HBO does it again with ‘Game of Thrones’

By Kevin Romani

Game of Thrones

The premium cable television network has been running this slogan for years now, and it continues to live up to its reputation. With its dedication to story, character and high production values, HBO’s (Home Box Office) original series continue to redefine television. HBO’s new Sunday night series “Game of Thrones” is no exception. The easiest way to say it is that HBO has done it yet again.

“Game of Thrones” is a medieval fantasy drama based on the best-selling series of novels “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin. Seven families make up the kingdom of the mythical Westeros, which is lead by King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). At the start of the pilot episode, titled “Winter is Coming,” the King has just lost his chief advisor and suspects that there was foul play involved in his death. Baratheon asks his old friend and ally Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean), Lord of Winterfell, to replace his late advisor. Fearing that other families are vying for control of Baratheon’s Iron Throne, Stark agrees in order to investigate his suspicions.

A simplistic way to describe the style of “Game of Thrones” would be “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy meets “Braveheart,” but in television format. This first episode only hinted at elements of fantasy that are similar to those from “The Lord of the Rings.” The opening of the show offered brief glimpses of creatures known as “White Walkers.” Later in the episode, it is revealed that these Walkers have not been seen in Westeros for thousands of years. It is reasonable to assume these creatures will find their way back into the main narrative. Certain pieces of the production design and art direction both provide an element of fantasy. With incredible detail and eye-catching color assigned to the sets, the scenery helps the viewer escape into this fictional world.  

The major genre that played out in this pilot episode, however, was the drama. Like “Braveheart,” a major theme of this series will be the lengths people go to gain power in a middle age backdrop. Several characters believe that they, or someone else, are the rightful ruler of Westeros. Many of these disagreements and conflicts exist within the same family. It is similar to “The Godfather” in that regard. Family members lie, manipulate and murder – all in the first episode. It will be interesting to see how far these characters’ jealousy and revenge seeking will take them throughout the series.

Film fans are already familiar with the strong supporting performances of Sean Bean. He left a memorable mark in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” as well as in the James Bond film “Goldeneye.” It’s nice to finally see the actor in a leading role of his own. He is perfect for the character of Ned Stark. His ruggedness and presence are ideal for a character that looks to be the hero of the series. The rest of the cast consists of mostly unfamiliar faces, but all do a fantastic job in their performances. The crew of “Game of Thrones” also performed above and beyond that seen in most television work. The cinematography, costume design and musical score were all appropriate for this style of storytelling.  

In comparison to other pilot episodes, “Game of Thrones” is not among the greatest of all time. It does not have the action and excitement the “Lost” pilot had, or the mystery and intrigue of the first episode of “Twin Peaks.” These series needed to leave an incredible impression in their initial airing in order to grab the attention of viewers instantly. “Game of Thrones” was not trying to do this because viewers already know the quality that HBO offers. It did not need to be remarkable in order to be successful. It instead offered a slower-paced pilot that laid the foundations of what is sure to be a great series. The first episode let the viewers take their time in learning the characters and familiarizing themselves with the geography of the fictional setting.

The most exciting moment from the episode was its ending. This may be an indicator that each episode will end with a cliffhanger to entice the audience to return for the following week’s episode.

“Winter is Coming” was a promising first episode. The end credits were followed by clips from episodes that will air in the coming weeks, and it looks to be filled with exciting action and compelling drama. “Game of Thrones” is sexy, sharply written and engaging. It airs at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights on HBO and will do so for nine more episodes. The critical reception and high viewership of the first episode have already led to a second season pickup.

Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected]