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Reviewed by Will Harris
hank God for Lord of the Rings.
Not because George R.R. Martin’s fantasy saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, might not have existed without J.R.R. Tolkien’s works having paved the way several decades before (although it’s likely that even Martin would concede the accuracy of that statement), but because Peter Jackson was able to take such a seemingly unfilmable narrative of such epic scope and make it both critically and commercially successful. As such, it sure made it a hell of a lot easier for Martin to sell HBO on the idea of making a television series out of his books.
Mind you, it might not have happened even then if it hadn’t been for executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who did approximately the same thing for Martin that Jackson did for Tolkien, figuring out which bits from the first book, A Game of Thrones, would translate best to the small screen while still maintaining the predominant narrative.
It’s hard not to get sucked into Season One of “Game of Thrones” from the very first scene, an action-packed, tension-filled few minutes which, unbeknownst to viewers as they’re watching, will prove pivotal throughout all ten episodes. With that said, however, the majority of the rest of that first hour isn’t necessarily as gripping, which may leave some wondering which aspect they can expect to experience with more regularity. It’s best to have patience with the series, particularly in that first hour, as there are a lot of characters being introduced, and you’d better believe you’re going to need to remember them all.
As is the case with so many medieval-set fantasy productions, there’s an almost Shakespearean feel to the family drama. First and foremost, there’s the Stark family, led by Lord Ned Stark (Sean Bean), who’s married to Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and has five children: Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon. Sorry, did I say five? Of course I meant six. Heaven forbid we forget Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow, born from an affair during wartime.
Ned’s tight with King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), if perhaps not quite as much so with Queen Cersei (Lena Headey), who’s having an affair with her twin brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), which even in a medieval fantasy setting is still more than a little bit disturbing. Oh, wait, and then there’s also the Queen’s other brother, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who is perpetually underestimated because he’s a dwarf, even though the fact of the matter is that he’s smarter than just about anyone else around.
And there’s still more! You’ve also got Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and Dany (Emilia Clarke), the children of King Robert’s predecessor. Dany’s married to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), the leader of the people known as the Dothraki, and she and her brother are under the protection of a knight named Jorah (Iain Glen).
Don’t worry, there won’t be a test. This is just to give you an idea of the scope of the series. If you’re already intimidated just by the thought that there are this many characters, then “Game of Thrones” is definitely not the series for you. For the rest of you, though, keep on reading, because the show is pretty damn awesome if you’re willing to settle in for the long haul.
As you might expect, there’s a lot of family treachery throughout “Game of Thrones,” not to mention quite a lot of sex and violence, but what’s most impressive is the character development. For example, when the season begins, viewers would never guess that the relationship between Dany and Khal is one that would inspire sadness when it comes to a conclusion, but damned if it doesn’t. Some have likened the series to “The Sopranos,” which isn’t nearly as ridiculous as it sounds once you see some of the machinations going on between the various families. The acting is solid throughout, from the kids on up, but Dinklage definitely proves to be the star whenever he appears onscreen. It’s no wonder he was nominated and won for his work on the series.
“Game of Thrones” may be epic in its scope and often disconcerting in its content, but it’s a strong production that handily delivers what George R.R. Martin fans have been waiting for. Now bring on Season Two!
Special Features: Given how long the series was in the making and how many fans there are of the original book series, it should come as no surprise that HBO felt obliged to trick this set out with as much bonus material as possible. Included herein are a 30-minute making-of featurette, an interactive guide to all of the characters and settings in Season One, character profiles by the actors who play them, a featurette about the transition from book to television series, and a number of other behind-the-scenes docs. In addition, there are seven audio commentaries with the cast and crew.