Remote Outpost: GAME OF THRONES
Television Review by Mark Onspaugh
Here are a few things you’ve missed by not watching HBO’s new fantasy series GAME OF THRONES (as the ancients used to say, “Here there be SPOILERS!”):
Creatures known as White Walkers are rumored to be rising from beneath the ice. (Knowing author George R.R. Martin, they will be much worse than vampires, and certainly won’t twinkle.)
Winter is coming – one expected to last at least nine years.
An incestuous brother and sister hold the key to unseating the King.
A young woman of privilege must consume a raw and bloody horse’s heart without getting sick.
A dwarf has all the best lines, to wit:
Warlord: How do you want to die?
Dwarf: At eighty, in my own bed, with a belly full of wine and a woman’s mouth around my c**k.
(How great is that? I don’t think little people have had such great lines since TIME BANDITS .)
Add to this excellent writing and performances, sumptuous photography, great sets, cool costumes and the promise of dragons (we’ve seen giant skulls and eggs so far) and the vampiric White Walkers… and dire wolves!
Now, I have heard three reasons not to watch GAME OF THRONES: it’s not like the books, it’s too complicated, fantasy sucks.
The series is based on the THE SONG OF FIRE AND ICE series by George R.R. Martin. These are books that have created the same furor among adults that HARRY POTTER and the TWILIGHT series did among younger readers. I have not read this series, but I have read George R.R. Martin. He is a terrific storyteller and very inventive. (One of his earlier stories concerned werewolves who traveled through mirrors – one fellow thought he was safe in his car until the lycanthrope came out of the rear view!) As to the movies not being like the books, that’s just not possible. No one can match what you have conjured in your mind (though Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy came close for me), and allowances must be made for a primarily visual medium. You want the books? They’re still available through all the usual venues. Martin is a Co-Executive Producer and writer, so he must be as satisfied with the adaptation (as much as any writer can be working in Hollywood).
As to GoT being too complicated, it’s no more convoluted than THE X-FILES or LOST, and each noble house has visual signifiers (one is composed of blondes, another of white hair, etc.)… In a time when most young adults followed Pokemon and other such data-intensive, minutiae-based entertainment, Game of Thrones is very easy to grasp within one to two episodes.
Fantasy sucks? Hey, I won’t argue – a lot of times it does. I don’t know how many bad rip-offs of Lord of the Rings and King Arthur I saw when I worked in a science fiction bookstore. And the minute the back blurb said something like, “The great house Parkoor is at war with its ancient enemy, the House Carmingate, while Lord Jackos and deposed Lady…”, I could feel my eyes rolling back in my head and a nap coming on. And fantasy in movies and television can be stupid, self-indulgent and boring… But Game of Thrones is full of good drama and great characters. Each week brings a few answers and even more questions. And, since each season will represent one book in Martin’s series, the show will have a template, a definitive arc. It won’t be like the latter seasons of the X-Files, where it felt like the creators were as lost as the audience.
The series is anchored by two wonderful actors: Sean Bean as Eddard Stark and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister.
Stark is the head of the family that rules Winterfell in the far north. A segment of their populace join an almost monastic order called The Black – they are charged with guarding an immense wall of ice 700 feet tall and 300 miles wide – beyond the wall is a forest and arctic waste where the White Walkers, “wildings” (wild people) and other dread things live. We’ve seen that people attacked by the Walkers become zombies who can only be destroyed (so far) by fire… Hmm—a dragon would come in mighty handy, in that case. We get the idea Stark would be an excellent king, but he did not take the throne because it would not have been honorable.
Tyrion Lannister would also have made an excellent king, but his stature precludes the throne. He is the dwarf brother of Cersei (Lena Headey, “The Sarah Conner Chronicles“) and Jaime (Nikolai Coster-Waldau). (All the Lannisters are blonde, which is important.) Until recently, Cersei was queen of the realm (her son is now king). Jaime is a handsome nobleman and swordsman. Cersei and Jaime are close… very, very close… (ahem) How much Tyrion knows about his brother and sister (and the late king’s blonde son who now sits on the throne) remains to be seen, In the meantime, Tyrion “The Imp” spends his time reading, drinking and whoring. Tyrion also exhorts a bastard to revel in being a bastard, just as a newly-crippled boy should find individuality and joy in being crippled. He’s like Dr. Phil with more hair, a better vocabulary and a wicked sense of humor.
We haven’t touched on the warlord Drogo across the sea – he’s played by man-giant Jason Momoa who will be playing CONAN in the upcoming movie. Drogo’s people are a nomadic, equestrian tribe, and have never ventured across the sea to Westeros. But Drogo’s now married to comely horse-heart eater Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who is carrying his baby. She’s also carrying a clutch of dragon eggs in a box and a secret—she cannot be harmed by fire. Her family was deposed from the throne of Westeros and her late brother wanted to reclaim the throne of Westeros… (I won’t spoil how he died, but it was a corker.) Drogo, angry that someone tried to poison Daenerys, plans to travel across the sea and lay waste to the kingdom.
Yes, it sounds complicated, but it’s stylish and rich, the world looks real and every dollar of the budget can be seen in the craft with which it’s presented. I will not coax you to watch the BBC’s MERLIN (yech) or the next failed attempt to bring Robin Hood or Tarzan to the screen—but the GAME OF THRONES is definitely something you should play.
© Copyright 2011 by Mark Onspaugh