Sunday, December 11, 2011

TV show review: "Game of Thrones"

Few days ago I finally finished watching first season of "Game of Thrones". Finally, because this 10 one-hour episodes stretched over more than a month. If someone read my post about it when I started watching it, it could be noticed that I liked the show very much. After finishing it, I can say I still like it very much, but with one reservation.

For those who don't know (if there is someone who doesn't), "Game of Thrones" is based on the first book of "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R. R. Martin, similarly called "A Game of Thrones". It deals with events in Medieval-based fictional kingdom (and around it) called Seven Kingdoms. It involves dynastic struggles, court politics, fates of big royal families and individuals, and introduces few overall plots that will be dealt more in future seasons. The series is renowned for its complex plot and especially its realistic and numerous characters. It is also famous for its grittiness and gradual introduction of magic: setting includes dragons, blood magic and some unknown creatures, but they are more present in later books. This first season deals mostly with Stark family and presents them as main characters. They are one of more rural noble families, residing in distant and sparse North. Events starts with King Robert Baratheon arriving to invite Eddard Stark, his best childhood friend, to became the new Hand of the King (prime-minister) and come to King's Landing to help him rule. This will not sit well with House Lannisters, probably the most powerful family, whose member is Queen Cersei. Eddards coming to the capital will force revelation of some plans and hidden secrets with potential to throw the Seven Kingdoms in turmoil. Other major plot involve Eddard bastard son Jon Snow, who will join the Night's Watch, organization trusted with holding the Wall (gigantic ice structure on edge of the North) and defending the Kingdoms from savages and maybe other, worst things. Another plot features Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of previous King Aerys II ("the Mad King") and her older brother Viserys. Targaryens were dynasty before Usurper Baratheon and they establish rule over Seven Kingdoms by use of dragons (now long gone). At the start of the series, Daenery is being married to Khal Drogo, leader of nomadic Dothraki, which will allow Viserys power and an army to reconquer the Seven Kingdoms. These are only the starting plots which will expand much in later seasons (or books).

For those previously unfamiliar with the books, or those who don't read at all and like fantasy, this show is a premium. High production, good cast, sex and violence, great plot and characters. All this is bound to catch wide audience - which was evident from the popularity of the show. I don't have many friends who read, but everybody who watched this show found it at least good or better. Many people expected some cheap Hollywood show with simple plot and shallow characters and were delighted to find the complete opposition. As I mention, the show is sparse with magic and classical fantasy elements in this first season and this probably helped to attract viewers who would in other case dismiss it as to fantastic and unrealistic (which is what one of my friend said for "Lord of the Rings" trilogy). First season focuses much more on court politics and it can be almost mistaken for some quasi-historical series based on alternative Medieval Europe.

Much of the GoT forte is in its characters. They are very numerous and feel like real people, which is always appreciated. Although this season features Starks as main characters and therefore "good guys", it nevertheless makes no assumption to picture them as saints, smarter or better than other people. They are presented as more naive, but this is more from their remoteness from the capital and court games. Sole exception to this is Ned Stark, who is (with maybe addition of Bran) who can be said to be "better" than others - although his honor doesn't make him more than most tragic character.

As I said, plot deals mostly with mundane elements like court, wars and power, while fantastic parts are only implied or briefly touched. I wouldn't go deep into explaining, because I would hate to spoil new viewers the greatness of this story, but believe me that it is great.

All in all, "Game of Thrones" is a terrific show for all kind of audience and probably one of best this year. I look forward to the next season, which is expected at spring.

As I said, there is one reservation, but it involves only the fans of books. Contrary to let's say "Lord of the Rings", for which I complained that they made too much changes and simplifications to attract more viewers, "Game of Thrones" show follows "A Game of Thrones" book closely and truthfully, as much is possible for this medium. Not all plot details and characters facets could have been revealed and presented, but show provides the basic spirit and feel of the book. Sure, there are some small changes, and even some additions, but this was kept as minimal as possible. But at the same time, this is a catch. As someone who has read the books several times (especially the first one), I quickly realized that I knew what will happen next in even the small details. So after initial thrill, I found that I don't have much more reasons to watch this series left, except to look for mistakes and complain at them. Since I watched it with my girlfriend who is not familiar with ASoIaF, I also found great temptation in not revealing any spoiler to her. But for those who read the books maybe once, or long time ago, or just want a quick reminder before going to next books, this is still a great catch.

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