From out of the mist, a frightened man runs from mounted knights until he is captured. He is a deserter, but justifiably so: earlier in the icy north the rest of his party were massacred by the White Walkers. They’re supernatural creatures of legend that”ll cut you up and leave the parts in a nice pattern on the snow, if you’re lucky.
The man is held down and the disbelieving local lord, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) brings out his huge sword and lops his head off. Watching on are his young sons, bought along to the decapitation as a family activity.
Welcome to HBO’s new series, Game of Thrones…
Based on the ongoing fantasy series by George R.R Martin, this is a TV series akin in ambition and scope to the Lord of Rings movies. However whereas Lord of the Rings is based on language and myth, Game of Thrones is based on the very real War of the Roses. Gone are the clear lines of good versus evil, magic rings, cosy shires and pointed ears. Here everyone has their own aims and they’ll back stab, double cross and do worse to achieve them (apart from the honourable, Lord Stark that is).
There are several main strands, but the kick off event is the mysterious death of the King’s Hand, Jon Arryn. This prompts King Robert Baratheon to venture north to ask old friend Eddard Stark to become the new hand. Consequences follow for the whole Stark family. And they are not the only House in this game, against them stand the Lannisters. They include Queen Cersei, her dashing swordsman twin brother, Jamie and misshapen dwarf Tyrion. He’s the standout character: a drunkard of caustic wit with many of the best lines. It’s also a performance that has earned actor Peter Dinklidge, an Emmy nomination.
That’s not all though as while these events take place, outside forces are rising unnoticed. First of course are the White Walkers; here the story follows Jon Snow, a bastard son of Eddard who is sent to help defend the north. Meanwhile in hotter climes across the Narrow Sea, siblings Viserys and Daenerys Targyean plot to reclaim their throne with the help of Khal Drogo (new Conan, Jason Momoa).
Initially all these plot lines are a put-off, there are a lot of characters right off the bat and that’s not including hangers on, henchmen, distant and dead relatives and the whole backstory of how things came to be. Fortunately the main characters like Tyrion are so strong they draw you in and minor characters and exposition follow in their wake. It’s also one reason of many to re-watch as people, places and events begin to snap into place. Also unlike most fantasy there is little magic, (ice zombies and dragon eggs aside), this is grim and gritty all the way, and thus helps suspension of disbelief.
“For a microcosm of the series look no further than the end to the first episode, it literally throws your preconceptions of who is safe out of the window.”
Visually the show is memorable, Ireland and Malta stand in well for a fantasy land of Westoros. The main sets like throne rooms are impressive, and nods go to the weapon and costume designers. Tywin Lannister (Head of the Lannister family, not seen until later in the series ) in particular has great set of red armour that even the Emperor’s Royal Guard from Star Wars would envy.
The only let down in terms of production is a lack of big battles, they take place but not much is shown. It’s a bit of disappointment but the series is wise to not bite off more than it can chew. In compensation there are stil many smaller actions sequences and sword fights. Sean Bean has a cracker of one, as does Jason Momoa but the best one stars none other than Jerome Flynn (yes, the nineties crooner returns to play a double hard mercenary named Bronn). There is also a lot of nudity, both male and female, and some of it is even integral to the plot. No, really.
The show is fantastic - perhaps a little intimidating for the squeamish - but overall it’s top notch television. It’s perfect for anyone who has played the Elder Scrolls series and you’ll soon see where Dragon Age games got a lot of their inspiration from. The only danger is keeping clear of spoilers, as there are huge game-changers in this series and other ones one from the five books you will want to avoid.
This a must watch series, and if you don’t I’ll send Ser Gregor Clegane round to decapitate your horse, okay?
Game of Thrones was recently shown on Sky Atlantic, and is available in the US on HBO GO. A second series Game of Thrones: Clash of Kinds is scheduled for nest year. The fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons was recently released.