HBO’s Game of Thrones Works Well, Even if You Haven’t Read the Books

Geek Culture

When telling a story, it’s always good to begin as you mean to go on.

In the case of HBO’s new series, Game of Thrones, the cinematic, brutal and terrifying opening sequence signaled what this show will contain: a menacing but yet unknown threat from the north, people take care of each other in a brutal world, a large cast of people scheming for power, and the sense that death can be around the corner for anyone.

I’ve never read the George R. R. Martin books on which the series is based, despite countless recommendations from friends. Having been burned before on multi-part sagas in which the endings were letdowns, I wanted to wait until this was finished. I also was leery of what I kept hearing about the many and varied tragedies that happen through the volumes. As a reader, I get attached to characters and when they are killed off, I tend to get bummed out. (For example, Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold is still sitting on my shelf. I’ve been mulish about reading the book because of what happens in the epilogue.)

A television show is somehow different to me and I was glad HBO adapted the books because it gave me a chance to experience the story in another way.

The show begins with three riders, warriors by their weapons, descending into an underground tunnel and coming out in a cold, wintry landscape. The symbolism of that was obvious and effective and then, as the score promises, really bad things begin to happen. The cut after seeing animated corpses to the family of Lord “Ned” Stark was almost jolting.

If I had any complaints about the premiere it was that it was too short and felt a little too much like set-up of what will come.

But I’m not sure that could be avoided. By my count, at least sixteen major character were introduced and two major plots and at least three subplots were set up, all without being confusing. I give great credit to the writers, especially since they used the device of characters being introduced to each other to give viewers the names to the faces.

The over-riding plot is a threat from the other side of the great wall shown in the opening sequence. That’s combined with the plot concerning several members of the Stark family, especially the patriarch, Lord “Ned” Stark, who is drafted into a deadly game of politics by his old friend the King. Ned’s brother-in-law has died under mysterious circumstances and it’s implied that the king’s wife and her brother had something to do with it. The Queen and her brother are certainly hiding a secret that would be worth murdering to keep, as they prove at the shocking end. Sean Bean holds the episode together nicely with his clear-sighted portrayal of Stark.

Meantime, on the other side of the world, a disenfranchised prince who considers the throne rightfully his marries his look-alike sister off to a brutal horse-lord in order to create an alliance that should supply troops in his bid to regain the throne.

My only real complaint is that the men moved the story and the women were mainly commodities or background characters. I’d heard so much about the many three-dimensional female characters in the books that this episode was a letdown on that count. I expect that to change and chalk it up to the problems of starting the story and hope the women gain depth as the story moves forward.

Oh, and I think the rest of the actors (save Sean Bean) need to step up their game or Peter Dinklage is going to steal the entire show. He already stole every scene that contained him in the first episode.

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