Game Of Thrones Review: Winter Is Coming - Series Premiere

It took a lot of guts to get done, but Game of Thrones is the best epic story to be filmed since Lord of the Rings. The undertaking by executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss can not be overstated. It was an overwhelming task, with it being far more likely to fall flat than anything else. Until the first trailers were shown I was mildly curious, but felt the show could end up being a footnote in history. While excited I began watching with trepidation, and from the first spectacular view of the Wall I became a believer. Game of Thrones offers viewers a mature and intricate story, and it’s good.

Game of Thrones is the first book in a series called A Song of Ice and Fire. This book is what the first season of the show is based upon, and at nearly 900 pages there’s a lot of character and story to cover in just 10 episodes. The real question is whether the mass market throng of HBO viewers will be able to get into the story of a world readying for war. The television series suffers from the one major problem the books have, and that’s the sheer enormity of the narrative being thrown at you from the first moments.

The Starks of Winterfell, the Lannisters of Casterly Rock, the Targaryen, the Dothraki, the Brotherhood of the Nights Watch, et al. OK, here’s a quick snippet to get you to understand the detailed relationships: the current King (Robert) supplanted the old King (Aerys Targaryen II) when his now brother in law (Jaime Lannister) killed the old king, but the brother in law’s father (Tywin Lannister) was the original King’s “Hand” (basically the Number 2 guy). This is just the tip of that web. Not to mention the hundreds of other, unnamed, families who serve as bannermen for their lords and King. It’s all enough to make even the most patient person pull their hair out in frustration.

There’s no use getting around it, if you want to enjoy great television you’ll have to watch and try to follow as best you can to start off. The nice thing about not only Martin’s original story, but what’s been adapted for HBO, is that you soon fall into a rhythm of understanding. I can’t see most people being confused as to what the allegiances are by the time episode two ends.

A lot of what will connect with the audience is a cast that is about as perfect as I can remember seeing. Sean Bean as Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark of Winterfell is exceptional as the brooding man of the North who adheres to the honorable old ways. Juxtapose that with King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) who rules the 7 Kingdoms by drinking and whoring around. The two friends couldn’t be further apart in character, but even in the first episodes you see the former friendship and how it affects the tenuous relationship they have currently.

Every character in the series was perfectly cast, not only based upon looks but on how they carry themselves. Even Sansa (Sophie Turner), who’s a little bit different from how most would picture her, works well in the show as a foil for her sister Arya (Maisie Williams). The highlight of the cast is Tyrion Lannister, the uncouth witty dwarf of the Lannister clan, played brilliantly by Peter Dinklage. Everything about Dinklage is spot on in the role; he even looks like the other Lannisters. Fans of Tyrion’s quick mind will enjoy every single second the Imp is on screen; one of my favorite moments so far in viewing the series is Tyrion’s explanation on why he reads so much. Dinklage nearly has his Emmy nomination guaranteed, and a damn good shot at winning for this role. He’s that good, and he does Tyrion justice.

Game of Thrones has often been heralded as a sexier Lord of the Rings. I guess I can see that, as they’re both fantasy stories, but there’s more to be had than sex and violence. Rest assured, though, you’ll get just the right amount of both. Nudity is not avoided, but rather than being gratuitous to show how “edgy” the show can be it’s used within context. Same goes for the violence. The wedding of Khal Drogo (Jason Mamoa) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) features the taking of women publicly by men, as well as an evisceration. But a Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair.

For a series that was supposed to be impossible to film, Game of Thrones is incredible. The production is like nothing you’ve seen on television. It’s big and bombastic when needed, but even in the tender dark corners where conversations take place there’s a deep pulsating rhythm to the show. It never gets boring or bogged down, although there are occasional moments of grandiose vista filmmaking that make you forget you’ve moved from following the story of the Starks in Winterfell to the struggle of young Daenarys amongst the barbaric Dothraki people.

As far as the adaptation goes no one can say this is a failure. It’s almost as if the producers painstakingly went through the hundreds of pages of text to find the big anchor moments – those scenes in the story that help to shape the lives of the characters and what’s to come – and then translate them with the utmost care onto film. Minor changes do occur, most often to simplify the narrative structure that no longer is as character specific as Martin’s chapters. For what it’s worth I haven’t seen Renly Baratheon mentioned in the early episodes, and his best line was given to Robert. Perhaps he has a diminished role, or that one scene didn't need to be muddled with more unnamed characters. But it’s those kinds of minor changes that may raise the ire of some die hard fans. The truth is that Game of Thrones has the feel and tone of the book, but exists as its own telling of the story.

I may be the only one who’s read the books and gotten a slight Western vibe from them. Yes there’s a lot of old timey knights and lord and ladies milling about, but something about the story lends itself to the Western genre. Which makes the main theme song incredibly fitting as it’s reminiscent of music you’d hear in Firefly, Joss Whedon’s space bound Western series. Speaking of the main theme song, when I first watched the title sequence I had the biggest goofy grin on my face.

Sometimes great shows require a little work from the audience, and Game of Thrones does demand a bit of that. However it’s always, even from the first 10 seconds, an entertaining ride. Forget about trying to figure out the ins and outs of the rivalries as you watch the first episode. Accept that you’re thrust immediately into the story with no compass or suggestion of direction. All of the knowledge you need comes swiftly and naturally if you let it happen. Game of Thrones is worth your time, in fact it may be the best reason to be a TV watcher right now.

Game of Thrones premieres Sunday, April 17 at 9:00 PM ET on HBO.

Not a fan of fantasy? Check out our list of reasons why you might like Game of Thrones anyway!

Steve West

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.