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RUNNING TIME: 561 minutes
• Seven Audio Commentaries
• Making of (30 minutes)
• 15 Character Profile Clips
• Creating the Dothraki Language (5:30 minutes)
• From Book to Screen (5 minutes)
• The Night’s Watch (8 minutes)
• Creating the Show Opening (5 minutes)
• Interactive Guide to Westeros
The first book in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series gets the HBO treatment.
Based on the novels by George R.R. Martin, written for the screen and produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, starring Harry Lloyd, Sean Bean, Alfie Allen, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Iain Glen, and a grip of others.
HBO’s stunning adaptation appeals to genre fans and a general audience alike while breaking ground as to what is possible on television.
In the first season of Game of Thrones, you won’t find much fantasy. Out of 10 episodes, about three contain some sort of fantasy element and these only last for a brief glimpse. This was well-played by HBO – a fantasy series on a premium channel is a tough sell. But producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff also proved with Game of Thrones that good fantasy isn’t about the creatures or wizards shooting lightning from the fingers. It’s about the characters that inhabit these fictional realms, their relationships, and how an audience can relate to their flaws. The backbone to all of these characters is good storytelling, which must have been easy for the creators pulling from George R.R. Martin’s bestselling series, A Song of Ice and Fire. HBO, who has cancelled period-dramas before due to budget, took a chance on Thrones and it paid off in spades.
Thrones is set on the continent of Westeros, home of the Seven Kingdoms. Each of the Kingdoms is ruled over by a Lord who takes orders from King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), a man who has grown drunk and lethargic since taking the Iron Throne. He travels north to the Winterfell, a city lorded over by Eddard (Ned) Stark (Sean Bean) with his wife Catelyn, two daughters, two sons, and bastard son. Robert asks Ned to take his place at King’s Landing as the King’s Hand – a title that entails overseeing the day-to-day politics of Westeros such as finance and whatnot. Basically, Ned would be running Westeros while King Robert drinks and cheats on his wife. The former Hand Jon Arryn, who was also a mentor to Ned, mysteriously died of a fever. Ned reluctantly accepts the position and sees it as a way to investigate Jon’s death.
King Robert’s wife, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), has plans of her own and sees the arrival of the Starks in King’s Landing as a threat to her rule. She schemes with her twin brother Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) – and by “scheme” I mean “screw.” Their dwarf brother Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) seems to be the only one in the family with a head on his shoulders. He’s grounded and cynical and is happy just getting paid and getting laid. He detsts his brother and sister as much as they do him – holding special disdain for Cersei’s piece of shit son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
Across the sea resides the pseudo-albino Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the last remaining members of the royal bloodline that Robert and Ned destroyed years before. The rodent-faced, whiny Viserys sees himself as the true king of Westeros, so he sells his reluctant younger sister Daenerys off to the lord of the barbarous Dothrakis (based heavily on the Mongols). As a return favor, Viserys is promised rule over the Dothraki army to help lay waste to Westeros and reclaim his throne.
Also in the mix are lots an lots of naked women. Martin’s novel is full of detailed sex scenes and when people aren’t having it, they’re talking about it. I felt uneasy reading these parts at first because they involve underage girls and incest. But it’s all in good fantasy novel fun, right guys? *tugs on collar*
There are a lot of characters and a lot of moving parts at play, which may be overwhelming for people unfamiliar with the novels. The show does a phenomenal job of allowing us to spend a great amount of time with each character to grasp them, so by the end of the second episode there’s no confusion. This is one honest to gods gripping series. It’s light on action, but when there is a call for violence it happens in bright, bloody bursts. What it is heavy on is characterization and world-building. The production design is incredible – using a mix of actual locations in Malta and Northern Ireland as well as fully realized, immersive sets.
Sean Bean, who has lots of experience wielding swords on film, gives a breakthrough performance as the contemplative family man Ned Stark. This is easily the best performance Bean has ever given – flexing his emotional muscles in ways he’s never gotten to before. The other stand-out role is, of course, Peter Dinklage as the witty half-man Tyrion Lannister – a performance that won him a well-deserved Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. During a drunken conversation with a whore, Tyrion delivers possibly the best monologue of the entire season. In a world of warriors preparing for an impending civil war, Tyrion must rely on his smarts and silver tongue to survive. Oh, and wine. He also relies on lots of wine.
The rest of the cast is exceptional as well, even the child actors depicting the younger Starks. Usually child actors make me want to vomit, but the kid Starks were really very good. Bravo, casting department.
Game of Thrones is a perfect storm of masterful storytelling, brilliant performances, towering production design, and gripping drama. HBO took a chance and we should all thank them for that. Personally, with roses. They managed to make a fantasy series appealing to a general audiences while also stroking all of the pleasure centers genre fans hold so dear. Season 2 recently began airing and the third season was announced shortly after. Long live Thrones.
HBO went balls-out with the special features – pumping life into standard extras that have become stagnant for years.
THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WESTEROS: This feature can be found on each disk and is a well of information on the different houses and their legacy, family members, servants, etc. The guide also provides information on the different lands and regions of Westeros. Pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about the world created by Martin.
CHARACTER PROFILES: You’d think these would be brief character sketches in text form. Wrong, ya turkey! These are 15 individual interviews with cast members discussing the characters they play. There’s some great insight here.
AUDIO COMMENTARIES: Seven out of 10 episodes get commentary from several cast members, Martin, Benioff, and Weiss. The latter two get commentary duty during the pilot, and boy howdy do they provide loads of information and insight. Unfortunately, Sean Bean is absent.
THE NIGHT’S WATCH: This features clips from the show concerning the Night’s Watch, their history, and oath. The actors who portray the Night’s Watch are interviewed, including Kit Harrington, who plays Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark.
FROM THE BOOK TO THE SCREEN: Interviews with Weiss, Benioff, and Martin about adapting the series. Martin explains how he always knew HBO would be the only route and that a feature film would be out of the question. The three talk about how it was important to them that the show had “no bad guys.” They made sure each character is complicated and flawed in their own way. They also detail how Martin was involved with everything from costumes to casting.
CREATING THE OPENING SEQUENCE: Game of Thrones has hands-down one of the greatest opening sequences in TV history. It’s brilliant, in fact. At the beginning of each episode, it grounds the show geographically and reorientates the audience as to where the action is taking place. This feature details the development and execution of the sequence; interviewing several people who had a hand in the process.
CREATING THE DOTHRAKI LANGUAGE: This feature goes into how the Dothraki language was created by David Peterson of the Language Creation Society. They talk about how they needed to come up with an entirely original language to enhance the realism of the show.
MAKING GAME OF THRONES: Here’s the good stuff, right here. 30 minutes of cast and crew interviews with loads of behind the scenes insight. The information on the production design is absolutely insane.
In short, stop reading this and go buy this set now.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars