You have to give a hand to HBO for having the guts to take on such a lofty and risky project. Even for a company as successful and well thought of as them, Game of Thrones was no sure thing. Though based on a much loved series, A Song of Ice and Fire by Gorge RR Martin, adapting it to the small screen was an enormous risk. Since Lord of the Rings there hasn’t been a live action adaption of a fantasy series as large, as deep, and as populated as this. The world of Westeros is huge, with many incredible locations, a plethora of rich three dimensional characters, large battles, and a unique culture.
So how did Game of Thrones match up to the books? Quite well, as a matter of fact. Unlike other TV adaptions of beloved books (looking at you Walking Dead) the writers of Game of Thrones didn’t have the hubrus or arrogance to think they could out write Gorge Martin and kept the story pretty damned faithful to the original source material. It’s astonishing, really, how close the first season follows the first book. Oh, there are differences, slight as they may be, but it always seemed to me that most of these differences were made either because of budget restraints (there are a few battles that are glossed over) or simply in order to better render Martins story on the small screen. All the characters, the major events, the plot twists, the unexpected deaths, are maintained as faithfully as any purest could ask for. Its abundantly clear to me that the writers of this show knew and respected their source material very much. Such loving care is put into bringing the world of Westeros and Essos to life that I could swear Martin was involved in the screen play… oh wait, yes he was.
That’s probably the biggest strength of Game of Thrones. The integrity of the writing is unmatched in modern television. They don’t make the silly mistakes the writers of Walking Dead make, they don’t change the characters and their motivations for the sake of one episodes drama, they don’t gloss over the more uncomfortable aspects of this world. Westeros is a harsh and unforgiving world, and the show captures that perfectly. Rape, murder, betrayal and murder, none of the horrors of Martins story are pussyfooted in order to appeal to as mass an audience as possible, something that is greatly appreciated not only because it is necessary to tell this story right, but because it must have been a major risk for the studio to produce. When we see Walking Dead stray from its source material to avoid showing rape or torture, I watch Game of Thrones and see those exact elements brought to life as real and uncomfortable for the viewers as they can be. It makes no apologies for these elements, but nor does it flaunt them. Nudity isn’t used in this show for shock and awe or titillation as it is in Spartacus, it is merely part of the world and so is shown with such casualness it fades into the background. The same could be said for the violence. For the most part there aren’t any long drawn out highly choreographed sword fights that go on forever. They are often very short, to the point, and very bloody. The fight between Ned Stark and Jamie Lannister takes less than thirty seconds, and that’s one of the signature fight scenes of the entire season. Because of this much more time and energy is spent on developing the characters and setting up the conflict between them instead of devoting all their time and money on big action scenes.
I guess this is the time where I should talk about what Game of Thrones is about, though every time I try to explain to someone who’s never seen it, or read the books, I never quite know how to explain it. Do I say it’s a fantasy story like The Lord of the Rings? But that’s not quite right, as this is a much more character driven story. To I say it’s a character drama? Because that’s not quite right either. Westeros is a fictional world where eight families rule over their countries and serve as wardens to King Robert Berathion, who sits on the Iron Throne in Kings Landing. When the Hand of the King, John Aryan dies of under suspicious circumstances, King Robert marches north to Winterfell, the seat of Eddard Stark, the Warden of the North, and Robert’s longtime friend, in order to offer the position of Hand to him. Eddard agrees, and returns with the King to Kings Landing. Simultaneously an exiled King Arey’s Targaryian has given up his younger sister, Deanary’s, to Khal Drogo, the ruler of a vast Mongolian like hoard of Dorthraki in the hopes he can then lead his 30,000 man strong army back to Westeros to reclaim his father’s throne.
The story moves rather slowly at first, setting up the story and the conflict within it. Not to say any of this is boring, or unnecessary. It isn’t until halfway through the season when the conflict between the two competing families, the Starks and the Lannisters, when things start to pick up and the political positioning is replaces by violence. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in this show. Without fantastic writers, and directors who know what they’re doing, this could easily have become a wild mess. With so many POV characters playing a vital role in the story as a whole it’s hard to given them all the screen time they need to become fleshed out characters while still moving forward at a pace fast enough to keep the audience’s attention. Season one is the easiest season to adapt as there are far fewer locations then there will be in following season, and less characters, but even so it must have been very difficult to do. There is no filler, few scenes are wasted, and each character is given room to grow as befitting their status in the books.
I haven’t even touched on the acting, the effects, the overall look of the show, or the strength of the characters. Needless to say these are all top notch. Every character is portrayed perfectly, from Tyrion Lannister, to Jon Snow, to Eddard Stark and Deanary’s Targaryian. If there is one complaint I can give this show, however, it’s how rarely they actually show some of the locations in this show. Granted, with budget restraints they couldn’t Lord of the Rings everything, but it would have been nice to get some sweeping shots of Kings Landing, The Erye, Riverrun (which wasn’t really shown at all) or Vas Dorthrak. The only location to really got a lot of detail was Winterfell, and it looked amazing. Even for being so briefly show, the locations look fantastic. I just would have liked to see of them.
So who would enjoy this show, you ask? Well, if you’re not squeamish and the two B’s (blood and boobs) don’t bother you, I’d recommend this show to, well, anyone. If you’re a fan of fantasy, it goes without question you should see it. If you like character drama’s, see it. If you like action and battles, you’ll get that in season 2, so watch this first. If you like scheming, mystery, and politics, see it. I could not recommend this show enough.