Saturday, 16 April 2011

GAME OF THRONES: first thoughts

I'm working on a much longer, more in-depth and slightly spoilery (if you've read the books) review for later on, but here's a much briefer summary of my thoughts to be going on with from last night's screening of the first two episodes of Game of Thrones.

As with the book, this is a big, complex story with multiple plot-lines and a significant number of characters with their own motivations and story arcs that need to be established. Even trickier, there is a significant amount of backstory to set up, along with discussions of characters who have been dead for seventeen years when the action starts (they may turn up in flashback later, but they certainly don't at this point). With the action unfolding in multiple locations on two continents, the potential is there for the whole thing to collapse under its weight into a huge mess.

Thankfully, it doesn't. The script and the acting does a good job of introducing us to the characters briskly and efficiently, but hinting at depth and more complex motivations. The main cast give uniformly great performances: my more in-depth review will cover this, but Peter Dinklage, Maisie Williams, Mark Addy and Harry Lloyd are outstanding, and Sean Bean's performance has an element of humour and nuance to it that I think will surprise some, whilst Richard Madden does great work with only a limited amount of material. Dialogue - much of it taken directly from the book - is mostly strong, but there are a few clunky moments during sequences of exposition. Particularly notable is the presence of humour: the audience I was with laughed quiet a lot at Arya's antics and some of Tyrion's lines.

The script is faithful to the book, though a couple of fan-favourite scenes are exorcised for time reasons and some new ones are dropped in to help clarify certain characters and storylines. The success of this is mixed: the establishment of Robb and Sansa's characters are hurt a little by the removal of some scenes, but Cersei and Cat's are helped by the insertion of new ones.

Problems emerge in Pentos and the Dothraki Sea scenes. Daenerys doesn't have a huge amount to do at this stage and Emilia Clarke does good work with what she has, but her character isn't strongly-established at this stage. Jason Momoa has little to do other than look buff and show off his arse a lot, both of which he handles well. Whilst events in Westeros are mostly free of cheese, a distinct odour of Stilton emerges in scenes involving the Dothraki and Dany being taught how pleasure her man by a bed slave (though British fans may be distracted at this stage by, "Hey, it's that girl off Hollyoaks,"). These scenes are uplifted by the presence of Harry Lloyd as Viserys, who is outstanding and actually makes the character work better than in the novels, and Iain Glen as Ser Jorah Mormont, who makes scenes 150% classier just by showing up. Still, the Dothraki sequences skirt around the edges of corn and could be problematic for some viewers.

Overall, we have a show that isn't 100% brilliant out of the gate, but one that lays out some very strong foundations to build on. The problems are ones that to some extent were unavoidable, and none are terminal. The cast is fantastic, the new scenes are mostly well-judged, the subtle effects work well and the story is accessible to non-readers. One thing that will be interesting to see is how the show handles the expansion of the cast: by the end of Episode 2 we're two hours into the story and we still haven't even met Varys, Renly, Littlefinger, Lysa Arryn, Barristan Selmy, Samwell Tarly or other iconic characters from the books. How the show is able to juggle these new characters with the elements introduced in the first two episodes will be key to its future success.

More in-depth thoughts, especially on the actors, to follow.


DEZMOND said...

this review makes me ever more excited to watch the show!
I'm extremely happy that all of us who love epic and historical shows can enjoy this Spring in GAME OF THRONES, CAMELOT, THE BORGIAS ... we also had MERLIN and GODS OF ARENA! A good year for us!

Eleanor said...

Interesting to hear that they've reduced Robb a little in the introduction, since D&D said they liked him so much they were going to expand his role in the second season!

I really hope Peter Dinklage is going to be able to pull off Tyrion's vulnerability as well as Tyrion's wit. But after seeing his performance in Nip|Tuck I'm cautiously optimistic.

Good review. My Harry Lloyd anticipation grows more with each passing hour!

saluk said...

Re: Robb: Maybe they reduced Robb in the script before they fell in love with his performance? Also, his character really lacks importance in the first half, and even in the second is pretty marginal. It would make sense to have him take his place as more of a lead in 2.

Anonymous said...

"Also, his character really lacks importance in the first half, and even in the second is pretty marginal."

I disagree, Rob does a lot of important things in GOT, way more than is shown in the following books, and it’s certainly the book were he appears the most.

King in The North

Anonymous said...

Awesome! hopefully if this show gets sucessful enough, it will prove to people 'hey! fantasy is (and can be) sophisticated too!'

george R.R martin should consider himself blessed (and not just beacause he finally finished ADWD).

Maip said...

Makes sense to make Robb a major character as he'll be the leader of the most sympathetic faction of the War of Five Kings. Also, it'll make the Red Wedding more impactful if we know him a bit better than in the books. He also looks terrific in the trailers released thus far.

Adam Whitehead said...

Robb has a lot to do in the second half of Season 1, it's just transmitted through Bran and Cat's POVs. But I think they'll be making him more central and will also follow his off-page storyline in Season 2 on-screen. How they'll do that without compromising other storylines will be interesting, especially if Season 2 is only 10 or 11 episodes long.

Anonymous said...

So how did you manage to watch it when it doesn't air here till tomorrow night ?

Adam Whitehead said...

BAFTA premiered the first two episodes in London on Friday night with a lot of the cast attending. I managed to snag a ticket.

BAndy said...

Saw the premiere episode last night on HBO here in the states. I'm not much for writing,
but I will say I was blown away. Yes it was a "readers digest" version (which was inevitable) but the producers did a great job of keeping the basic story on track and getting the characters introduced. All the characters are spot-on perfect. Bran was a real standout for me. Sean Bean has perfected his art - the man can just act.
You almost felt pity for Cersei during the feast scene with her having to see her husbands behavior, but that pity only lasts until she opens her mouth to speak. That is one cold queen! I thought Tyrion was awesome.
Also they portrayed Visery to perfection. Now I just can't wait until he gets his crown!