (the rather unimaginative name of the capital city) with his daughters Sansa and Arya in tow. Before leaving, Ned’s wife receives news from her sister (whose husband’s death is the catalyst for the story: he was the king’s previous Hand). Catelyn’s sister writes to tell her that her husband was poisoned (duh-duh-dum!) by the Lannister clan (the queen’s family). Ned still has to go, but at least now he knows for sure he’s heading into the belly of the beast…and dragging his daughters with him.

Of course it’s the pilot episode so it was less about character developing and more about character establishing.

First and foremost, I have loved Peter Dinklage since The Station Agent, and I’m delighted to say that he delivers a standout performance as the whoring, drinking, drawling, clever Tyrion Lannister. I’m also delighted to see that my personal favourite character, Arya Stark, seems to have been cast perfectly with Maisie Williams, who certainly brought more mischievous life in her short, sporadic scenes than Sophie Turner’s Sansa Stark. Sansa has never been the most likable character but for some reason I’ve always latched on to her: she’s daft and pretty and vapid, but everyone dislikes her, or rather, everyone who matters dislikes her intensely. I can always feel sympathy for someone so disliked (spoiled rich kids, psychopaths, teachers…nothing tugs at my heartstrings more).

I was really impressed with Isaac Hempstead-Wright who brings a maturity and innocence to Bran Stark that looks deceptively easy. Kit Harington’s performance as Jon Snow, whilst starved for screen time, was still effective in creating in Jon Snow a young man who is utterly lost, alone and misplaced in a world where everyone else knows their positions and roles: hence his ominous request to join the guard of the Wall, just days after witnessing the beheading of a deserter.

Lena Headey’s Cersei and her brother Ser Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Wadau) share some of the juiciest scenes in the pilot and I have to say that both Headey and Coster-Wadau deliver.

Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea with the Targaryens, I’m going to hope things get better. The big Dothraki orgy wedding could have been shocking in the hands of David Fincher or David Lynch or any of the directors from Starz’s Spartacus, but it was not half as controversial and smutty as it thought it was.

Viserys should have a little moustache to twirl because Harry Lloyd is giving a full on panto performance which I think mislays the real depth of wretchedness his character is epitomized by, as he torments and abuses his beautiful sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) in the hopes of raising an army and reclaiming his lost throne. Clarke’s performance was little more than reaction shots, so hopefully in the coming weeks she’ll be given more (again, the pilot curse) but she has screen presence and if she can act half as good as she looks, then there will be no worries for that side of the sea.

Again, the pilot episode, I think, did a great job establishing this vast array of characters and setting up a basic plot. Game of Thrones promises a summer of Sunday nights filled with sex, blood, duplicitous backstabbing and crazy ass, blue-eyed forest ghosts: what more could you ask for? HBO has, I think, once again delivered another landmark television show.

Random Thoughts:

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has already been optioned by HBO. If Game of Thrones is as successful as HBO hopes it will be, does this mean that the long ignored fantasy genre might transcend its usual place among B-movies and television series (Legend of the Seeker)? More importantly, which of your fantasy faves would you dream to see on the small screen? Personally, I’d love to see someone get their hands on the supposedly un-filmable Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series. They could shave off the boring bits which dragged the later books and keep all of the awesome stuff.

The dead little girl north of the Wall: OMFG! Scary!

The opening credits incorporate Martin’s map and make it a visual adventure with intricate puzzles revealing hidden layers. I love me some metaphors!

Hopefully they’ll learn to rely less on a constant soundtrack and instead use silence to its fullest, haunting effect.

Michelle Fairley’s Catelyn Stark gave a great reaction shot when combing Sansa’s hair as Sansa started drivelling on about Prince Joffrey Baratheon, and I wish we got more of that. I think I would like Sansa more if everyone who knows her treats her like the superficial imbecile she is.

Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister together at dinner: priceless comedy.

Direwolf. I want one.

What did you think of Game of Thrones? Agree with my assessment? Disagree? Have your own thoughts on the characters, writing etc? Sound off in the comments below!

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