The Home Box Office channel (HBO) have produced some of the best television to date with titles such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Band of Brothers, and Boardwalk Empire. But just when things couldn’t possibly get any better, George R. R. Martin’s fantasy literature takes to the screen like a boat to water.
Game of Thrones creators, David Benioff and D.B Weiss, remain within a loyal proximity to the behemoth textual source through its belated transition from novel to screen; and given the sheer magic of A song of Ice and Fire, why shouldn’t they?
Some may find it appropriate to label Game of Thrones as medieval, make-believe nonsense for sword-slinging nerds, whose ultimate life-ambition is to enlist as a foot soldier in the battle for Middle Earth. Whereas in the other corner (my corner), one may be more inclined to introduce the franchise in the same fashion as the forgotten fantomas, as ‘nothing…everything!’
To some, Game of Thrones will never be endured, answerable only by ignorance. The well-crafted series possesses a profundity that the surface keeps to itself. For those who base opinion on preconceived inaccuracies, and in that, label the global phenomenon as not for them, GOT can so easily be dismissed as nothing. But for those who side line their assumptions about this fantastical, otherworldly existence, it can become everything. For that matter, it’s more than just marmite television. It’s adult entertainment. With the right balance of bloodshed, nudity, corruption and characterisation, the hour episodes pass far too quickly.
Already and yet only at the tale end of the second season, we feel as if we’ve been taken on an extraordinary journey through a life which fells very much as real as our own. The cast transport their audience to another dimension and for those sixty minutes, we suspend disbelief and surrender reality to our imagination.
Before I began this feature, I promised myself that it was to entail no spoilers, as I remain a potent believer in converting those GOT virgins. With that being said, I would avert my gaze from the specifics of narrative and instead, inject this piece with both a general feel for the fantasy franchise and to offer a study of performance.
The Game of Thrones title serves well to capture the essence of the plot. Seven families of noble birth scrap for control of the Kingdom of Westeros, and in that, the Iron Throne. There are rightful and non-rightful rulers, the loyal and disloyal, the politics and war; a recipe no man can digest in one sitting. GOT swallows us whole into a realm so complex that even narrative twists have their own twists. We are subject to a catalogue of cultures: the Night’s Watch, the Wildlings, and White Walkers amongst fair civilisation. Each settlement, or more appropiately, each individual, exists by their own code of honour, and an ever-increasing line of lords and ladies, treasons and executions, victories and losses, make actual history seem…rather shallow and unfulfilled as it somewhat pales in comparison.
Peter Dinklage, as the ‘half-man’ Tyrion Lannister, has been relentlessly plastered across the face of high-end art magazines such as Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stones, with the latter marking the man as ‘Master of the Game’. Not only does Dinklage understand how to play the game, he knows just how to win. His efforts as the unsuspected puppet-master won him the Emmy for best supporting actor in a drama series as well as the Golden Globe for a similar category.
Peter’s performance is very subtle but proper, and although it is a somewhat unorthodox way to define a character, I feel that a first-season quote spoken by Tyrion himself, serves well to umbrella his entire persona: “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” Tyrion energetically feeds off the imp-insults, which ultimately encourages his performance and empowers his screen presence.
Dinklage gives insight to GOT backstage at the Emmys. He says, “George Martin’s novels doesn’t follow the traditional formula. Villains live and heroes die.” He continues to remark that although there isn’t the budget or the time to stick exactly to the novel, the essence remains faithful. The same people live and the same die. I found myself none short of refreshed when Dinklage proposed that television was obtaining the same credibility as film. He suggests TV is no longer being seen as the inferior, as it attracts all the top writers – hence in the past few years, we have seen a major incline in the quality of television shows that are available to us.
Lena Headey, as the spiteful, two-faced, Cleopatra-esque Queen Cersei Lannister, makes for sensational viewing as her audience breathe the same hatred for her character as they did for her closest male counterpart, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator) – both cruel rulers, hated by their people and who enjoy their siblings compnay all too much. Amidst the solid dimensions of GOT, and as much as we’re sucked into the spectacle, one can’t help but reposition her as Queen of Snyder’s 300, as the similarities are often uncanny; but by all means do not regard that as any substantial negativity.
Veteran of the epic genre, Sean Bean plays Eddark Stark, Lord of Winterfell, hand of the king and a devoted father. For me, his contribution is certainly a highlight. His rendition of a man with the world on his shoulders is strong and accomplished. He is reluctantly bound by his duty to serve his old friend, King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). The aged warrior, who carries a suit of frailty about his demeanour, gets caught up in a web of lies and deceit, yet never loses sight of who he is.
For many of its cast, GOT has become a platform in where they could launch themselves into the spotlight. Emilia Clarke brings a brilliant coming-of-age characterisation as Daenerys Targaryen, the mother of dragons and in her potent opinion, the rightful queen of Westeros.
Kit Harrington, as the famous bastard child and new recruit of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow, executes his role with a delicate torment. We see the boy gradually become a man; sensitive yet governed by the harsh code of the Black. Daughter of Lord Stark, Arya (Maisie Williams) displays promise as a young actress, confident and at times, even outdoes her more experienced co-stars. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for her older sister, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). If I was to nit-pick, I would say her performance, as a weak and supressed queen-to-be, is often inadequate and lacks believability; it’s rare to see her character amount to something.
With the third season scheduled for next year, as grim as that is for its eager followers, it gives all you newbies plenty of time to come to speed with the global phenomena that is Game of Thrones. The twenty-minute feauturette below is an excellent account of the first season and looks forward to the second. We are given a breakdown of events, an insightful look into the creation of the series and also acquaints one with the overall tone and purpose of HBO’s latest and most talked about ‘thing’.