George R.R. Martin‘s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire comes to television. Well, not television. It’s HBO. I have not read the books, and after watching the premiere of HBO’s adaptation, Game of Thrones, I’m not likely to. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, I just feel that in this case, I’m happy with the Cliffs Notes. I can tell right away we’re looking at a complex, expansive epic here. Anytime you need a map, a glossary of terms and symbols, and diagrams of family trees, you know you’re in for an epic. As far as I can tell, Game of Thrones borrows from a great many other epics, fantasy or otherwise, from Lord of the Rings to The Complete Works of Shakespeare to King Arthur to He-Man.
Game of Thrones is about the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, where every day is a Renaissance Faire and everyone wears fairly convincing wigs, which is definitely a step up from Camelot on Starz. But then, this is HBO, so I expect the wig budget to be significantly higher. In the premiere episode, King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) travels to Winterfell, a northern territory, to enlist the help of his loyal friend, Ned Stark (Sean Bean), in protecting his grip on the realm and his Iron Throne. Robert and Ned are the last characters we’re going to meet with names that can be easily pronounced, because next we’re off to Essos to meet Viserys III Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) and his sister, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who looks like she may be the lost Olsen triplet. Her brother has just offered her hand in marriage to the super hot barbarian Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), who’s secure enough in his masculinity to rock some really fabulous guyliner. Brother Targaryen hopes the marriage will assist him in his quest to take the Iron Throne from King Bob. Meanwhile, back at the Winterfell ranch, Ned is conflicted about running off to join the king, since the king’s last assistant has been murdered, possibly with the Queen’s knowledge.
Written by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and George R.R. Martin, the script does an impressive job of easing the audience into a very complex and sprawling story. While some of the characters feel like they’ve just been sketched in based on well-known fantasy archetypes (i.e., blustering king, duplicitous queen, lusty dwarf, bastard son), I trust those characters will deepen as we go along. The main problem at this early stage is that after viewing the premiere episode twice, I don’t really care about any of the characters. Despite the intrigue and the shocking ending, nothing is really compelling me to tune in again to see what happens next. Though the cast does a respectable job in each of their respective roles, no one stands out yet as an entry point for the viewer into this foreign world. Fantasy for fantasy’s sake isn’t compelling enough, nor are “historical” battles of the royal variety. There must be a reason to tell this story in this time and place. So far, I’m not seeing it. We’ll see if that changes in subsequent episodes.
For the FBOTU crowd, there are a couple of scenes of some rather tasty shirtless blokes, and Jason Momoa is certainly a stand out. Though, I would expect no less of the man who would be Conan. Long-Suffering Boyfriend pointed out that one of the shirtless fellows was clearly sporting a set of airbrushed ab muscles. After rewinding and replaying a couple of times, I had to concede he was right. Still, even with painted abs, he’s much closer to a six-pack than I’ll ever be, so I’ll give him a pass.
Momoa, on the other hand, was all real, as far as I could tell, and he’ll probably be the primary reason for gay fanboys to tune in. Game of Thrones is definitely a straight fanboy’s fantasy world, where women are either virgins or whores, but both serve at the whim of men. It’s hard to argue that it’s a reflection of the time period, since we’re dealing with a created world of fantasy here. Hopefully, the female characters will evolve and start showing a little more power as we go along. If not, I’ll probably drop out. There are only so many times I can watch bodices being ripped and virgins crying as they’re bent over a rock. Grim.
Fantasy, especially on an epic scale, with a decent cast and budget, is a welcome addition to the television landscape. There’s nothing I’d like more than to become engrossed in another world for the next few weeks. So, here’s hoping I find a character or story to pull me in. Otherwise, I’ll just be tuning in for Mr. Momoa’s muscles and guyliner.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.