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April 13, 2011

HBO Game of Thrones review

by Brian Turner

I’ve just watched the first episode of “Game of Thrones”, and I’m impressed.

Developed by HBO, Game of Thrones is an ambitious showing on Sky Atlantic from next Monday April 18th

The series is based on George R R Martin’s epic A Song of Fire and Ice novels, which have become a major favourite among fantasy readers.

And be warned, this isn’t a world of elves and goblins, with shiny bright heroes and evil villains dredged from some underworld - instead, GRRM has written an epic fantasy that has far more in common with Sharekespeare’s violent tragedies.

There are personal interests and family interests and political interests, driven by a range of flawed characters with uncertain motives.

Each becomes a thread in a larger web of plot lines that result in murder, conflict, and inevitable battles.

All set in a fantasy world that draws on our own ancient and mediaeval past.

That HBO should have set out on developing this series is an epic task they should be congratulated for - hopefully it helps fill a void since the superbly written/produced/acted Battlestar Galactica finished on Scifi Channel a few years back.

However, how does the first episode actually view?

Game of Thrones: The Review

It’s the first episode in a brand new series, so it’s got a lot of work to do - set up characters, major plot lines, and prepare the audience for the journey.

It’s inevitable that it will look to stall and stumble, and this is exactly what Game of Thrones does for the first 25 minutes or so.

It looks uncomfortable, flat, and really deflates any expectation you might have built up.

There’s also difficulty in discerning the difference between Robb Stark and Jon Snow, two key characters.

However, neither is yet properly introduced yet, and this is all scene setting.

And in a remote and desolate part of the world of the story at that.

The novels fail to deliver the almost cliche dramatic tragedy that can explode pace from the start - instead, we have to be patient and allow for a build up.

Then the scene changes, we see the city of Kings Landing, and it moves into gear. Everything suddenly starts to come alive.

And it keeps up a good pace from then on.

There is far more nudity than I would have expected, but rather than gratuitous, it settles into simply establishing that this is a world that has more ancient attitudes to sex.

And what of the sets? Certainly it’s an epic book, and the sets don’t provide the same epic vision your imagination can deliver, but are still done very very well. If you look carefully there’s a great care and attention to detail to help make everything look authentic.

If you’re a fan of the writing, you might not agree with the way everything is projected on screen - personally I thought the Kings Guard, noted more for their white cloaks in the novels - were more notable for their strange-looking helmets, which was a little disorientating.

But what of the actors? Well, it’s early days yet, but the actresses look especially accomplished - the Stark girls and Cersei, even equally loved and hated Cateyn Stark - are all carried by their players with the quiet power they require.

Jaime Lannister, and of course Tyrion Lannister, are both carried well, which is essential.

However, there calls for a definite nod to Emilia Clarke for her brilliant acting of Daenerys.

She was actually brought in on a late casting change, but she carries her role - one of the most difficult - better than her peers in this episode.

Her character in the novel internalises a lot of her conflict, but in the TV series Emilia projects such a haunted expression and defeated body language.

Emelia Clarke looks an acting gem we’re sure to see a lot more of in other productions.

Game of Thrones: The TV Series - the verdict

Overall, it’s the first episode of a new series with a helluvalot lot will be expected of it by the tens of thousands of loyal readers of the novels.

Will they be disappointed? I don’t think so.

There are obviously changes and abridgements for TV, but otherwise very faithful to the story in spirit where not in letter.

What about Sky TV fans? Will they be disappointed?

Well, if they’re used to series like Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, and Battlestar Galactica, they are going to be faced with yet another ambitious and challenging adult-themed drama.

The hardest part, I think, is that with the level of marketing being done that expectations might be set too high for a first episode.

Now that I’ve watched it, the level of expectation has been brought to the right level, and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it play out.

The only hope is that heads will roll only on the screen, for daring to bring us this ambitious and promising project.

Game of Thrones will be broadcast on Sky Atlantic on April 18th.

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