Monday, 19 March 2012



I read the first volume in George R R Martin's epic fantasy saga not long after it came out in 1991 and thought it was terrific. For some reason -it seemed too much of a good thing- I gave up halfway through the second book and never went back to it. Twenty years later when HBO put out their ten episode version of the book, I couldn't remember a damn thing about it except that it was good. I didn't watch the TV series when it was shown on Sky's Empire channel. It wasn't out of lack of interest rather because I have Virgin Media, Empire wasn't one of the channels they paid Sky for.

When the DVD set of this first season came out I still didn't rush to buy it despite all the praise heaped on it. Then I thought, what the hell, I can always recoup most of my losses by selling it, so I bought it and watched two episodes a night for successive nights, and most of the extras.

And, well, it's as good in its own way as Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. Not in special effects, I should add. While the show clearly had a healthy budget there is little in the fantasy element where sfx  are used mainly because there is very little fantasy involved at all. Sometimes it's quite obvious when a matte painting has been used for a castle or background scenery but that's the worst criticism I can make of a genuinely outstanding piece of television drama.

The script is a superb distillation of Martin's novel. I'm sure there'll have been some filleting but it never feels watered down. Martin, who appears frequently in the making of extras, appears delighted as well he may be.

The cast is outstanding featuring many of the best of British and Irish (location shooting was filmed in Northern Ireland and Malta) character actors from both tv and film. The standard of acting is, needless to say, exceptional with the youngest included. It's an ensemble piece, though it's anchored by the key figure of Lord Eddard Stark played by Sean Bean with immense dignity. It's also true what they say about how good (his Emmy was well-earned) Peter Dinklage is as Tyrion Lannister who, lacking stature, has to rely on his wits to survive.
Stark with his youngest daughter -a great feisty character herself.

Dinklage as Tyrion.

The beautiful and exiled Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) with a claim to the throne, married off to a barbarian horse-lord so her brother can use his army.

Okay, I'm going to stop with the photos or I'll be here all day as I'll have explain the very complicated plot. suffice to say that it's all about scheming and fighting for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. But the reasons why it's so good are many. The world (in terms of environment and societies) in which it is set is well worked out. Despite the existence of magic and monsters, they play very little (albeit highly significant) part which makes them all the more effective. The characters are very well rounded human beings. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Clearly some characters you'll identify as good or bad but (with one repulsive psychotic exception) none are what you call evil. All do things because they believe what they are doing in right. There are constant surprising developments. You can never tell when a character might die and it could well be your favourite. Also characters grow and change with Daenerys above being a prime example from quiet girl to...well, I won't spoil it. I don't know the full chronological span of the series of novels but I suspect it will be a decade if not decades. One pre-teenager is clearly (well I think so) being set up to be a warrior woman when she gets older (though she could just as easily get killed in the next season and, yes, it's Stark's daughter pictured above).

Amazingly I've forgotten to mention that the language can be really crude, the violence is really violent with blood and limbs and heads all over the place, and the sex sometimes verges on soft-core porn.

So basically this is just a brilliant piece of television which I hope will continue until the very end. (Note: the final two books haven't even been written by Martin yet.) 

Post Script.

Yes, Barry, the music is terrific as well.

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