Saturday, April 23, 2011

HBO's "A Game of Thrones"

Come on now. Let's admit it.  If you are a gamer, boardgamer, wargamer, or RPG player, then at some point in your life, if not still, you have had an affinity for fantasy literature.  Whether it was an early exposure to Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings", or episodes of late night D&D dice rolling, you have certainly come face-to-face with more than your share of savage barbarian warriors, magical wizards, or brutish orcs.  For myself, these kinds of fictional novels once played a significant part in my youthful recreational reading, and even though over the years I have migrated to material of a more non-fictional or historical nature, every once in awhile I still delve into a tome of sword-and-sorcery story-telling.  Several years ago, for just this reason, I read George R. R. Martin's opening volume of his best-selling Song of Ice and Fire series - "A Game of Thrones".

I ended up really enjoying the book.  Yes, it is a work of fantasy, but with a really mature, gritty atmosphere that is very "realistic" in its portrayal of the world of Westeros and the complicated motivations of its many multi-faceted characters.  No dancing elves or virtuous paladins contained in its pages, that's for sure.  And rather than digging into Northern European mythology, like Tolkien did, its source inspiration is more the actual history of the Late Middle Ages - specifically that of a thinly veiled War of the Roses.  Because I was so impressed by the novel, and also based on the reviews I had read, last night I found the time to watch the opening episode of HBO's adaption of "A Game of Thrones".

Now, whenever I sit down to watch a film of a novel that I really like, I expect to be at least a bit disappointed, having to make allowances for the consideration that a "movie can never be as good as the book."  But HBO's version, at least based on the opening, is actually really, really good.  It is fantastically cast, the acting is wonderful, and the sets and costumes look almost exactly like what I imagined in my mind's eye.  An awful lot of background was presented in the first show, and I don't know if it would have been difficult or not for someone to follow who is not familiar with the book, but it certainly held my interest while leaving me optimistically anticipating seeing the remaining episodes.  I hear that the show is considered enough of a success that it has already been picked up for a second season (which will adapt the second novel - "A Clash of Kings"), so this a series that I may be able to look forward to watching for quite some time.  Actually, it will be interesting to see if the author - who is notoriously slow at getting a book to publication - can finish the remaining volumes in the series rapidly enough in order to stay ahead of future television productions.

Sword and Sandal followers should check the series out for sure.  It may not be unadulterated history, I know, but its presentation of Westeros is probably closer in essence to 15th Century England than is 5th Century BC warfare as shown during most of the combat scenes in "300" - and most certainly more than the Roman Republic in "Spartacus: Blood and Sand".  We'll have to see how the rest of the episodes are done, but for now, the series is highly recommended.

Now I guess that I'll have to get around to reading "A Clash of Kings" before the second season gets shown some time next year.


  1. I really wanted to see this, but its on a sky channel they I haven't got! Damn sky tv!

  2. I really liked the first book of the series, and the subsequent ones are all good as well. It is best not to get too attached to any of the characters, though, as the grim reaper can come in a variety of ways, most violent, and no one is exempt! I hope to be able to watch ther series at some point as well, so thanks for the review, Peter!

  3. Pete,

    Agree with your analysis of how good this is. I loved it. Better by far than Showtime's Camelot and Spartacus. Frankly, it looks to be better than Lord of the Rings at this point. BTW, I think a more appropriate point of time is 12th-13th century Europe and the Mediterranean. If I didn't have HBO this would be a reason to get it. True staement Gonsalvo as to the grim reaper. That last scene death was about as cold as any murder I've ever seen on TV. And with the horse nomads and the white walkers for additional fizz this is going be be an incrdible show. Good stuff.

    Paul G.

  4. I, too, enjoyed it, but because I've already read the books. Somewhere on a forum, someone asked if this episode was good or not. Many answers were... no, too hard to follow, to slow... This answers came from people who don't have (yet) read the books.

  5. Thanks for the posting, I have been playing with the idea of reading the books but was put away by the size (not that I'm afraid of long works: I have already read the full LoTR and sequels/prequels several times...). The series is expected to be shown in Spain in Canal+ (codified) in a couple of weeks but after the summer in open DTV. So I guess from the comments above that it makes sense to read the book in advance. Which are the books covering the first season?

  6. The whole first season corresponds to the first novel.

    Paul - I agree that the first show looks more like the 13 hundreds, but wait for the tournaments in the capital. Then it will look much more like the late 14 hundreds. And there is quite a bit of correspondence with the characters and events to that of the War of the Roses. (Lannisters = Lancasters, Starks = Yorkshire, etc.)

    I agree about the ruthless killing off of major characters - there is a bunch of that even in the first novel.

  7. Well posted! I've locked myself away from the frothing of my mates who are going on about. I want to sit down and watch the whole shabooza in one go.

  8. Great premiere, great show, great actors etc. I can't wait for the next episode, but I can't decide to read the book now or after!! I watch a bunch of HBO now with the new shows, and the fact that I can now go to the newly-introduced and stream HBO, Cinemax, and thousands of on-demand titles!! Plus, a lot of the content isn't even available through Netflix or Hulu!! I work for Dish so it was easy for me to get hooked up. Check out this link below to take a look: