01/05/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy
Game Of Thrones - Episodes 1 And 2. Shown on Sky Atlantic April/May 2011.
‘Game Of Thrones’ is a ten part TV series by HBO, the company that gave us ‘The Sopranos’, ‘Rome’ and many other good things. It is based on the first book in a series called ‘A Song of Ice And Fire’ by George R.R. Martin. All involved hope it will be a success so they can go on to make follow-up series based on the other books, of which there will be seven in total. Five have been published so far.
It’s a complex story and the first two episodes ’Winter Is Coming’ and ’The Kingsroad’ are quite hard to summarise. The viewer has to keep a close watch to get it all and even then might wish he had a printed guide to keep track. Fortunately, I did have a printed guide issued with the preview DVD and may be able to help with the confusion without giving away the plot. Probably the best way to do this is to give the background and some history.
In the land of Westeros, there are seven Houses in the mediaeval sense of the word, like the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Just as in Olde England, marriages of the upper classes are not for love but for political convenience. I wish this year’s royal couple no ill but the series is a salutary reminder of the bloody lengths to which the so-called nobility have always gone to hold onto their wealth and power. Anyway, the principal contenders for the Iron Throne of Westeros are House Stark, House Baratheon, House Lannister and House Targaryen. The last king, Aerys II of House Targaryen, was a mad tyrant and was slain dishonourably by Jaime Lannister (actor Nikolaj Coster-Wadsau, for whom lady viewers will swoon.) He has been replaced by King Robert Barathon (actor Mark Addy, not swoon-worthy) who has made a political marriage to the lovely Cersei Lannister (actress Lena Headley). There is intrigue at court and the King’s most trusted advisor is dead, perhaps murdered, so he rides north to bring his old friend Eddard Stark (actor Sean Bean) back with him to be the King’s Hand, his right-hand man. Eddard doesn’t want to go but is duty bound. Lady Stark (actress Michelle Fairley) very definitely doesn’t want him to go. While in Winterfell, Stark’s home, the King makes Stark’s daughter Sansa (actress Sophie Turner) betrothed to his son Joffrey (actor Jack Gleeson) so that their Houses will be united. Regrettably, Joffrey takes after his Lannister mother in his cruel ways. Meanwhile, Lord Stark’s bastard son Jon Snow (actor Kit Harington) decides to join the Night’s Watch, a monastic band of brothers who guard the Wall that protects the north from potential invaders. Jon achieves a certain rapport with Tyrion Lannister (actor Peter Dinklage) a dwarf who is not well respected by his sister, the Queen Cersei, or his brother Jaime.
Elsewhere, across the narrow sea in Pentos, Viserys Targaryen (actor Harry Lloyd), the exiled son of the murdered King, gives his lovely sister Daenerys (actress Emelia Clarke) to one Khal Drogo (actor Jason Momoa), a rough savage who commands a tribe of fierce warrior horsemen. He is hoping to win back the throne with their help. This is another political marriage.
The first episode has to assemble the cast, show the background, impart some of the history and generally indulge in exposition while also trying to move the story forward a little. It does this well and in the second episode there is a bit more room to dwell on certain things and make them clearer. The booklet that accompanied my previews implied that this is a complex, multi-layered story without stereotypical goodies and baddies. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I beg to differ. So far, the Starks are the ones to root for and the Lannisters are the ones we should hate. Queen Cersei, her brother Jaime and her son Joffrey are not loveable. Lord Stark does cut a deserter’s head off but that was his duty, not cruelty. Undoubtedly, in a long story things will grow more complex. In ‘Babylon 5’, Londo Mollari started out as a loveable buffoon and G’Kar was a bit villainous so good television shows can be sophisticated.
The series is a boon to the UK economy as most of the actors are English and much of it was filmed in Northern Ireland and other bits were done in Malta. The set design, costumes and so on are perfectly convincing. Sean Bean is not always great on screen but this role suits him and the other actors are credible, too, and some of them ladies are jolly handsome. You may swoon. Men do not swoon but I might as well mention that this is American television so all the girls are beautiful and a few of them get their kit off. Along with the gore - a deer with its intestines ripped out, for example - this makes the series very definitely post-watershed viewing and not suitable for kids. I say this because the fantasy label might mislead parents into thinking they’re getting something akin to ‘Lord Of The Rings’ or ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’. Definitely not. This is strong stuff.
It is also very good stuff. It might even be great but it’s too early to tell. It has certainly started well. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two episodes and look forward to seeing all ten. If HBO can do the whole saga, seventy episodes of a complex, adult fantasy story, it will be a giant step forward for the genre. If it’s commercially successful, other companies will follow suit and other favourites might make it to the small screen. Let’s hope.
Add SFcrowsnest.com daily news updates to your own web site or blog - just cut and paste the code below...
Stephen Hunt's novels - USA