by Jared Reise
An HBO joint destined for its third season, and it hasn’t been cancelled? It’s true! Premiering March 31, the show succeeds not just because of stellar source material, an Emmy Award winning cast, and more good-looking folks getting naked than in Downton Abbey. Plus, there’s some story happening there. And a few dragons; they’re pretty good-looking too.
It’s an uncommon thing for me to actually catch the very first episode of a new television show when it first airs. I think it has to do with the fear of falling in love too quickly, only to have my hopes dashed on the rocks when my beloved is cancelled mid-season. When it came to Game of Thrones on HBO, it was an accident that I actually caught its debut almost two years ago. Maybe it was slick marketing campaign promos that caught my eye, or word that the novels that it was based on kicked ass. But probably more banal, it just happened to be on.
From the brilliant opening sequence to its heart-pounding ending in very episode, the collective fan base was hooked. Based on George R.R. Martin’s novels (the first of which was written in 1996; A Song of Ice and Fire), HBO’s serialized Game of Thrones has apparently stayed as true to a best-selling and Hugo award winning book series as can be. With the momentum it has, it’s hard to see a cancellation on the horizon.
If you haven’t seen it for whatever reason, it’s out there, and it’s not too late to catch up (the same could be said for Mad Men, and I have yet to see a full episode. So that’s my homework; too many reruns of American Pickers and Finding Bigfoot getting in the way). Thrones is one of the finest series crafted for television, with David Benioff (The Kite Runner) and D.B. Weiss (can this really be his only IMDB credit?) at the helm. The logline is simple enough: “Seven families vie for control of the Iron Throne in order to rule the land of Westeros.” What’s embedded within is a grounded fantasy element, political intrigue and solid characters delivering great lines.
Goblins and sorcery don’t pervade this world, but the magic exists on the periphery. My Dungeons and Dragons sensibilities aren’t offended at this, even though there’s not an emporium in every citadel selling Fireball scrolls. The lack of gratuity is a selling point, actually, allowing any fantastical reveal to be celebrated by the viewing audience (the end of the first season being a prime example, as there be dragons here). I’m sure that HBO also appreciates the lack of a bloated special effects budget too; the remote locations are stunning enough in and of themselves (and probably costly enough).
Thrones is a steadfast reflection of the real world, where good is often punished and evil rewarded. The amoral qualities that nearly the entire cast exhibits leave nobody’s hands clean. Traditional ideas being turned on their ear is not exactly a new, but is able to navigate through some pretty gritty territory. Taking sons and daughters hostage is par for the course in the pursuit of survival and that kickass throne. The crafty Lannister clan practically has lies and deceit down to a science. It helps that they’re the most dysfunctional in the Realm, and in more ways than one. Just your typical “keeping it in the family”, if you know what I mean. Oh, those Lannisters… the family we love to hate.
Fan favorite Tyrion Lannister, played by Emmy winner Peter Dinklage, carries a full spectrum of brains, wit and a modest sense of decency. He might have made a good field general, but there’s a limited market for the dwarf soldier. Dinklage deserves all the accolades given thus far. Instead of descending into a surface level quirky cynic, he embodies a weary character contending with a royal pain in the ass family. His evolution continues in every episode we see him in. The verbal sparring with sister Cersei (played by Lena Headey) offers up some of the best humor of the series (“You love your children. It’s your one redeeming quality. That and your cheekbones”).
As with most shows on paid programming, Game of Thrones offers up plenty of sex, violence and foul language. These aren’t benevolent Tolkien elves we’re watching. These people are killers, rapists and scoundrels. However, there’s beauty in the grotesque. I was reminded of this yesterday while watching a Season One marathon, as Daenerys Targaryan (Emilia Clarke) is used as a pawn by her brother Viserys, and given to Khal Drogo as a bride in exchange for promised soldiers to retake the Iron Throne (the family is reputedly descended from the dragons of old). The apparently brutish Drogo mounts his new wife in a relatively loveless union, and her facial expression does not betray this fact. Once she spies the valuable gift of petrified dragon eggs from the wedding, her demeanor changes, sensing something very special about them. The burden is eased, for now, and there’s good reason to carry on.
So, at risk of sounding like a Zagat’s restaurant review, there’s something for everyone here. I questioned keeping my HBO subscription after the recent loss of another fine show in Enlightened (no third season for that one), but dammit, I am a “Thronie”. My voracious reading has come to a near standstill as of late, otherwise the book series itself might have sufficed. But I feel that we are in another Golden Age of television, and there are some real diamonds in the rough (hiding behind Ted Nugent’s Hunting Show or Pimp My Whatever Something-Something). Game of Thrones is one of them.