Monday, April 18, 2011

Game of Thrones - "Winter is Coming"

Lord Ned Stark (Sean Bean) deals with a deserter.
Photo Credit: HBO
Review by Paul Steven Brown

'Game of Thrones'
Season 1 - Episode 1
"Winter is Coming"

I remember when 'Deadwood' premiered on HBO several years ago. The very first scene ended with lawman Seth Bullock holding an angry group of men, hellbent on killing his prisoner, at gun point while he performed the hanging himself, lawfully. That was a hell of a way to kick off a show. Then again, HBO can do things that other networks can't.

'Game of Thrones' doesn't shy away from the violence or sex, either. Within the first episode there are two decapitations, a disembowelment, incest, a dwarf covered in four naked women, a several moments of men taking women from behind, and infanticide. Go big or go home, I guess.

I have never read anything written by George R.R. Martin, whose fantasy novels are the source material for this series. I do plan to until this show runs its course. I want to be able to judge it solely as a television series without my judgement effected by what I may or may not have read in the novels. So far, 'Game of Thrones' is certainly making for a really strong television show.

One of the smartest and welcome aspects of 'Game of Thrones' is the opening credits. Not only is this sequence visually compelling, it is also a map of the fantastical world of this show. The continents are laid, seas shown to separate two major land masses, and four important locations are clearly defined. This will be a helpful reminder week to week, where everyone is from or going, and the scope of the setting.

There is plenty of political and sexual intrigue to go around. While I haven't completely grasped all the names and the connections of each major character, it hasn't detracted from my enjoyment of the show. I'm sure I'll pick up on all the background information as the series progresses. 'Deadwood' had an entire subplot devoted to process of a state's admission into the union and all the legal jargon that went with it, but I still kept coming back for more.

The only real weak thread so far concerns the exiled Targaryen siblings. Brother Viserys is quickly established a real evil son of a bitch that will do anything to reclaim his family's "rightful" throne. He actually tells his sister Daeneyrs, who spends most of the episode nude and whimpering, that he'd let an army have their way with her if it meant he'd reclaim that power. He even marries her off to the king of a tribe of wild horse riders. Their savagery reaches almost comical proportions. I get it... they're badasses. King Khal Drogo looks like a '60s Klingon and talks like a '90s version.

The rest of the cast and characters fair far better. Sean Bean, no stranger to swords and leather, is very convincing as Lord Stark, a fair but strong overseer of the King's northern lands. Peter Dinklage is Tyrion Lannister, one of the queen's brothers that happens to be a dwarf. He's drunk, but he seems to be able to make up for any physical deficiencies with intellect. His brother Jaime is a bit more sinister and has an interesting rapport with their sister Queen Cersei.

'Game of Thrones' off to a strong start. Hopefully, the writers can continue to develop this layered drama with it becoming too cumbersome or have the characters become cliches.

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