There is a reason this series garnered 13 Emmy nominations. Part of it is the strong fanbase attached to the franchise but mostly, it is because the series is a well crafted adaptation that has all the elements that makes for a successful franchise — danger, debauchery, betrayal, drama, adventure and suspense set in Medieval times, and infused with mythical creatures such as direwolves, whitewalkers and dragons. A little bit of something for everybody, so it really is hard to go wrong.
The series was based on the first book in the literary hit, A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin, which I was surprised to learn, was over a decade old before HBO picked it up for development. The production reportedly cost $60 million to bring to life the fictional world of Westeros and its periphery — an amount well spent considering the excellent set and awesome cinematography. The series opens with the King, Robert Baratheon seeking the aid of his lifelong friend Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean) to serve as his right hand man and second in command, following the suspected assassination of the former Hand of the King. Fearing that his friend is in grave danger, Ned, Lord of Winterfell is forced to accept the position and leave behind his home to protect the realm. Deep within the castle walls, its residents, including the queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), her twin brother/lover Jamie Lannister form their own plot to seize the throne, while members of the council hedge their bets, pitting one side against the other and await the spoils of war. All this while the descendants of the former occupants of the throne, the Targaryens unite with the savage Dothraki tribe to regain power with Viserys Targaryen marrying off his sister Daenerys to the king of the Dothrakis, Khal Drogo (played by Jason Momoa, who did a great job here compared to his Conan stint). As the political tension boils from all corners of the land, something dark and disturbing threatens the walls in the North that protects the realm. As the Northerners march to the South to fight the battle of men, the Night Watch, a sworn brotherhood of misfits and hooligans defend the Kingdom against an ancient evil that has awakened after laying dormant for hundreds of years.
The first few episodes were a bit slow, defining and establishing the host of major characters and fleshing out the backgrounds surrounding the noble houses of Westeros. There are the Lannisters, the richest family in the Kingdom, the most prominent of which is the queen, Cersei, who detests her unfaithful and irresponsible husband, and has an affair with her own twin Jamie; their son Geoffrey, who is presented as the King’s own heir; their brother, the clever dwarf Tyrion, who provides the most thought provoking and witty dialogue in the series; the House Baratheon with the drunken king Robert, his effeminate brother Renly, and the still absentee Stannis; the Stark family headed Ned, his wife Catelyn, daughters Sansa (who is very daft and annoying) and Arya (spunky and brave), eldest son Rob, Bran and Rickon and bastard Jon Snow. On the other side of the shore, there are the last remaining Targaryens, and the Dothrakis who are journeying to make war against the rulers of the realm due to the wishes of their new queen Daenerys (Khaleesi). The King’s court has their own share of loyals and traitors and vested interests that would leave one’s head reeling. As the episodes progress, the danger escalates along with the tension and viewers will find themselves caught amid the web of deceit, praying for Ned, the only honorable man left in the palace and wishing Geoffrey will fall flat on his face.
What’s makes this series utterly compelling is that from the opening credits alone, one can be sure that this is not a slipshod production. The scoring promises an epic and while the wars in this first season have not yet reached this level, the suspense that each episode delivers is more than enough to keep viewers interested. The characters are relatively unknown except for a few — Sean Bean, Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage are familiar faces but the rest of the cast, while they could not be considered big stars, pulled their weight and produced solid ensemble and individual performances that will sustain the series for a good many episodes. Credit to the production for their dedication to produce a world much like Lord of the Rings, and consulting with the author George R.R. Martin to ensure that the magic that has captured the hearts of many while reading the book remains in the core of the series.
Game of Thrones is indeed a series that will keep viewers on their toes as it keeps them guessing with each scene — who ought to be trusted and who will betray? Who will live and who will die? In the end, whose strategy will win the crown? It’s still a long way off with mysteries unfolding left and right and conflicts arising in every part of the kingdom but viewers will surely stick around to find out.
Game of Thrones is not excessively violent but it shows no mercy in order to tell the hard truths in the story. What it does have in abundance is nakedness and sex, and parents will do well to steer their children from this series if only to shield them from its graphic content. But the series also places family honor and loyalty on the top of its list, the flaws of each character and an insight into their backgrounds that motivates them to do as they do. The series also depicts the sacrifices one has to make and how difficult it is to do the right thing in a world filled with corruption and lies. While watching the series, I developed a strong affinity for Ned Stark, whose only mistake was trying to be just and merciful and his bastard son Jon, who thirsts to prove himself by joining the Night Watch. My favorite by far is the imp Tyrion, whose shortcomings (pardon the pun) serve only to cloak his brilliant mind and excellent convincing powers so much that he manages to talk himself out of a death sentence and acquires an army with only his words.
The ending of the series leaves a lot of room of possibilities for Season 2. There were many questions left unanswered but there were many openings still to be explored. My only complaint was that the first season was too short. But in itself, it served up a lot of shocking surprises and left viewers plenty to think about and I am expecting the second one to up the ante and escalate the adventure to new heights. I can’t wait for the premiere of the second season. More direwolves, please.