Fans of George R.R. Martin's books should be pleased with this TV epic
Sean Bean of 'Game of Thrones'
On the Firewall & Iceberg podcast last week, Sepinwall broke with form and asked me to give the introductory synopsis for HBO
's new epic drama "Game of Thrones
." He figured that since I'd read a book-and-a-half (and counting) of George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" franchise, I might have more luck summarizing the fantasy-but-not-fantasy trappings.
I failed dismally.
The next day, I was on a conference call with Martin himself and I asked him to take a shot at laying out the basics, figuring he must have pitched the premise enough times over the years to have a really simple, one-paragraph answer prepared.
He did not. He said something about it having been described as "fantasy for people who hate fantasy" and made his now-familiar claims about the story's root in The War of the Roses. He talked for at least five minutes and while I'm sure he improved upon my podcast stammering, he didn't give a response that I could work with.
The problem isn't that "Game of Thrones" is excessively complicated or that it's difficult to understand without a scorecard. I don't want to give any impression that "Game of Thrones" is an intimidating piece of work to slog through. What it is, however, is vast and uncompromising in scope. HBO has never been afraid to plop viewers down in the middle of heavily populated dramatic realms. Go back and watch the pilots for "The Wire" or "Deadwood" or "Boardwalk Empire" and count the number of characters you're immediately asked to keep track of. But "The Wire" was grounded in an American urban experience that was at least vaguely familiar, even if you weren't versed in the specifics of Baltimore's inner city. And "Deadwood" and "Boardwalk Empire" both relied on a scaffolding of actual history and geography, plus the inclusion of a number of famous historical characters.
"Game of Thrones" dispatches viewers in a foreign land with a foreign geography and thousands of years of foreign history. It doesn't say "Understand everything this second or your're going to wind up in a corner muttering 'Starks and Tullys and Lanisters... oh my.'" What it requires, if you haven't read any of Martin's books, is that you have faith in series developers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, This isn't a "They know best" kind of faith, but rather a "They'll tell me what I need to know when I need to know it" faith.
Through six episodes, I found that faith well-earned. Benioff and Weiss have taken Martin's hefy book and translated it with a fidelity that fans are likely to appreciate, while welcoming new audiences with a thematic core that won't seem so impenetrable. It's not just a story for fantasy fans. And although I can only speak for my own gender-informed viewing experience, there's no reason why this should be a story aimed only at men.
"Game of Thrones" is a solidly told yarn that easily overcomes its few storytelling stumbles with exceptional production values and a deep and superior cast that far out-strips any reasonable expectations for this sort of saga.
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