I first heard about Game of Thrones a little after the show went into production—it was my introduction to Martin as a whole, although rumors of the series had reached me in my usual fannish activities. (I’m remembering an article celebrating Brienne that was my main impression for quite some time.) From there, I dove into the books a year before the show actually aired, and now I’m desperately hoarding A Dance with Dragons until I hear news of the sixth book and playing Russian roulette with spoilers on the Internet. While it was the show that introduced me to the books, I’m technically a book-firster. So how does the first season of the show compare to the book?
Game of Thrones is set in Westeros, also known as the Seven Kingdoms, a land where summers last years and winters lifetimes. After the throne was taken in a bloody civil war by his friend Robert Baratheon, Eddard “Ned” Stark, Lord of Winterfell, has tended to the North and his family with nary a thought of court. When King Robert comes calling with the news that the King’s Hand, Jon Arryn, has died and offers Ned the position, Ned reluctantly takes it in order to discover the truth of Arryn’s death. Meanwhile, across the sea, the last daughter of the royal house Robert wrested control from has married a great warlord in an attempt to gather forces to retake Westeros. But all these mortal concerns pale in the face of the strange and supernatural stirrings beyond the Wall in the North, to the horror of the ever-vigilant Night’s Watch, a brotherhood sworn to protecting the Kingdoms from what lies beyond. Summer is fading; winter is coming.
I actually saw the first episode of the series two years ago, before its air date, thanks to my amazing friend Natalya (who needs a film blog of her very own), and a lot of my impressions still hold true. (…yes, I still tear up at the title sequence.) What has changed is how the series adheres to the book. It never veers so far that it can’t link back up; rather, the changes advance the same general story in slightly different ways, occasionally shed light on characters who don’t have chapters to themselves in the corresponding book (if at all), and pull bits from the the later books to punch you in the gut. (If you’re at all interested in the minutae of the changes, the good folks at the Game of Thrones Wiki have you covered.) It’s an example of a good adaptation, because the choices are made in service to the story, not in spite of it. …most of the time. The series does seem hellbent on proving that “THIS IS HBO!” every five minutes, so there’s plenty of gore and sex, just as there is in the series. But the series isn’t famous for its “sexposition” scenes for nothing, culminating in a monologue by Petyr Baelish featuring a particularly raucous sex scene for no particular reason. While I’m glad the show is allowed to be as gory and naked as it needs to be, sometimes they abuse the privilege. Saturday Night Live’s take on the situation is dead-on.
The casting is impeccable; I’m blown away by Nina Gold and Robert Sterne’s ability to not only find fantastic actors, but actors who honestly look related. It’s more important than you might think for a show with massive (and massively important) dynasties. Peter Dinklage rightly deserves his Emmy for playing Tyrion Lannister; his Tyrion is funny, human, and wounded. And everyone is on that level. Sean Bean’s determined nobility as Ned, Emilia Clarke’s ferocity as Dany, Lena Headey as the quiet, thin-lipped, and hateful Cersei, Maisie Williams as grubby Arya… the list goes on, and there’s so many fantastic actors that I would feel awful to leave them out. So consider that me loving all of them. But I couldn’t write this without pointing out Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon, who manages to be the worst person ever without feeling like a cartoon. I viscerally hate this child; I’m grimacing just typing this. (Not as much as I hate Snape. But close.) It’s truly an accomplishment to make the world hate your character as much as it does. (Spoiler-free pro-tip: if you’ve not read the books, I think you’ll enjoy the third season. Just sayin’.)
It’s also just a beautiful series to watch. Each location is so different that it’s easy to instantly know where you are. I’m not completely taken with the Mediterranean vibe of King’s Landing, but it does add to the cosmopolitan feel of the place. The costumes are lush and realistic—as much as I hate Joffrey, the little punk is a snappy dresser, and all of the armor is spectacular. The scenery is beautiful and forbidding; there’s plenty of dank, cheerless castles around here. Things fall apart a little as the series goes on and money becomes tighter; there’s a bit more use of green screen, for instance, and actions are taken to avoid very large action scenes, but it doesn’t detract from the story at all. I will say that I was a little underwhelmed by the end of the series, but I think that’s because I, having read the novel, already know the twists and turns of this particular chapter of the story. This actually means that Game of Thrones is a fantastic adaptation, because it doesn’t require you to have read the novels to appreciate them. And in any case, it’s hard not to be affected by the last two episodes of the series, where everything ever goes down.
Well, at least until next season…
Bottom line: Game of Thrones is a fantastic adaptation of the novel, with a killer cast, gorgeous production design, and pragmatic approach to the source material. However, it can revel in its unrated nature instead of using it to serve the story, hence the term “sexposition” being coined specifically for this show. Well worth a watch.
I got these DVDs as a gift.