I've decided to review each episode of the new HBO series Game of Thrones as they come out. And yes--I'm behind. So I'll have to play catch-up.
For whoever doesn't know, GoT is based on the first of a multi-novel epic fantasy by George R.R.Martin (creator of t.v.'s Beauty and the Beast). The next book comes out in July. I've read all of them so far and am completely addicted. Frustrated, too. Each of these books is longer than Lord of the Rings and the man is a perfectionist. They take years and years to complete. Oh so worth it though...
Episode one, Winter is Coming, focuses on introducing us to this world--specifically House Stark, Lords of Winterfell. One of (very) few complaints about the opener is that we don't really get a sense of how huge the great castle of Winterfell really is. In world where seasons of indeterminate length--they can last months or years or even decades--the North needs a castle that can function as a city. Winterfell is supposed to have the equivalent of a small forest inside its walls, which wasn't really clear, alas. But...early days.
Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark is the head his family--wife Catelyn, daughters Sansa (a very girly girl hoping to wed the Crown Prince) and Arya (tomboy to the bone), sons Robb (his heir), Bran (the climber) and Rickon (at this point little more than a baby). He also has an illegitimate son, Jon Snow. One day Ned rides out with his three eldest sons to judge a deserter. The Stark way says "the man who passes the judgment must wield the sword," which he does. Ned gets no pleasure from beheading a young man he regards as a weak madman. But the law is the law.
What he doesn't know is that the deserter was not mad. A member of the Nightwatch, who man a wall of ice several hundred feet high with castles attached, he had been part of a patrol to check on what was going on in the wild country north of the wall. His claim to have seen the White Walkers (in whom nobody believes) is the utter truth. Winter is coming. And no one really knows what that means.
Headed back, Ned and his party come across a dire wolf (think giant prehistoric wolf) killed by a stag's antler. The stag lies nearby, also dead. But before death, the direwolf gave birth--six pups. One for each of the Lord Stark's children, including an albino for Jon Snow. Much is made of the dire wolf being the sigil of House Stark. An omen, yes? Ominously, no one mentions the stag is the sigil of the King, Ned's old friend Robert. When they get back to Winterfell, news awaits that the King is en route.
A nice touch--the dire wolf cubs grow noticeably by the time the royal party arrives. Westoros--the vast kingdom where the story takes place--is huge and most people travel by horse or foot.
Meanwhile, across the sea the last two members of the dynasty overthrown by Ned and Robert a generation earlier plot to return. Viserys and Danaerys Targaryan are the only surviving children of the dead king (more of him in upcoming episodes). They are pale of hair and elfin of feature, both quite young, and the brother has a plan to get the army he needs to reclaim Westeros. It involves giving his sister in marriage to the leader or chieftan of the Dothraki--a fierce race of mounted archers rather like armor-less Klingons. Danaerys, terrified of marriage to this gigantic brute and equally terrified of disobeying her brother, takes a bath in water she's warned is far too hot still. Yet she hardly flinches. She may not realize it yet, but there is steel in her soul, waiting to be forged.
Next we meet King Robert--big, blustering, fun-loving and eager to make Ned his new Hand (something like a super Prime Minister, or maybe Shogun). The former Hand, Jon Arryn, died suddenly. With the King is his wife Cersei Lannister and her two siblings--handsome twin Jaime and the ingenious dwarf Tyrion, aka "The Imp." We meet him in a whorehouse, drinking wine and trading quips with the ladies. The brothers clearly like each other, just as Cersei cannot stand Tyrion. Neither can Prince Joffrey, the handsome heir to the throne who gives off a Caligula vibe. Really, his name might as well be Malfoy. I'm not kidding. The younger royal siblings seem to quite like Tyrion, though, and he them. He even offers Jon Snow an important piece of advice about how to live with being a bastard--choose to wear that title with pride, and the word cannot hurt. What do you know of being a bastard, Jon asks? Didn't you know? All dwarves are bastards in their father's eyes.
Across the Narrow Sea, Danaerys weds the huge warlord Kal Drogo. Among the wedding gifts are three petrified dragon's eggs. Dragons, we're told, are extinct (having read the book I know they've been gone almost two centuries) but the eggs are still beautiful. That night, in tears, she loses her virginity to her towering groom...
In Winterfell, Bran goes climbing amidst the towers and roofs of his castle home. He hears something in a deserted tower room, and peaks inside. He probably doesn't understand what he sees--
Queen Cersei and Jaime are having sex. They spot him, and Jaime grabs the boy. "He's seen us," Cersei hisses. Her brother sighs"What I do for love."
And throws Bran out the window...
The publicity machine dubs Game of Thrones as "The Sopranos in Middle Earth." Which is funny, and evocative, but not quite accurate. Toss in Ivanhoe, plus some I, Claudius to the mix, and a few dashes of 30 Days of Night. Episode one is by its very nature a beginning. For me, a fan of the novels, I wish their King Robert had been a lot taller--a lumbering giant of a man. But how I adore Peter Dinklage getting to play what must be the role of a lifetime--Tyrion the Imp already is the most fascinating character on screen.