I first read A Game of Thrones when it came out in paperback in late 1996. Ever since then, I've been captivated by the world created by George R. R. Martin because it was a fantasy story that didn't concentrate on the more crazy elements like magic spells or weird creatures that are usually tropes of the genre. There isn't a wizard's tower or orc anywhere in Westeros, and the sparing appearance of undead or mysticism only underlines the strong human emotion and compelling story. The subsequent books in the series only piled on the amazing plot twists so that it eventually felt that every chapter seemed to end with a stinger. That's why when I heard that HBO was considering making a TV series based on Martin's books, I wasn't surprised. I was fucking pumped.
Like many of you, I've been following the production and marketing blitz for the show with barely contained anticipation.The pilot episode which premiered last night did about as good a job at dramatizing the story as possible. There's an old saying in the visual arts that it is much more effective to witness characteristics and plot events rather than hear it explained with dialogue - "Show, Don't Tell." There's a lot of background material and characters to introduce and I thought that producer/writers David Benihoff and Dan Weiss showed as much as they could without "telling " the audience. Of course, some compacting of the timeline needed to occur to shoehorn a 694 page book into a 10-hour television season.
It's my lot in life to be blessed with a wonderful wife who unfortunately has no love for the fantasy genre. She'll watch the random Harry Potter movie with me, but she grumbles, "Not again," every time I put on The Lord of the Rings. But we've decided to watch Game of Thrones together, along with my mother-in-law who's visiting, as a litmus test to see if the show could resonate with non-fans.
Be warned, there are some minor and major spoilers here. If you haven't watched the show or read the books and don't want to ruin the surprise, tread warily. (Oh, and if you're looking for a straight up summary of the events of the episode, you might want to check out Susan Arendt's recap here.)
I loved how the cold (heh) opening before the credits mirrored the prologue of the first book. The scene with the three men of the NIGHT'S WATCH (I know their names but I'm going to save you from being inundated with name of every minor character) crossing under THE WALL and encountering the WHITE WALKERS sets the tone for the whole series. The bloodthirsty OTHERS are probably the most supernatural element from the first book, and showing the TV audience their creepy glowing blue eyes from the start was a great way to show that something is rotten in the state of Westeros.
My mother-in-law didn't understand why the deserter was killed, though, which is kind of an important event to grasp. By showing the mystical Others as real, the audience might not have understood that almost no one in Westeros believed the creatures existed outside of children's fairytales. Sean Bean as EDDARD STARK seems to take the story at face value, even if he tells his son later that it wasn't true. There's a lot of nuance to be understood, and given my mother-in-law's confusion it may not have been conveyed very well in the show.
HBO series always have very iconic and visually interesting credit sequences (The Sopranos, True Blood) and I thought that the stop-motion styled credits for Game of Thrones were really cool. It was a good idea to use a map as the focus so that viewers unfamiliar with the books might get a sense of scale and geography. I wasn't crazy about the sweeping music - a recognizable theme might have been a better choice - but perhaps it will grow on me.
The STARK family is the focus of the show, and I loved how they were introduced with BRAN getting archery lessons from his brother ROBB and their half-brother JON SNOW as their parents Eddard and CATELYN look on. The scene showed that the family honestly cared for one another without stating it outright. I think there might have been too many names thrown out there for new audiences to understand, but my wife was clearly able to tell the familial relationships even if she didn't know what they were called.