Game of Thrones
This gritty fantasy can do no wrong as far as Tammy Moore is concerned
Just so you know what you are getting into, I own the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin. We aren’t talking paperback either, those puppies are hard-cover and bought the day they landed in the shop. I am a fan. I hang out in fandom. My unfiltered review of Game of Thrones would be a high-pitched, squeaking noise – like a very happy vole.
In an attempt to maintain some modesty-veil of professionalism over my nerdiness, however, I will keep the ‘Look! It’s Ned!’ and ‘Wraiths!’ to a minimum. HBO's Game of Thrones - filmed in Belfast's Paint Hall, the Mourne Mountains and elsewhere in Northern Ireland - is a sprawling, lushly realized fantasy epic that captures the essence of Martin’s series.
Sean Bean brings a weary gravitas to the role of Ned Stark, a man who does things that he doesn’t want to in the name of duty and friendship and will be forced to do more. He encourages his son to ignore teasing and try harder with the bow, then makes the boy watch him behead a man for desertion. Politics in the world of Westeros are those of steel and blood. It is never a gentle place, and winter is coming...
Winter and upheaval in the person of Robert Baratheon, King of Westeros, played by a bearded and grave Mark Addy. Bad news travels before him, bringing word of the death of Jon Arryn, father figure to both men, and when Baratheon and his court arrive he has an offer for Stark. It would be an honour to some, but it is a burden to Ned, who has few fond memories of his last foray out of The North. Baratheon knows that, but he asks anyway.
That is the heart of the first episode, that moment. It is the butterfly flapping its wings, the pebble that starts a rockslide. It doesn’t cause the chain of events to follow – events happen, that is the nature of them – but it dictates the shape they will take.
As an introduction to the world, this episode does its job well. I could have done without the slurping, and a few more introductions by name wouldn’t have gone amiss, but it is easy to fall into the rhythms of the world and pick up the sense of the people and place.
Peace, as much as they have, is new-won and fragile still. There is a pale youth across the sea – in the East – who is trading his sister for allies to claim back his crown. In his lifetime, Baratheon was not king and he was not an exile.
Viserys Targaryen - played by Harry Lloyd, who also played Will Scarlet in BBC’s Robin Hood - is obviously mad, bad and dangerous to know. Not one to root for. But, is Baratheon’s rule any better? There’s a gilded worm at the heart of his court and he seems not to see it. And, finally, there is a dead girl in a cold cave who knows all the secrets, but she’s not telling.
Game of Thrones is wonderful. It captures George RR Martin’s world with beautiful, awful precision. There are so many tiny, perfect details that nail that place, that time, home as ‘real’. The strange, flat horror in the deserter’s eyes after he sees beyond The Wall; the moment Daenery’s stoic calm slips away and leaves her raw (up until then, it had occurred Emilia Clarke might just be a bad actor).
Nor should I leave this review without praising the actors, but it is hard to select a few when they are all genuinely good. Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are excellent as Tyrion and Jaime Lannister – capturing the odd mix of likeable charm and ruthless self-interest that the Lannisters practice so avidly.
The Stark children also seem well-cast, although they are yet to hit their narrative stride, with tom-boy Arya (Maisie Williams) and brittle Sansa (Sophie Turner) completely believable as sisters. I look forward to seeing more of Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo though, once he gets a chance to stretch his wings with the character.
With HBO already signed up for a second season (after the success of just one episode, which has received universal acclaim and been lauded as 'The Sopranos with swords'), and a shocking climatic scene that takes the breath away, viewers of Game of Thrones can look forward to months of medieval politics, betrayals, honour and war ahead. Some of the main players might yet surprise you.
When you play the Game of Thrones, you either win or you die. This episode, I think they won. (Although I would still have loved the opening scene to be Brian Blessed walking out of the forest yelling, 'Game of Throooooooones!')