Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, you’ll probably have seen at least one of the massive billboard posters or TV adverts for Sky Atlantic‘s latest HBO import. Game of Thrones is an epic adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” series of novels, due to air in the UK this Monday (April 18th), just a day after the US. However, I was lucky enough to get a preview copy of the first 2 episodes (sometimes i love this job! ;) ). I’ll try and keep the review as spoiler free as possible!
Set in the fictional medieval style land of Westeros, Game of Thrones tells the story of power struggle between several noble families in Westeros’s Seven Kingdoms. The opening 2 episodes introduce a lot of characters in 4 of the families houses, so here’s a quick rundown of each of the houses, and how they connect:
House Stark is ruled over by the grim but honourable Lord Eddard Stark (Ned to his friends) played by Sean Bean. Stark is based at the castle of Winterfell in the bitter north of Westeros with his wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), the loyal eldest son Robb (Richard Madden), eldest daughter, the very proper Sansa (Sophie Turner), and their younger siblings – the spirited Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), and the tomboy-ish Arya (Maisie Williams). Also part of the house of Stark is Jon Snow, Ned’s bastard son, conceived by Ned 17yrs earlier whilst he was away during the war that bought Robert Baratheon, Ned’s oldest friend, to the throne.
House Baratheon are the most powerful house in Westeros, headed by King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Robert led a rebellion against King Aery II (aka Aerys the Mad) of House Targaryen, leading to the death of Aerys and most of House Targaryen. After taking the throne, Robert married Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) of the formidable House Lannister who were allies of the Targaryens for much of the war, to ensure peace between the two Houses. His legitimate offspring include the rather obnoxious heir to the throne – Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), and his sister Princess Myrcella (Aimee Richardson).
House Lannister are the richest, proudest, and fair to say, most arrogant noble family in Westeros. Led by Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance – although he doesn’t appear in the 2 episodes i’ve seen), their attitude lives up to their motto – Hear Me Roar! Tywin’s family consists of Cersei, wife of King Robert Baratheon, her twin brother Jaime, with whom she shares a… close… relationship… And their younger brother Tyrion, also know as ‘The Imp’, due to his diminutive stature.
House Targaryen was all but decimated during Robert’s rebellion leaving pretty much only Aerys’s children – the callous Prince Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and Princess Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) – who escaped into exile across the sea. In an attempt to raise an army and take back Westeros, Viserys has forced Daenerys to marry the Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). In return, Drogo is supposed to supply Viserys with a Dothraki hoard to take back ‘his’ land.
Game Of Thrones Episodes 1 & 2 Review
If you’ve seen trailers for Game Of Thrones, and are thinking ‘that looks a bit Lord of the Rings’, you really couldn’t be further from the truth. Game Of Thrones is described as a tale of family, betrayal, lust and greed – not all of those being mutually exclusive, and a lot of it shown on-screen in true-to-form, HBO, lusty and gory detail. Middle Earth this really is not!
“If your thinking this looks a bit Lord of the Ring, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Middle Earth this really is not.”
The opening episode “Winter is Coming”, is a superb introduction to the series. Given the need to highlight quite a large number of key characters, they manage to show you enough to give you a flavour of each personality and key traits, without overwhelming the viewer with masses of back story. There are, what could have been, a bewildering array of plot strands set up in episode 1, but the shows creators Dan Weiss and David Benioff have managed to introduce the various Machiavellian machinations in such a fashion that it doesn’t grind to a halt under the weight, and keeps the viewer gripped to the story.
The casting of the show is superb. Not only from the experienced hands, such as Sean Bean, Mark Addy and Lena Headey, but also the large number of younger actors and relative unknowns taking up the roles as various family members. The one real stand out role for me though was Peter Dinklage as Tyrion. He may be seen as the drinking, womanizing, diminutive younger sibling of the Lannister family, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in mind, with an appetite for books as large as his appetite for booze and the ladies.
One of the things that really struck me was the lack of obvious CGI in the show. As a large scale fantasy drama, you’d rather expect some form over over the top effects at some point, but any CGI that did appear was subtlety inserted, so much so that you’d barely notice, which is a wonderful thing.
From the creepy and rather disturbing opening of the 1st episode, which sets the wonderfully dark tone of the series, Game of Thrones is a gripping and captivating show, that i’m really looking forward to seeing more of in the coming weeks. In true HBO style it’s not for the faint of heart, but those of you that do decide to visit Westeros will be very glad you did.