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Enthralling "Game of Thrones" Certain To Be Huge For HBO
HBO’s Game of Thrones begins with men on horseback emerging from a long, torch-lit tunnel into a wintry-white, ominous forest. The introduction concludes with a beheading before segueing into one of the finest opening title sequences ever produced for television.
HBO is typically attentive to their opening sequences, and nothing topped The Sopranos and that ride through gritty New Jersey set to A3’s “Woke Up This Morning” – until now. HBO’s outdone HBO and raised the bar yet again.
Game of Thrones is a 10-part series adapted from the first book of the bestselling Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy by George R.R. Martin. It’s an enthralling spectacle shot in Northern Ireland and Malta for $60 million (the official HBO figure) to close to $100 million (the unofficial figure, from “a person familiar with the budget”), according to the Wall Street Journal.
The series is certain to be wildly successful for the network.
In fact, in one respect it already is. A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal also reported the series has “become HBO’s [top]-selling property abroad, according to people close to the network….fetched more than $2.5 million an episode from sales to international television channels, more than 50% higher than the international price tag for…The Sopranos.”
Game of Thrones is the best reason in years to call your cable provider and subscribe, or sign up for HBO’s streaming service called HBO Go and watch on your iPad (starting in May) - although I can’t imagine ever watching this series on anything other than a big screen home theater system. If you wait for Netflix, or the DVD’s, etc. etc. it’s going to be nearly impossible to avoid spoilers because Game of Thrones will be the stuff of Monday morning water cooler chatter.
A Lord of the Rings-like medievalist fantasy, Game of Thrones is set in a fictional, merciless world of jousting knights, swordplay, palace intrigue, dragons, and incest. As the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros rot from within and powerful families vie for control of the Iron Throne, mysterious forces gather beyond the great wall of ice in the north. To the east, only the “narrow sea” prevents nomadic barbarians from invading Westeros.
It’s likely that Game of Thrones will attract viewers beyond the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Avatar fantasy enthusiasts. Even my husband, my bellwether male HBO viewer who prefers the hard realism of series like The Sopranos and Oz, said he couldn’t wait to see more, that he felt what he called a “frisson” of anticipation.
The settings are vastly different, but the Game of Thrones universe is just as savage and unforgiving as the Oz and Sopranos subcultures. Viewers can count on plenty of swordplay with much skewering and throat slicing accompanied by lots and lots of spurting blood. Game of Thrones is hard fantasy that (mostly) steers clear of some of the usual trappings commonly associated with the genre - wizards toting magical staffs and characters imbued with special powers.
Game of Thrones is world building at its finest. It’s completely escapist, where you emerge from an hour of television and whatever woes and anxieties might have been tumbling around in your head - about nuclear meltdowns or the economy or divisions in Washington D.C. or whatever - are forgotten. It’s wonderfully therapeutic to just go untethered for an hour.
The opening sequence resonates like a bell, holding the tone for the audience long after the sequence is finished. The music soars as the viewpoint swoops in and over a 3D map that sprouts castles, trees, and spinning gears. Think a dynamic Middle Earth map come to life using Sim City. As the series progresses, viewers will start to recognize, and no doubt dissect, the motifs unfolding in the opening credits.
The challenge the writers faced was enormous: bring the audience quickly up to speed on an exceeding complex world. The spectacular sets, costumes, and special effects serve to distract from the occasional exposition in the pilot – a necessary evil in this case. There are seven royal family lines in Westeros, some of who are related by blood and/or marriage. Then, there’s the Mongol-like horde, the Dothraki (which my husband called “a biker gang on horseback”), and more mysterious races to the frozen north, beyond the great ice wall.
The ensemble cast is big – 26 named in the press kit. Here’s my incomplete list of noteworthy performances: Irish actor Jack Gleeson is chilling as the coddled young Prince Joffrey Baratheon, heir to the throne. Gleeson’s spoiled nastiness is only matched by Harry Lloyd as the deliciously evil, infinitely ambitious and effete Prince Viserys Targaryen. But Peter Dinklage gives the most nuanced performance of all as the imp Tyrion Lannister, brother of the Queen.
Lady Lysa Arryn, played by Kate Dickie, appears in a later episode but there’s little that can be said without spoiling the shock of her initial introduction. On Twitter, @westerosorg summed up Dickie’s performance as “fantastically creepy” and, whew! - just yes.
As for Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo - the Dothraki leader - he doesn’t get to say much but his lip-curl snarl is menacing and he broods nicely. He’s also the ultimate eye candy, and I have to assume ::cough:: that wasn’t a body double in one scene. Together with his reluctant queen, Daenerys Targaryen (played by Emilia Clarke), they’re a gorgeous couple. Plus, watching Daenerys grow into her powers as the Khal’s equal is one of the great viewing pleasures of the series.
I do have a few nitpicks. First, the gay characters are stereotypically effeminate. And the Dothraki wedding was something out of a B-movie, dark continent nude dancing girls and all. Almost the entire House Stark seems a tad naïve and too easily manipulated by the royal court. (On the other hand, this is understandable - for years the family has lived far from court intrigue, protecting the north.) It’s a huge story - the Game of Thrones paperback is over 800 pages long - and occasionally it feels that some characters could use more fleshing out.
HBO provided six episodes of the Game of Thrones for screening. It’s the most engrossing six hours of television I’ve seen in years. I made the mistake of popping the second episode into the DVD player around 9 at night, and was so mesmerized I just couldn’t stop watching, and stayed up until 2.am. I was an exhausted wreck the next day….
It was TOTALLY worth it.
UPDATE: click here for Daily Beast’s @televisionary ’s handy, dandy Game of Thrones guide for dummies.
Game of Thrones premieres this Sunday, April 17, at 9p. A 14 minute preview: