Games of Thrones, a new HBO medieval fantasy drama series, scratches an itch of mine that had not been properly addressed since Twelve Kingdoms. It is probably the most amazing thing on BitTorrent television right now, edging out Community which lost points in the second season for recycling its best episode from the first season.
I am not a huge fan of the fantasy genre, partly because it is dominated by the same old epic quest recycled five million times from Tolkien to Dungeons and Dragons, but mostly because many fantasy writers wilfully abuse the “a wizard did it” excuse as carte blanche to violently eject all semblance of plot logic from the decomposing corpse of whatever hideous monstrosity they try to pass off as storytelling. I don’t care if you have teleporting mages or flying monkeys, but for the love of Cthulhu and all that is evil, just make sure they don’t magically stop being able to teleport or fly the second they stumble across a tower that they need to ascend in an excruciatingly inefficient manner.
In this respect, sci-fi fantasy and science fiction writers have always been superior in covering their tracks, leaving behind a believable story universe that doesn’t constantly force characters to perform illogical deeds that contradict their personalities. Good fantasy stories like Twelve Kingdoms also employ an almost scientific approach in designing self-consistent rules governing their worlds.
Game of Thrones is a good fantasy story where the fantasy setting neither defines nor interferes with the storytelling, but silently lends aid to it in the background by stoking the fire of the audience’s imagination. The focus of the story lies in the complex web of political intrigue and rivalries being spun by a diverse cast, each with his or her own private motives that fall somewhere between the spectrum of good and evil. Indeed, the high fantasy aspect is mere dressing to a story that is already fascinating by itself.
The general gist of the story (or at least the first season) is a family feud between two great noble houses, the Starks and the Lannisters. Lord Eddard Stark is the king’s best friend and fought with him to gain the crown from the previous king, but Queen Cersei Lannister sees him as a competition for power as she seeks to groom her son to be the next king. What starts off as benign rivalry played through harmless sarcastic exchanges of words quickly turns ugly due to a series of unfortunate events and a few misunderstandings. At the same time, there are two parallel stories taking place at the northern borders and a foreign land that hint at far greater troubles ahead for the kingdoms.
Presumably the Starks eventually reign victorious because one of their own invents a mechanical suit capable of flying and remotely smiting its wearer’s foes by firing repulsor rays from its palms. Also, the Queen’s eldest son, Joffrey, is the splitting image of my personal impression of what Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy should look like…
I am not a well-read person when it comes to classical literature, so I can’t say exactly whence A Song of Ice and Fire, the source material for Game of Thrones, draws its inspiration. But I do know that it shares many similar tropes with the original Dune novel which, when you really think about it, is really a classic medieval story of betrayal and revenge but set in an alien desert with sandworms. Eddard Stark, the righteous nobleman who tries to do right for his family and people in a cut-throat political environment that leaves no good deed unpunished, just reminds me too much of Leto Atreides. Speaking of which, I think the time is right for someone else to take another shot at bringing Dune to live, this time with a proper budget and script.
The absolute best part about Game of Thrones is, in my opinion, the acting. With a few exceptions, the acting is simply amazing and completely immersive. Scenes in the show tend to be more drawn out and conversations are littered with meaningful glances and double entrendes masterfully delivered and faithfully reproduced in glorious high definition. Particularly noteworthy is Peter Dinklage, who plays the midget Tyrion Lannister. He is definitely going to win an Emmy for it.
Lord of the Rings just puts me to sleep whenever it’s not showing me something exciting and shiny because the actors and lines are terrible and Frodo is nothing more than Harry Potter with fairy feet, but Game of Thrones manages to stimulate and engage the audience’s mind to make even a moment of silence between two characters feel so meaningful and intriguing. There is so much depth to all the characters, even many of the minor ones, that sometimes you just can’t predict what is going to happen next. It is nourishment not just for the heart but for the brain.
One important thing of note: the show features many boobies. As anyone who has seen Sasha Grey‘s guest starring in Entourage can attest, HBO is not shy of letting its actresses show off their frontal nudes and Game of Thrones is no exception. There is plenty of almost-explicit fornication to be had by all, along with the short flashes of boobage where contextually appropriate. In my opinion, this is actually a rather sensible way to produce television/movies because it doesn’t break immersion by constantly making me marvel at how the leaves/flowers in the foreground always manage to position themselves at such opportune angles that obscure the actress’ nice lady parts. Of course, it may have the opposite effect with certain people. Your mileage may vary.
And in the same vein, gore and violence in the show are depicted where they are required and appropriate, instead of the usual Hollywood-style diametric extremes of either ridiculous censorship (i.e. magical sword fights featuring no blood or cut limbs) or gratuitous violence (i.e. gore porn). So there is no excessive gore for the sake of it, but you get to see the entire swing when Lord Stark beheads an oathbreaker and there is even a scene where one of the characters skins a moose (or was it a deer?) as he speaks. It’s pure class.
Unfortunately, the first season of Game of Thrones is merely ten 1-hour episodes long. The good news is that the show is so well-received that a second season was approved almost immediately after the first episode aired, but the bad news is that it is at least one year away. Well at least it didn’t turn out to be this decade’s Firefly.
So absolutely check out Game of Thrones if you are into good storytelling, awesome writing and brilliant acting. The fantasy aspect is really incidental if that is what you are weary about.
I would read the novels, but I have quite a bit of required reading to do before college starts and all the time I am not making any headway into it. Though, I do have the nagging feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy the novels as much and reading the story ahead would end up spoiling the show instead.