HBO’s newest series, “Game of Thrones,” premiered last Sunday after months of anticipation from both the network (having invested close to $60 million in the first season alone) and the many fans of “A Song of Ice and Fire” (the series of books upon which “Game of Thrones” is based). If the flood of positive reviews is any indication, the show has certainly succeeded, with HBO already in talks with producers about a second season.
The show’s success is easy to understand once watched. “Game of Thrones” stands out in almost every regard, with incredible production design, a rich and intriguing story and well fleshed out characters portrayed by a skilled and diverse cross-section of actors.
Shot primarily in Northern Ireland, “Game of Thrones” features amazing scenery which is exceeded in quality only by the elaborate costume and prop design. Each vying faction (there are several) within “Game of Thrones” draws on cultural influences from different places of the world before putting their own unique spin on them. The Lannisters (a powerful noble family) for instance have strong Japanese influences which can be seen in both their clothes and armor, whereas The Starks (another family) have a noticeably Celtic influence in their architecture. Sets and costumes are detailed to such an extent that the world feels real in a way that few fictional worlds manage to.
While the production design helps immerse the viewer, the fantastic ensemble cast keeps their focus from beginning to end. Sean Bean stars as Eddard Stark, an old friend of the current king (Robert Baratheon), played by Mark Addy. Bean and Addy’s on-screen chemistry is truly impressive, making it very believable that they are indeed old friends. Also starring are Peter Dinklage as the witty and cynical Tyrion Lannister, Lena Headey as the queen (Cersei Lannister) and Emilia Clarke as deposed princess Daenerys Targaryen. The show also has a multitude of child actors playing various key roles, none of whom disappoint.
Perhaps “Game of Thrones’” greatest accomplishment is how it manages to make the fantasy genre feel fresh and new. Many people have compared it to “Lord of the Rings,” which is an unfair comparison. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, which helped define modern fantasy, took an entirely different approach to the genre than “Game of Thrones” has. Tolkien’s novels were based more on the world in which his characters inhabited and the actual story that was being told than the characters being used to tell it. The reader never stops to question Frodo’s motives, or whether or not Gandalf is plotting with the enemy. Lines are reasonably clear between good and evil. Thrones on the other hand is a character driven drama which focuses on politics and intrigue. Characters routinely betray or deceive one another and it is hard to truly know anyone’s true allegiance. The story is so dark and gritty that it barely resembles fantasy, with nothing even vaguely close to magic appearing so far.
The only real criticism that can be given is that the first episode’s pacing felt a little rushed. However, considering it only had an hour to introduce several dozen important characters in a new and unknown setting, this is understandable. With many T.V. shows establishing the setting is not difficult. Just say “Suburban New Jersey” or “Ancient Rome” and the viewer has some expectation of what they will be dealing with. With “Westeros” (the fictional world in which “Game of Thrones” is set) however, the only response is a puzzled look and a shrug. Considering the show had to somewhat define what “Westeros” is and what its rules were, the opening episode did quite well.
With its effective cast, amazing visuals and gripping story, there’s really no excuse for not watching “Game of Thrones,” which is looking to be one of the best shows that has come out of HBO in a long time.