19 April 2011

TV Series: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944947/

New medieval fantasy series on HBO is an adaptation of the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels by George R. R. Martin.  I've never read the books, so I can't even begin to compare whether or not the series is faithful to the books.  Probably plenty of folks out there doing that right now.  Perhaps not knowing the books will work to my advantage? I'll be surprised by everything, and won't be looking to see if they include parts or contrasting their portrayal of book events with my imagination.

Season One summary:
Episodes 1-3 introduce you to major players in the fantasy world Westeros.  Episode 4 acts as sort of a recap of the world, its history, and the people we need to be paying attention to. Episodes 5 through 10 just keep punching the viewer with event after event. It's not tiring at all.  I actually ended up re-watching episodes 6 through 10 because they were so good and I wanted to make sure I didn't miss details.

To put this as a chess analogy: The first four episodes are the opening of the chess game, putting the pieces in place to lead up to the battle for control of the center of the board.
The fifth episode is the capture of the first major piece, equilibrium is lost.
From the fifth episode through the 10th, the season finale, piece after piece falls, gambits are won or lost.
The analogy falls apart at this point. Chess has an end in sight, I'm not so sure the politics of Westeros does.

What I learned is that the stories and events happening in and out of the kingdoms are much bigger than any individual character/cast member. The show isn't so much about the people, it's about how seemingly unrelated actions by different people end up having unforeseen influence and consequences that rock the kingdoms from edge to edge.  However we do get to watch characters develop throughout, and we learn tidbits of history that have bearing on events now and in the future.

Great acting, great writing, great sets and costuming. A compelling story to watch unfold. We didn't get any Lord of the Rings sized battles, actually the only real swordplay shown was generally between two or three folks. Little bits of magic here and there, especially near the end. It is a fantasy world, and there are some fantasy components. But they aren't the focus, just additional characters in a multi-charactered world where the viewer can't take anything for granted.

I loved watching the first season and look forward to Season 2.  Great job HBO.
Recommended watching for anyone who enjoyed Lord of the Rings, fantasy books or fantasy games.

Season 2 and Season 3:
I didn't summarize either season, but production and story lines continue to be compelling and watchable. Great scenes, great "gotcha" moments. The show is as strong as it started, if not seemingly moreso after knowing the characters and the world of Westeros better.
Hands down no delay in recommending watching this show.

Season One: notes taken as the season progressed
And, as I mentioned in a different review, as the World's Worst Movie Reviewer in the World I don't have access to the pre-screening sites that real critics have access to, so I can only blather on about the episodes aired at this point. I do know of other critics that have seen the first six episodes already.

What I took away from the first episode: The first bit of show before the opening credits rolled completely blew away Camelot in terms of production value. Totally hooked me from the get-go. Yeah, I'll keep watching Camelot, but Game of Thrones seems to be on a whole higher level when it comes to medieval-fantasy series.

The first episode seemed devoted to introducing us viewers to the major players in this fantasy world, with the laying of groundwork for some of the political intrigue involved in its multiple kingdoms.  I suspect we're in for more. From what I've read the series is going to be about lords and kings and kingdoms and politics. A "Sopranos meets Middle Earth" sort of series. Possibly an apt description as Sean Bean getting top billing cashes in on his 'household name' status gained as Boromir in The Fellowship of the Rings. 

As I currently only have the vaguest idea who the characters are and what their relationships are it might take a bit to really grasp everything going on. But I'm ready for that. It looks like it will be a fun ride.  The world they set the stories in seems interesting, the major players and their relationships seem interesting, and I'm ready to see more.  My recommendation - if you have to choose between HBO or Starz as the one source of medieval fantasy, choose HBO's Game of Thrones.

I heard HBO already requested a season two. Great! Hopefully this series doesn't get the abrupt cancellation treatment that Carnivale and Rome encountered. Rumor has it that Game of Thrones' budget is as big, or bigger, than Rome. Which kindof scares me considering one of the reasons HBO listed for canceling Rome was it was too expensive.  I hate being left hanging in the middle of a good series like that.

Update: after 5 episodes in :
The first four episodes seem to be about introducing us to the major characters, giving them depth, showing us some of the regions, establishing world history base line, glimpses of the current politics and partial information on events that led up to now. As today's politics progress we also get hints at events stirring and beginning to build across the narrow sea - which may just spill over in to full scale war.

Early standout characters: Arya Stark - this youngest of the Stark daughters is a very interesting character, she wants to swordfight and not wear dresses. She's feisty. And played well by young Maisie Williams.  Her episode 5 dressing-down of a couple of palace guards was something to behold.
Tyrion "The Imp" Lannister - awesome portrayal by Peter Dinklage. He's the most likable of the Lannister family by far, and probably the most intelligent. I expect big moves from this little man.
And a nod toward Daenerys Targarian and the actress that plays her, Emilia Clarke. In four episodes she goes from a commodity sold into her marriage by her brother to acquire an army into a developing force to be reckoned with. She took a situation where she was the naive victim and started turning it into a position where she rules.  It's been a very interesting transformation to watch happen.

And that was over the first four episodes. Episode 5 - stuff really gets going.

I would classify the first 3 episodes as training the viewers about the world, its peoples and its politics. Episode 4 is sort of a recap and refresher to make sure everyone is on the same page. Then episode 5 really launches us into what might be the beginnings of war between ruling families. Yes, seeds for the events that occur in ep.5 have been planted in the first four episodes, so those first four episodes aren't devoid of moving along story. It is just a big world, with big politics and many families with agendas.
Sortof like getting on a roller coaster - the first four episodes are the trip up the first hill and episode 5 is that feeling you get when you first crest the top and starts going into the first drop. As to whether or not we get that drop I have to wait to find out...

Edit: 7 Episodes in
Yep - once that ball got rolling it continues to pick up speed. If one were to liken to a chess game, all the opening moves with the pawns are over, the big boys are coming out and pieces are beginning to fall. Political maneuverings, back stabbings, drum beats of war on two fronts, money and power and new and old grudges. Nice. HBO is doing great with this series so far - from my point of view not having read any of the source material. My interest is not flagging in the least, I look forward to the next episodes and dread the season finale because it means months until season 2 begins.

Edit: Season Finale
Nice. A cliffhanger-y end to a great first season.  Although I was sold on the series in the first five minutes, the series continued to pay back dividends episode to episode. Loved it.

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