George R. R. Martin hasn't seen the premiere for "Game of Thrones," HBO
's adaptation of his "A Song of Ice and Fire" literary fantasy series, so I can't be too disappointed that the premium cable network presented the project to critics on Friday (January 7) without showing us the pilot.
In lieu of screening the pilot, which will premiere on April 17, HBO presented a 15-minute clip package -- Part sizzle reel, part extended trailer, part proof-of-concept, part proof-of-execution.
I saw the clips on Friday before small roundtable interviews with Martin and with series developers David Benioff and Dan Weiss and before watching the different (shorter) trailer that preceded the "Game of Thrones" formal TCA panel.
The idea of reviewing a 15-minute clip package is silly. The idea of generating any sort of concrete initial impressions is probably futile. But the idea of typing up the notes I took while watching the clips, notes that give my under-formed first impressions, is probably acceptable.
Click through for those impressions (*clearly* not a review)...
[Before starting, I'll say that I've read "Game of Thrones" and quite enjoyed it. I started on "A Clash of Kings," got waylaid 200-ish pages in and probably ought to start over again and continue with the series.]
*** Not that 15 minutes is a lot to go by, but the selected scenes were obviously meant to show Weiss, Benioff and pilot director Tom McCarthy's devotion to the subject material. Most of the dialogue and images were taken directly from Martin's very cinematic prose. I know that the series has some detail-obsessed fans who will be anxious to point out even minor inconsistencies, but I think that any reader who acknowledges that taking a story from one medium to another inherently requires at least minor alterations would have been relieved.
*** What did we see pieces of? [This won't make sense if you don't know "Game of Thrones."] The opening execution that proves Eddard's noble and stubborn determination. Snippets of King Robert summoning Eddard and asking him to be The Hand. Indications of what Bran saw during his rooftop scampering and what fate befell him. Daenerys and Viserys' motivation for moving among the Dothraki and Daenerys' first, um, intimacies with Khal Drogo. A fair amount of Jaime and Cersei being icky Lannisters and a little bit of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion. A little of Catelyn Stark being maternal and fiercely protective, if you know what I mean.
*** What didn't we see? Very few dire wolves. Almost no scenes featuring the kids and, perhaps even more importantly, the kids delivering dialogue.
*** The exteriors, shot on location in Ireland, are gorgeous. There may be a little too much blue-filter action to give everything that This Is The Middle Ages tone, but the harsh wilderness and the outsides of the castles and cities looked pretty terrific.
*** I was less impressed by what we saw of the interiors of several castles and also The Wall. That doesn't mean it was good, just that what we saw looked stage-y and under-decorated.
*** Mark Addy's transformation as King Robert is amazing. I can't tell if he's got prosthetics going on his forehead or any place else, but for a guy we usually think of for comedy, he looks like he'll be able to play Robert for the occasional laughs, but mostly for drama.
*** Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage were the two pieces of pilot casting that made you go, "Well duh." Indeed, both seem perfect.
*** I don't know Michelle Fairley, who replaced Jennifer Ehle, an actress I love, as Catelyn. Perhaps Fairley had the most dramatic, human moments in the clip package. I was pretty impressed.
*** People are gonna like Emilia Clarke, playing Daenerys, an awful lot. Especially with the blonde locks, she's stunning and it won't surprise readers to know that she isn't over-dressed during her time with the Dothraki. I was impressed that even in the couple scenes we saw, her ability to play the character as both childlike and as an increasingly confident woman. My concern was that it felt like the clips, only from the pilot, covered entirely too much of her arc for the first book and I wonder if things got condensed somehow.
*** I didn't instantly warm to Harry Lloyd as Viserys, but you're not supposed to love that character, so maybe I was responding properly. I'm also not sure about Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo, but that may just turn out to be a part that nobody could make look physically believable. Momoa, who I still remember mostly from "North Shore," has a similarly big challenge in "Conan the Barbarian." Who knows?
*** The clips set up Martin's political chess game and gave indication of the sex, violence and language that make "Game of Thrones" very much a for-grown-ups brand of fantasy. The scenes also didn't show anything that suggested an enhancement or embellishment of mystical magical elements that spell out "fantasy" for casual fans whose only genre point-of-reference is the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. So that's a good thing.
*** I'm not quite sure still how this show plays to a general audience. It's not Shakespeare. It's not Tolkien. It's not Camelot. And the clips, and all of the teasers officially released by HBO, show you exactly enough to know what "Game of Thrones" is *not* but may not give an indication of what it actually is, or how the series will be parsed out week-to-week.
Anyway, though... Who knows? I wouldn't want to draw conclusions. I don't know how the pilot ends and, actually, I don't know how it begins. I don't know what its cumulative effect will be...
But those were a few initial impressions.
Obviously a real review will come once April arrives. Hopefully by that time, George R.R. Martin will have seen a few episodes and HBO will send a few episodes to credits.
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