The first season of Game of Thrones has been a wild ride. Ten episodes were packed with exciting characters, plots, and some beautiful visual effects. I went into the show a veteran. I’ve been a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series the show is based on, since I picked them up many years ago. It was a thrill to see the story brought to life so faithfully. Many viewers had no background though. They jumped into the television show after seeing trailers or having friends who continuously nagged them and told them the show would be wonderful (I might have done that). For some, it was enough that it aired on HBO. Now that the season has come to a dramatic and fiery end, it’s time to look back and evaluate.
Spoilers after the jump.
Things they did well
HBO nailed this series. I believe that having the author of the books, George R.R. Martin, actively involved facilitated a smooth interpretation. This fan feels like they captured the nuances, the underlying themes, and the big picture of Westeros.
I couldn’t help but make a statement about the casting and performances after every episode. If you were following Martin’s blog, you know that casting the roles took a while. Thank the seven gods of the North that it did. Maybe Catelyn is a little older than I pictured and Tyrion more handsome. Even for those parts, the actors found the traits and delivery that personified the on-page characters. I am particularly impressed with the young actors and actresses. The Stark children have a rough path, and I can’t imagine how hard it had to be to find children to handle the emotional range the characters face. (Did anyone else wish the young boy playing Bran would have been around to play Anakin Skywalker?) It seems like the casting team cared about getting it right for big roles like Robert Baratheon (played by Mark Addy) and small parts like Mord, the gaoler at the Eyrie. When I re-read the series, I’ll be picturing the actors as the characters.
It’s not realistic to expect that writers will keep to the book’s scenes one hundred percent. The book is told in varying first person perspectives. The reader sees one chapter through the eyes of Ned Stark and the next chapter through Jon Snow’s. The world keeps moving even when characters are off-stage. For example, since no chapters in A Game of Thrones are told from the perspective of Varys, we never see his dialogue with Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger). The writers did a fantastic job creating scenes outside the pages that felt like they were natural. The scenes showcasing verbal sparring between Littlefinger and Varys were exacting and as delightful to watch as any brutal spectator sport. The conversation between Robert and Cersei about their farce of a marriage was also a gem. Sure, it added in some history for non-readers but it was also a bonus for veterans.
Daenerys Targaryen is my favorite character in the series. After the first episode aired, many friends ask me how that could possibly be. She gets married off to a savage horse lord by her cruel brother Viserys and has a rough wedding night. At first, I was annoyed. The show depicted her wedding night in a much harsher light than the books. Now I see that it was exaggerated to emphasize her path to power and strength. Dany takes baby steps. First she stands up to her brother – I cheered when she said, “The next time you raise your hands to me you will have no hands” – then to members of the Khalasar. She ends up loving Khal Drogo, and I think that helps bring out her inherent fierceness. And then she hatches three dragons. Yes, she rules.
Speaking of dragons, they are frightening and realistic. Bravo, HBO.
A Game of Thrones is around 800 pages. Countless characters, plots, and sub-plots fill those pages. The show had to keep things in sequence, spread out the slow-moving parts, and highlight the moments of importance. Additionally, the story takes place all over Westeros. It had to be challenging to jump from character to character and fit everything in without creating a jumbled, chaotic pile. But they did it. Each hour of the series flew by. There was a lot to process, but it was digestible and organized.
I try not to be one of those people who explains to anyone who will listen just how the show differs from the book. For one thing, my memory is less than stellar. Besides that, it’s just annoying. I couldn’t help comparing some points, and I couldn’t rationalize away a couple of them.
Where are the direwolves?
I know that direwolves cost money and that live animals add time and unpredictability. The writers said that any scenes with horses would take twice as long to shoot. I also understand that HBO had to be surgically precise about where to cut to save the budget. That’s one reason why we don’t see any battle action happening. But. The direwolves are key. Jon Snow and his direwolf, Ghost, are a team. Ghost leaves his side to wander and to hunt, but we saw him less than five times the whole season. I’m not sure if non-readers understand the depth of the connection between the Stark children and their pets (for lack of a better word).
Game of Thrones has sex. I get it. The book does as well. It’s actually something that sets the books apart from most squeaky clean fantasy series. Also, it’s on HBO. I expect to see body parts. However, one scene in particular was over the top for me. I point it out because I feel it was the only scene in the entire first season that was completely unnecessary. In the beginning of episode seven, You Win or You Die, Littlefinger tells some of his very relevant backstory and hints at his future plans of betrayal. He’s in one of his brothels. He winds through his monologue while two girls practice their uh, pleasuring skills, in the background. And foreground. It was distracting. People claimed they just ignored it and focused on Littlefinger, but I don’t believe them. I didn’t grasp every word until I watched it a second time. It was overt and in general skirted too close to that icky pandering word.
Pretty minor complaints for ten hours of television, huh? Given that HBO has made an impressive showing with season one, I can’t wait to see what’s in store next. Winter is still coming, but hopefully the long winter won’t be here before spring 2012. That’s when we get the next season of Game of Thrones. The next book in A Song of Ice and Fire brings battle, more deaths, and some surprising twists. Just what we’ve come to expect from this series.