After much anticipation (on my part anyway) and a heavy-handed ad campaign, HBO’s new series Game of Thrones premiered last night with the episode titled “Winter is Coming.” The series, based on the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin will follow the first book of the same name.
Now comes the task of trying to sum up the story without A) giving anything away and B) writing the next great American novel trying to explain it all. Forgive me for slaughtering the synopsis but I’ll do my best. The story of Game of Thrones takes place in the land of Westeros and its seven kingdoms. The pilot episode introduces us to the Lord of the North, Eddard (Ned) Stark of Winterfell. We’re also introduced to King Robert Baratheon, the King of the realm, his wife Queen Cersei of the House of Lannister and the exiled heir to the throne Viserys Targaryen and his sister Daenerys.
I’ll stick with those since that’s who the series has introduced so far. The series starts out in the extreme north at The Wall. This is a the border between the civilized lands of Westeros and untamed forests that lie beyond and is guarded by the Night’s Watch. Three men from the Night’s Watch journey into the wild to track down some “wildlings” but while scouting, one of them comes upon a brutal murder scene. Going back to tell the others, all three go back to investigate but find the remains gone. The one who found the scene earlier then witnesses his comrade lose his head at the hands of a “white walker”. Basically it’s a scary forest zombie with glowing eyes.
Starting the episode off in this manner shows us that this is not your normal fantasy show. They don’t have any trouble showing blood and gore considering all this takes place within the first five minutes or so. From here we’re taken to Winterfell and introduced to Ned Stark (Sean Bean), and his wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) as they watch their 10 year-old son Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) practice his archery. Bran is being encouraged by Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), as well as his older brother Robb (Richard Madden), but ends up bested by his sister Arya (Maisie Williams). Yep, there’s a lot to keep track of here. While Ned is watching, he gets word that the survivor from the forest attack is a deserter of the Night’s Watch. Bad news because being a deserter carries a sentence of death. Ned then takes his leave to dole out the punishment and takes his sons along for the ride.
When sentencing is complete (aka the beheading) Ned explains to Bran that the man who hands down the sentence should be the one to swing the sword. It’s a lot for a 10 year-old to take in, but Bran handles it quite well. One the trip back to Winterfell the group comes across an animal that looks to have died from mysterious circumstances. They then find a dead direwolf (a really really big wolf) and her living pups. Taking the six pups back (one for each of the Stark children and one for the bastard son) they return to Winterfell.
Catelyn brings word to Ned that Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King and a sort of father figure to Ned has died and that the King (Mark Addy) and his troupe are headed to Winterfell. Ned states that he knows why the King is coming his way and knows that it’s going to mean taking a job he doesn’t want. Catelyn tells him he can say no, but Ned says it’s not an option.
Once the King and his court arrive, King Robert tells Ned that he wants Ned to serve as the new Hand. Ned, wanting to say no, tells Robert he will and that he’s honored to serve. Lies! Ned really doesn’t want to leave Winterfell to go to the “rat-infested” city of Kings Landing. But he will anyway.
Meanwhile…at the Legion of Doom. No, not really, but meanwhile, across the narrow sea in the land of Essos, Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) is getting set to marry his younger sister Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) off to the chieftain of the tribal clan, the Dothraki. Viserys father was once King of Westeros but was killed and Viserys was sent into exile. Now on a quest to regain the throne, the marriage pact will be the first step in that journey.
Back at Winterfell, Ned is set to go on a hunt with Robert and nods goodbye to Bran. Once Ned is gone, Bran goes about his business of climbing all over the walls of the castle like a little mid-evil Spiderman. He hears noises coming from one of the deserted parts of the castle and peeks inside a window to see Queen Cersei in a most compromising position with her brother, Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Seeing Bran, Cersei quite understandably freaks out and worries about Bran seeing the two of them together. Jamie grips the boy firmly while he’s standing in the window but lets him go making like he’s not going to do anything to Bran. He changes his mind and a split second later, pushes Bran off the sill to the ground below. End of episode.
What a place to leave off right? Even though I knew it was coming, actually seeing it happen still took me by surprise. Having read the book and knowing the scope of the story I’ve been excited / nervous for the series to start. HBO has a lot of success in bringing grand scale stories to life and making them high quality shows so I had faith that they would do this story justice. So far so good.
I was really happy with the outcome of the premier episode and so far the cast has really got a handle on their characters. Jason Momoa may be an exception here but the character of the Dothraki leader Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) is probably one of the hardest to play. He (the character not the actor) isn’t the most engaging character in the book and it’s the same for the show so far. Given, the character’s dialogue is almost non-existent and his movements and expressions are somewhat stilted. It’ll take some time to get used to this character and see if Momoa is able to pull something out of Khal Drogo to make him more relatable / likeable.
So far I love the look of Westeros. Using a combination of sets and CGI they’ve pretty much nailed the scenery with what I had envisioned from reading the book. It’s grand and sweeping and the difference in environments from The Wall, to Winterfell, to King’s Landing and Essos are incredible. I will say however that upon seeing Winterfell for the first time I was reminded of Jabba’s palace. Is it just me? Ok I know there’s a difference, but it just struck me as similar.
This is definitely does not make for nice family Sunday night viewing. This show holds nothing back and doesn’t apologize for the graphic nature it has displayed so far. Westeros is a place where the men can do what and who they want while the women are viewed as objects. It gets downright uncomfortable at one point with an exchange, well, one-sided anyway, between Viserys and Dany. This may be a turn off to some, but in this respect it is being faithful to the source material. The women who need to be tough are ,and you get that sense from Michelle Fairley and Lena Headey who play Catelyn and Cersei respectively.
Capturing the world that George R.R. Martin has written is a huge undertaking. His verbose descriptive style should be a hard one to adapt, but the pilot, written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss has a firm grasp on the world that Martin created. Tim Van Patten earned the task of bringing the script to life which he was able to do. Van Patten is no stranger to HBO epics however having also directed episodes of Boardwalk Empire, and The Sopranos as well as an episode of Rome and Deadwood. All of which are HBO properties.
The amount of characters is this story is at times, mind-boggling. While the pilot introduced us to several characters right off the bat, I didn’t feel overloaded. Now that could be to due to the fact that I’m already familiar with these characters but I felt that the writers did a good job of telling the viewer what they needed to know at any given time. If you need help keeping it all straight, Screen Rant posted a great infographic on the characters that were introduced in the first episode and what their houses / relationships are. You’ll find a small version at the bottom of this post and if you click on it, it will take you to the original post where you can access a much larger version.
In talking with someone who had no knowledge of the premise or the source material I asked her if she found the story / characters easy to follow. First of all, this genre is not normally in her wheelhouse and it’s not something she would normally watch. She said that it was a lot to take in and after some clarification pretty much understood the relationships and who was who. She stated that the pilot was interesting and engaging enough to bring her back for a few more episodes at least. She said that this being the first one, it wasn’t enough for her to decide to not follow it, but she’s going to give it a chance to see if it can fully pull her in.
My future write ups on GoT will mainly be to recap the episodes. I’ll do my best to not make continual comparisons to the book but may throw one or two out there if I find it necessary. If you decide to comment please try to keep it spoiler free for those who haven’t read the books. I’ve not even read the whole series so I’d like to remain as spoiler free as possible.
Did you watch the pilot? What did you think?
One more thing I forgot to mention are the opening credits. I always love watching the opening credits of a new show just to see if they’ll do anything out of the ordinary. Game of Thrones certainly does that. The opening sequence takes the view through a map where the realm the map is focusing on rises up using gears and cogs. The sequence for the pilot showed this being done to Winterfell, Kings Landing, Essos and The Wall. All of the places that the episode itself focused on. I can’t wait to see it next week to see if they focus on other parts of the realm. Keep an eye out for this.
Via: Screen RantTags: Benioff, D.W. Weiss, David, Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones, George R.R. Marting, Harry Lloyd, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Jason Momoa, Kit Harrington, Lena Headey, Maisie Williams, Michelle Fairley, Richard Madden, Sean Bean, Tim Van Patten