Monday, April 18, 2011

A Game of Groans

Dark riders on black horses emerge from an impossibly huge wall onto a frozen white wasteland in the opening scene of HBO’s highly anticipated new fantasy drama, A Game of Thrones. The riders are members of the “Night Watch” and are in hot pursuit of some runaway “Wildlings” when they discover a gruesome scene of artfully arranged slaughter perpetrated by the mysterious “White Walkers.” The scene teases at Tolkien, imitates the frozen isolation of The Shining and garnishes it all with a heavy handful of Saw III and provides our first evidence that, “Winter is coming,” a phrase oft repeated and only spoken grimly with a heady dose of portent.

Well if winter is coming, I hope it brings a glossary and a seating chart. The night watch and the wildings are only the first five minutes. Over the next fifty-five, we meet the noble Eddard Stark (played by the ever dour Sean Bean), leader of Winterfell, northern most province of The Seven Kingdoms, in the land of Westros ruled by the hard drinking Baratheon (Mark Addy) who is stalked by the scheming Lannisters who want to return home to King’s Landing which lies just across The Narrow Sea from the exiled Targaryens who are hiding in the court of the Dothraki hoping to woo their barbarian king Khal Drogo (played by Jason Momoa and the medical team at Balco) and that’s just the cliff notes . A Game of Thrones is based on George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice which currently stands at 271 chapters and 3,882 pages with 3 books still to come in the planned septology and apparently the producers are trying to get it all in by the end of the second episode.

The highlight of the first episode lies in the truly stunning opening sequence. The camera sweeps dynamically across an ancient map as clockwork gears build castles and raise cities. It’s a scene setter that hints at the much-ballyhooed political intrigue yet to come, but if you were expecting All the King’s Men or even The West Wing, you might want to set your sites a bit lower. Think Passions meets Porky’s. There are whisperings and innuendo, plots and machinations, heaping helpings of skullduggery and more misogyny than a Girls Gone Wild boxed set. Frankly, by the time we get to child murder, it’s a welcome relief from all of the rape and incest (one episode, two West Virginia love triangles).

HBO does television better than anyone else on the planet, and they’ve got a lot here to like. The sets are breathtaking and the digital effects, seamless. Costuming is Emmy worthy and manages to seem organic and earthy while still being otherworldly. The acting is more than solid with some notable highlights. Peter Dinklage alternately sings and sulks as Tyrion Lannister, the Queens dwarf brother and Michelle Fairley adds grace and strength to Catelyn Stark, matriarch of Winterfell. But it’s not enough to overcome a plot that is a hodgepodge of elements thrown together for forty-year-old teenage boys.

Serious men with swords and dire wolves (Played ably and adorably by a bunch of Alaskan Malamute puppies) plan the path of the kingdom while whispering women agonize over their arranged marriages. Knife fights and gang rape are chuckled off as wedding entertainment and it’s all inartfully wrapped up in stilted dialogue from flat archetypal characters. HBO has given us The Wire, Dead Wood, and Boardwalk Empire, the best of modern television drama, and maybe that’s part of the problem for A Game of Thrones. If it were on STARZ opposite Spartacus: Blood and Sand it might wear a bit better, but in the end A Game of Thrones isn’t HBO, it’s television.


At 10:17 AM, April 20, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dude, I thought it was awesome!

At 5:57 PM, January 24, 2013, Blogger jabmyeyes said...

You have a fabulous mind and I am all about being a couch naturalist. Although my couch is my computer desk.


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