TV Review: Game of Thrones (Season 1)

“Where’s Nicolas Cage? I know he’s around here somewhere…”

I probably watch less TV than you.  And yes, I feel confident enough saying this despite not knowing who exactly “you” are.  But I almost never go channel surfing through the junk that inhabits most of a television menu.  I don’t watch MTV or VH1.  I don’t like watching movie channels, because I get annoyed if I don’t watch a movie from beginning to end.  I don’t like skipping around through weekly sitcoms or dramas, because I like following a coherent story from, again, beginning to end.  And I generally don’t take chances on shows right away, save for a few exceptions like the utter brilliance that is Community.  But if I’m finally talked into a show and I start watching it, I’m in for good.  Batten down the hatches, close the curtains – you may not see me for a while.  And that’s essentially why this blog has been nonexistent for the past week – because of HBO’s epic series Game of Thrones.

For those of you who haven’t yet caught up with Thrones, which begins its second season on Sunday night, there’s still plenty of time.  The full season is ten episodes, each just short of an hour, so there’s ample time to catch up.  And there should be many more seasons to come, as the show’s been a huge critical and commercial success – so get started now if you haven’t already.  Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy set in the fictional land of Westeros, a continent divided into seven kingdoms.  In those seven kingdoms, there are more important characters to juggle than even Lord of the Rings.  There’s the Stark family, led by Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean) and his wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and a number of children.  There’s Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), the king of Westeros, and his son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).  There are the scheming Lannisters, with queen Cersei (Lena Headey) and dwarf Tyrion (Peter Dinklage, easily the series’ standout character.)  There are the Targaryens and the Tullys and the Greyjoys and Dothraki warriors and about a million other people who factor into the events here.  I won’t get into them all.  It’s a story adapted from a series of books by George R. R. Martin, who will soon be finding his way to my library.

The basic premise of the show is the struggle to gain power of the kingdoms.  There’s only one king, but there’s no shortage of people who eye his position on the Iron Throne.  There is betrayal and backstabbing and sex and beheadings and even the occasional moment of honor.  (But only the occasional one.)  There are dozens of parallel storylines, which series creators and writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss do an incredible job of tying together and locking in place.  Game of Thrones is an audacious undertaking for HBO – there’s really no main character or main storyline.  How do you pitch this in two sentences or less to someone?  You don’t.  And yet it works all the same.

I’ll say this to temper my as-of-yet unbridled enthusiasm for the show: patience is required with Game of Thrones.  The first four episodes of a ten-episode season, while all good, are largely just setting the pieces in motion for the final six episodes.  There’s plenty of exposition and character-driven moments that only slowly move the story forward.  But once episode five starts, all hell breaks loose throughout the kingdoms, and you’ll realize that the slow buildup was totally worth it.

With so many characters and settings, it’s hard to pick out just a few standouts.  Dinklage has been the most acclaimed of the group, and rightfully so, in a witty and winning performance as Tyrian, who overcomes his lack of height with a sharp and scheming mind.  Bean is tremendous as Ned Stark, perhaps the closest thing we get to a straight hero character.  Emilia Clarke dazzles as Daenerys Targaryen, and Aiden Gillen’s ultimate scheming performance as Lord Petyr Baelish is always a delight.

Aidan Gillen – aka Ed Norton with a mustache.

Visually, the show hits a home run every time.  The design of the Iron Throne itself is perhaps the most striking, but the ice-falled Wall up in the far reaches of the north comes awfully close.  Each land has a distinct look, so that even if you don’t remember where we are, you can likely figure it out from the set design.  It’s a credit to Game of Thrones that it manages to intersperse so many different sets, characters and storylines, and I was able to follow almost all of it despite not having read the book.

It might be easier watching Game of Thrones after the fact, as I imagine people might be tempted to grow impatient after the first few episodes – but with the foresight of chaos ahead, Season 2 of Thrones has become a much-anticipated event for me.  How much more epic can the battle for the throne get?  I can’t wait to find out.

Grade: A-


2 responses to “TV Review: Game of Thrones (Season 1)

  1. I watched the first three episodes of “Game of Thrones” last year, but lost interest. Then again, I’m also one of the few who didn’t like the “Lord of the Rings” movies either, so maybe these fantasy-type movies and tv shows are just not for me. I’m glad you like it though.

  2. One addendum: from the episodes I did see, I enjoyed the gratuitous scenes of nudity and sex. So there’s that.

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