Game of Thrones Season One
Easily one of the most compelling sagas to grace the flat-panel monitors of HBO in years, Game of Thrones is huge, complex, lavishly staged, flawlessly performed and impossible to ignore. Viewed on DVD or Blu-ray over the space of a week, it’s an epic adventure that will all but disable the Pause button on your remote.
Based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy novels, Game of Thrones is set in an imaginary and particularly violent middle ages, in a land no one’s ever heard of that’s fairly seething with knights and brigands and wenches and conquerors and kings and very little personal hygiene. Everyone who’s anyone is plotting to dispatch at least one other character, and the aforementioned wenches lose their clothes on a regular basis, without even being asked politely to do so.
Game of Thrones takes place in the land of Westeros, in which the least hairy characters are vying for control of the seven kingdoms, and the Iron Throne upon which sits the ruler of same. As the story opens, its current occupant, King Robert Baratheon, is getting a bit long in the tooth and enlarged in the waist. His wife, Queen Cersei Lannister, is busy scheming to see her son in the big chair, while periodically sleeping with her brother. Lord Eddard Stark of the north is loyal to ‘is majesty, and he accepts the position of Hand of the King to defend the interests of his monarch… most of the time. Across the narrow sea, Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen, the children of the previous and decidedly mad king of Westeros, are plotting with Khal Drogo, the large, inarticulate and profoundly violent king of the nomadic Dothraki to overthrow all of the above.
None of the foregoing should be considered to be a spoiler of any magnitude – the myriad plots, subplots, schemes, conspiracies, intrigues, out-trigues and machinations of Game of Thrones are arguably impossible to follow in their entirety in a single viewing.
Very much in keeping with the genre of fantasy literature, Game of Thrones is more of a guilty pleasure than a siren call of deep literature. It’s fun to watch, as long as you don’t watch it too closely. Its characters are brought to life by a troupe of singularly gifted actors, who arguably breath more life into them than their respective dialog does. The people of Westeros are somewhat two-dimensional, and by the end of the first episode you’ll have spotted all the deliberately evil ones without much difficulty. The story lines of the series are contrived and largely predictable – but they’re told so well and so intensely that you probably won’t care that everything seems to move with the calculated precision of the animated clockwork kingdom that appears in the opening titles.
Likewise, the series’ favored themes of deceit and corruption, madness and ambition and most notably, decline and the threat of destruction are woven into the fiber of the narrative with all the subtlety of a war-club upside your head. Rare indeed is the episode that isn’t at pains to point out the approach of winter as a metaphor for imminent death. The engagingly graphic sex in the series is almost always about conquest and submission, rather than sweaty consenting adults having a good time.
All this having been said, I find myself unwilling to hold any of the failed literary pretensions of Game of Thrones against it. Not everything has to embody layers of subtext – sometimes, a lot of stage blood and mayhem is all it takes to round out one’s evening.
Filmed in Belfast and Malta – amended with enough CGI create an entire alternative universe – Game of Thrones is almost worth watching for its landscaping alone. That CGI is both flawless and imaginative – while it’s tricky to spot where the real world leaves off and pixels take over, you’ll know you’re somewhere that doesn’t accept American Express five minutes into the first episode.
In addition to the ten episodes of the series proper, the DVDs of the box set are fairly seething with interviews and documentaries. The production values of the extra features frequently surpass the work done on the actual episodes of lesser television. Even the packaging looks expensive.
If you didn’t follow Game of Thrones when it aired – I was retroactively pleased to note that our satellite service doesn’t allow access to it at any price – you and your immediate descendants will be immensely grateful for the opportunity to view it for the first time on DVD. Both too good for TV and too much fun to miss, upon watching the closing credits of the last installment you’ll unquestionably long for the capability of erasing your memory of it such that you might enjoy it all over again.
By the time the box set of the first season of Game of Thrones hit the streets, HBO was on the eve of airing the first episode of the second. More blood and mayhem awaits… sadly, about a year hence. My broadsword fairly shivers with anticipation.