Game of Thrones Season 1 Review

Thrones, Dragons and a whole lot of scowling.

(In case you’d like the audio version: Game of Thrones Review)

If you weren’t hiding under a rock for the past year, chances are you’ve caught the hype revolving around HBO and its touted adaptation of popular fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire” – by George R.R. Martin.

Well, the season’s done now, and I think I can safely say any viewer’s anxiously awaiting Spring 2012. This first season certainly took us on an action-packed romp through Westeros, delivering us fast-paced storytelling, sound acting, and the usual quality of HBO writing. Sure there were only ten episodes, but the sheer breadth of what they covered would leave any sane man gasping for more.

Through this season we’ve scrambled through the twists and turns of revenge, medieval politics, and war, and all through the eyes of fascinatingly layered characters. It’s not your fantasy of Elves and Dwarves, no sir—this is your high class modern fantasy, by which I mean dark, brooding, and bloody. It’s all humans, save the looming threat of some undead nasties, and that honestly helps to endear it. The characters don’t rely on fantastical gimmicks or endless hordes of CGI to make us love them. They are raw humanity in its purest (and often ugliest) form.

Yet to be honest, going in, this was one of those shows I wasn’t sure if I would love or hate. I’m a fan of the books. I’ve read them all (and am waiting rather anxiously for the fifth book to FINALLY come out). I’ve seen a lot of books turned into terrible visual pieces—so I had my reservations. But while 10 episodes left a lot the finer details rushed, the show executed itself well over all.

For starters, the production values were top of the line, as we’ve come to expect from HBO programming. The men behind the cameras knew what they were doing, and the cinematography is spot-on. The locales of Westeros were distinct, as were the people in them, and the breadth and culture of a world breathed rather effortlessly through the screen.

As I’ve already mentioned, the characters themselves were beautifully rendered. Sean Bean, of course, was at the top of his game as Eddard Stark, patriarch of the Stark family, and Peter Dinklage shone as everyone’s favorite sassy “ Imp” Tyrion Lannister. But one would expect the big names to do well—it was the smaller names that really set the bar. The Starks—Maisie Williams as Arya, Sophie Turner as Sansa, Michelle Fairley as Catelyn—all delivered spot-on performances in that regard. I think I can safely say it was Emilia Clarke’s breakaway performance and traceable growth as the indomitable Daenerys Targaryen that really takes the cake (and made silver hair look damn fine too). Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) also was startlingly delivered, here, particularly because they got one hell of a creepy kid to play him, with an act that was no less than menacing.

The series, like the books it shadows, didn’t pull any punches, either. Much as you might gasp for Ned not to go through that door…the finale makes it very clear he’s not coming back from his wrong guess. Blood and sex were the order of the day (including one rather overt lesbian scene that I can only attribute to producers screaming “Look at me, I’m edgy!”), and the cameras didn’t shy away from the nasty.

The book fans have been waiting for…

But speaking as a fan of the books, there were some adaptations I didn’t quite agree with, and I’ll freely admit they color my perceptions a touch. First of all—Cersei as a sort of sympathetic character? Where the bloody did that come from? If you know anything about the books, you know the rather sinister queen is about the farthest one could get from “sympathetic”—power-hungry, arrogant, and utterly self-consumed. Yet the show often toned down the evil in her, playing up a mystery lost child, one-time love for her husband, and a hearty dose of respect for her rival that seems…off. To each their own interpretations, I suppose, but she’s certainly not the Cersei I know.

And where the hell was Rickon? The youngest Stark child never had a big to-do in the books, but he certainly had more than a couple cameo shots. Given, you can’t give equal screen to everybody, but one would be hard-pressed to recall the child until the final episode.

While most of the crucial scenes literary fans would be looking for were there—and delightfully pursued, if I might say so—there were a lot of other scenes you might have expected that simply weren’t. Flashbacks, for example. In the books of course, we get to spend time in the characters’ heads, so pursuing a few leaps in time is a little easier…but even so, I would have liked to have seen some of the history up close on the screen. The battle at the tower of joy, for example. The whole sub-plot of Ned’s sister. Even touches of the battle on the trident that…you know, guaranteed Robert’s kingship and all.

Some of the added scenes, while useful, were also less than thrilling, coming off as little more than fluff pieces. It’s perplexing just how many characters chose to give us self-insight through whores, for example. No, seriously.

But hey, the series also developed a few arts of its own, which we can all take a lesson from in the future. Like the art of censoring via dragons. Personally, I think it’s an art form that doesn’t get enough attention. I blame the media.

