Monday, April 25, 2011

Series Review: "The Game of Thrones"

If I had been on-the-fence about whether cable television was taking the place of network television-- I am no longer. While the major networks have been giving us mediocre retreads of moldy-oldies like "Knight Rider" and "Charlie's Angels," HBO has been developing the well-regarded Song of Fire and Ice series by author George R. R. Martin with great success.

The television version of A Game of Thrones is an extremely faithful adaptation of Martin's epic story-- at least so far. The show primarily focuses on the story of three families, the Starks, The Lannisters and the Targaryens. Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) is the head of House Stark and rules in the North in the name of his King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). After the death of the King's Hand, Robert travels to the Stark home of Winterfell to ask Eddard to be the new Hand of the King and act as his advisor and military commander. The position is fraught with danger and Eddard isn't too willing to go as rumors spread that the former Hand was murdered by the Lannister family-- and the Queen is Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey).

The major intrigues within Robert's court are indeed perpetrated by the Lannister family. His wife Cersei is as conniving as she is beautiful and her twin brother Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is as charming as he is deadly. Their brother Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), known as the "Imp" due to his dwarfism, plays the fool but has a biting intelligence and strong loyalty to his cutthroat family. While they appear willing to ally with the Stark family, even seeming to embrace the betrothal of Sansa Stark to Joffrey Baratheon, one can never be sure where their true motives lie.

But the real wild-card in the story has to belong to the Targaryens. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) are the children of King Aerys, who was overthrown by Robert before Daenerys was born. Now exiled, the siblings have allied with the Dothraki, a powerful and barbaric race of horse warriors, with the intention of taking back the throne.

"Game of Thrones" is a stunningly beautiful show. The sets are fantastically done and so many scenes feel as if they were lifted directly from the pages of the book. But, as good as the show is visually, it can't begin to compare with the excellent casting.

My favorite cast members have to be that of the Lannister family. Lena Headey is pitch-perfect as the cool Cersei Lannister. She imbues the character with just the right amount of cynical detachment and the amount of complexity she brings to the character-- so quickly-- is amazing. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, as Jamie Lannister, has the same biting sensibility as Headey, but with his own twist on it. His delivery carries a subtle sarcasm that makes him almost likable even as he is despicable. But if there is one actor who cannot be overlooked, it has to be Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister (better known as the "angry elf" in "Elf"). He steals the show right from the start as the slightly self-loathing Tyrion. Never allowed to forget that he is a dwarf, Tyrion both seethes at and takes advantage of his diminutive size by strengthening his mind to further the ambitions of his family while drinking and sleeping his way through every brothel in town. Dinklage is so good. He owns the character right from the start and it's impossible not to captivated by his performance.

That doesn't mean to say the other actors don't hold their own-- this is an exceptionally well cast show. Sean Bean, ("The Lord of the Rings," "National Treasure") is a very good Eddard Stark. Unlike many of Bean's other roles, Eddard is a subdued character who feels the weight of his responsibleness very keenly, and Bean conveys that gravity very well. Emilia Clarke, as Daenerys Targaryen, fits the part of the young, lovely and mysterious Daenerys much better than I would have guessed by looking at stills of the television show. Even the children are uncommonly good actors here-- Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays 10-year-old Bran Stark, never comes off as cute or precocious; he just is the part. Same goes with Maisie Williams as Arya Stark. If this show ends up known for anything-- it has to be for doing such a magnificent job in getting the cast right.

I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating; this is an extremely faithful adaptation of George R. R. Martin's series. There were so many scenes that were so evocative of the first book, one I haven't read in several years, that I felt instantly transported back to the first time I read about Arya getting her sword "needle" from her brother Jon; as well as Bran's tragic fall. Oddly, I have read some criticisms of the show claiming that it's "too faithful," but all I can do is shake my head at that. Isn't a show that's "based" on book supposed to stick with the source material? In what kind of crazy world do you complain when the filmmaker actually gets that right?

The first two shows have really done exactly what they should have done. They've established the characters and moved the plot at a nice clip. We know have a good idea of who we can trust and who we like despite ourselves. But most importantly, we want to know what happens next. I'm sure there are, or will, be flaws in this series' execution, but I'm enjoying the set up of the show so much, I'm not seeing any yet. I'll have to get back to you mid-season and report whether "Game of Thrones" continues to live up to its promise.

Here's hoping it does.


Steam Me Up, Kid said...

The biggest surprise for me is Mark Addy (Robert). Before the show aired, I was like "The chubby dude who plays Jamie Gertz's husband in that horrible sitcom is gonna play WHO NOW??" But he is so, so good.

And Cercei, yeah, wow. So quiet yet so conniving.

But I have to admit, I feel differently than you about Dinklage. Tyrion in the book was one of my favorite characters, he was witty, clever, funny, so human and relatable. Dinklage plays him douchey and cocky. Time will tell, I guess.

elias.anderson said...

This is a great blog and I couldn’t agree with you more here. It’s ridiculous that the show is criticized for being “too faithful”…what does that even mean? To me it means someone couldn’t find a single thing actually wrong with the show so they had to make something up just to appear edgy and different in not deservingly heaping the show with praise. The casting has been brilliant, and a big surprise for me was Mark Addy as the King…I remember the guy from that show Still Standing with Gina Gershon, and he was funny in that, but I guess he’s actually a classically trained actor. Who knew? I actually forgot to set my DVR time for the first episode but as a DISH Network customer/employee I was able to catch up at HBO GO, which I have access to through DISH Online. I was also able to set my DVR so I wouldn’t miss anything in the future! Can’t wait for next week.

SQT said...

Mark Addy was a shock because I didn't recognize him. But I don't find myself fixating on him.

The Lannisters on the other hand... So slickly evil.

Budd said...

do you find yourself forgetting Dinklage is Dwarf until it is brought up. I do. He is spot on. I hate Cersei. Heady does such a good job with her though.

SQT said...

Budd-- I don't like Cersei either, but I can't help but admire Headey for making her so believable. It has to be a fun character to play.

Dinklage blows me away.

M. McGriff said...

I agree that the show so far is extremely faithful to the book. I happen to be reading it for the first time as I'm watching the show and it's such a cool experience to see what I just read acted out on the show. The sets are amazing and the casting is spot on!