I have loudly proclaimed my dislike for book series. It might be because I followed the Dune and Ender books to the point of pointlessness. It might be because I’m a cheapskate and don’t want to tied myself down to one single narrative. It might be because I dislike slavishly following an author for years, waiting for their next book to be published. There is, however, one exception to this generally consistent philosophy on speculative fiction reading- George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series!
When I was in college, members of the University’s Gaming Group were talking about the series at the local diner. I didn’t really understand the references. I didn’t know the importance of the dire wolves or Tyrion Lannister. I simply listened as I drank my coffee, allowing it to pass into memory as yet another thing that made me uncool amongst my fellow gamers. It wasn’t like I was going to read the books anyway.
Well my love of cheap books got the best of me. At the local music/bookstore, which I frequented every week, I found a $2 softcover copy of A Game of Thrones. Since it was the summer, I really didn’t have much to read. My course load was relatively light, and I think I had just gotten off my big cyberpunk kick. I was looking for something new to read. The cover advertized that it going to be a new HBO tv series. This piqued my since I like reading books that will be or have been adapted into other media. If HBO was making a series based on these books, they must be cool! I devoured the first three books that summer!
Time passed, Hollywood rumors became stale, and memory became legend…
That is until Game of Thrones debuted on HBO last weekend! Since its premier, it has earned critical acclaim and high enough ratings to warrant a second season. Judging from the synopsis of the episodes on Wikipedia, I would speculate that since Game of Thrones is a close adaptation of A Game of Thrones, the second season will follow A Storm of Swords. Hopefully, they’ll title it more like the Twilight movies. Maybe something like Song of Ice and Fire: Storm of Swords… Or they could continue calling the series Game of Thrones.
I finally got to watch the first episode “Winter is Coming” this week, nearly exploding my follower’s feeds with the #GameofThrones hashtag. Unlike my Twitter recap, I’ll attempt to show some restraint in this review. As @nello_puddin noted, the fanboyism was a bit gratuitous on my part. However, I can’t help but to wonder if this is how Harry Potter, Twilight, or Lord of the Rings fans felt when they saw adaptations of their favorite books on the big screen.
As a fan, I can say, Game of Thrones is an extremely close adaptation of the book, pretty much down to the letter. While not every character is touched upon, the characters that matter are given their time to shine. A Song of Ice and Fire has an immense cast, not including the thousands of minor characters. It provides an excellent overview of the narrative for viewers who haven’t read the books, while hinting at deeper information that might inspire the viewer to read the series. “Winter is Coming” lays the groundwork for the series’ major themes, exploring the world through eyes of A Song of Ice and Fire’s major characters.
The war veterans Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon provide the viewer with hints of the show’s backstory. In A Game of Thrones, the reader learns the most of the war from Robert and Ned. The noble, stoic patriarch Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean) is appointed the King’s Hand by his brother-in-arms, King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). Sean Bean’s portrayal of Ned as a traditional family man, who is pushed into a world of courtly intrigue is straight from the book. When he executes the deserter from the Night’s Watch he tells his son Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), “Our way is the Old Way,” reinforcing the Stark’s connection with Westros’ history. The hedonistic, jolly King Robert is too busy enjoying the perks of being king to actually notice the web of betrayal around him.“Winter is Coming” offers its first hints of their shared history, when we see Robert grieving over the death of Ned’s sister, his lost love. While Robert and Ned look to the past, other characters are preparing for the future.
“Winter is Coming” lays the groundwork for the future alliances that will shape Westros by introducing the notion of arranged marriage and courtly womanhood told through the eyes of the series’ female characters. The director Tim Van Patten explicity draws parallels between Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), inter-cutting the Dany’s betrothal to Khal Drogo (Jason Mamoa) with the arrangement of Sansa’s marriage to Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson). While Sansa is still very much a young girl, a fact pointed out by Cersei Lannister (Lena Heady), who dreams being a proper princess, Dany knows that her marriage to Drogo is a means to an ends for her power-hungry brother, Viserys (Harry Lloyd). With Drogo’s tribe, the Targaryens hope to reclaim their kingdom from the Baratheons. The alliance between Stark and Baratheon will split the Stark family, while Dany’s marriage to Drogo will alter the geo-political situation of an entire continent.
In every world, there are outsiders, who find themselves separated from society because of their interests, their physical flaws, or their heritage. In “Winter is Coming,” we meet two of A Song of Ice and Fire’s major outsiders. The tomboy Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) not-so-subtly challenges the notions of courtly womanhood in Westros by being an expert marksman and hiding amongst the commoners. Arya’s story will provide a foil for Sansa and Dany, who are pushed into arranged marriages by their respective families. As the youngest girl in House Stark, she isn’t bound by any marriages or courtly etiquette. Her brother, Jon Snow (Kit Harington), is deliberately ostracized by their mother Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), who is put-off by his bastardhood. The burden of being a bastard weighs so heavily on Jon that he asks his uncle Benjen to recruit him for the Night’s Watch, a position that would prevent him from having a family of his own and most likely lead to certain death. In a classic scene, ripped straight out of George R.R. Martin’s novel, he meets Tyrion “The Imp” Lannister, played with Shakespearean gravitas by Pete Dinklage, who challenges Jon’s notions of social position by revealing that he is just as much a “bastard in his father’s eyes” because of his height, despite being a true blooded Lannister. By existing on the fringes of society, Tyrion, Jon, and Arya allow the viewer to see parts of Westros that they wouldn’t see if the story remained inside the towers of Winterfell and King’s Landing.
As a television viewer, Game of Thrones is beautifully shot. The digital matte paintings that introduce the books’ major locations are expertly crafted. Winterfell, King’s Landing, Pentos, and the Wall are real places! Winterfell’s towers jut out of the green hills of the North, while King’s Landing red castle overlooks the bay. The few physical locations we see are well chosen, contrasting the chilly North with the warmer, Mediterranean South. The costume design is excellent. Sandor “The Hound” Clegane’s dog-shaped helmet stands out as some of the best fantasy armor working I’ve seen since Lord of the Rings. It’s clear the producers have gone out of their way to make Westros come to life. “Winter is Coming” is simply a gorgeous premiere episode.
Tonight Game of Thrones second episode “Kingsroad” airs on HBO. While I don’t have a television, I will be reviewing each episode of this series this summer. If you aren’t watching Game of Thrones, the premiere was awesome. I already convinced my friend Yutaka to watch the series just by showing him the show’s awesome opening credit sequence. If you are watching the series, go to your local bookstore and pick up the book too. Personally, I need to re-read the book series, since A Dance with Dragons is supposed to come out this year. I highly recommend Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire for summer viewing and reading.
 I haven’t read A Feast for Crows, because I was naively holding out for A Dance with Dragons to be published.