In conclusion: it’s not the book, but I don’t think it really set out to be. What Game of Thrones does, it does very well, with high production values, solid acting, and a wealth of characterization, culture, and dialogue. While fans of the books will find flaws to harp on (as I did), and the series can feel a bit rushed at points, overall it delivered the quality we would hope for, and delivered a healthy shot in the arm for the visual fantasy genre—because let’s face it, fantasy’s popular as literature, but we’re sorely lacking on the TV scene.

Putting it to the stars, I’d give the first season a 4 out of 5 in the end. Hopefully the second season will maintain the momentum.

Lord knows the blood pool’s going to deepen.

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Set Me Free

Set me off into the Black

far beyond the stars

set me off into the Wild

far beyond the wilderness.

Set me free of mortal hearts

and weighted thoughts,

so low, so low,

and break these chains that

bind me to this coil—

what life,

what prison

now is this?

Press the suit and

straighten up that tie,

you are a man, it says

but you are just a boy

playing at a world of

mysterium and drama that has

devoided itself of plot.

There is a key

to thee and thine and mine,

and nestled just behind that door

is freedom yet incarnate.

In a breath, breathe—

so few have ever tasted

the freshness of the air—

recycled reconfigurations of reality—

that will be your paycheck please—

and this feeling is not falsified,

unbound, unguarded it yearns

for the taking—just breathe—

and feel the air,

feels, felt, feeling

this momentary being—

all I want is to breathe

and to feel, yet to be,

to stretch beyond perception

and feel the days beyond

that calendar—no shifts scheduled here.

No vacancy,

sincerest apologies

this mind is mine and yet

one waits beyond, yet yours—

this mirror of a soul you grasp

what a reflection is it not?

There is the dawning,

the rain is falling down

and through the swirl of purple haze,

these diamonds dribble through the

emerald leaves, like tiny lovers—

in your caress, this breath unbidden

slithers through my chest

and down into my roots—

I am born again, stretching

for the clouds.

Air, give me air,

Prayer and dream and reverie

are forever in the field—

give me space to work.

My latest contribution to the wonderful One Shot Poetry Wednesdays! Once you’ve had a look, check out some of the other One Shot Poets as well– they’re a skilled bunch of poets, looking to form a community and support one another.  Enjoy!

Summer Reading

File these away under finished...

Between everything I’ve had going on this summer I would say that’s a respectable bit of reading to have done, lo these past couple months of warmth and sunlight, no? From vibrant and mystical fantasy to gritty, nihilistic dramas of the modern age, these books have carried me healthily through a good bit of summer.

Of course, it’s still not over. But I’m running out of my summer stack–just a couple more to go!

Currently reading “The Surrendered,” by Chang-rae Lee.

Fascinating read. It’s Lee’s fourth book, and this one takes place in the aftermath of the Korean War, following three characters specifically and how they are dealing with different aspects of that aftermath. You see the horrors of the war, as well as decisions made following it, and how those decisions have followed certain characters all the way into the 1980s. Not for the squeamish or the faint-hearted.

Yet as I work my way through this novel, I find myself wondering what might come next. Any of you have any suggestions of must-reads?

A month of summer lies yet ahead, and I am always looking for more reading material to greedily devour. Believe me, I’m easy–I read any and all types.

Winter is Coming

The day may still be a year away, but HBO’s upcoming adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s popular fantasy novel series A Song of Fire and Ice has never felt closer.

Last week, a new teaser trailer (the first) was released, showing several scenes from the show and getting all trippy on us. It doesn’t reveal much, just a few glimpses here and there of things we can gleefully anticipate.

The first season will revolve around the first novel in the series, and all seasons thereafter will follow the same theory. Martin has seven books planned for the series (though fans are still biting their nails over a five-year wait on the fifth book: A Dance with Dragons).

The story takes place in the mythical land of Westeros, and follows the story of the noble but intensely unfortunate Stark family, who become intricate parts of the gathering intrigue and drama of the land when the King draws the Stark patriarch, Eddard (played by Sean Bean) in to be his closest advisor. People squabble for the throne, characters fall, and in the midst of it all, the once semi-peaceful land devolves into war-torn madness.

The script for the show is written and produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, with Thomas McCarthy (at least at present) directing. The cast will also play host to a number of fairly well-known names, including Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey, amongst others.

The series is going to be filled with necessary pretties, and some serious cash will have to be invested in visual effects—given that we have got dragons, magic, and even giant wolves running around Westeros, all waiting for their moment on the screen. The show is said to be more “character-centric,” but we’ll see how that turns out.

The series is set to premiere in Spring, 2011, barring setbacks. And by god, there better not be setbacks.

(And yes, I know, geek points for me, since I posted this on both my blogs. I’ll live.)