Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why I Was Not Grabbed By Game Of Thrones Season 1. . .

The Good: Interesting setting, Good direction, Moments of performance
The Bad: Very plot-centered, Light on character development, Most of the performances fail to be superlative.
The Basics: A mythical realm finds its major political figures vying for dominance as their competing machinations collide.

There are any number of popular cable television shows that I have absolutely no interest in. I have, for example, no compelling drive to watch The Sopranos. For all its popularity at the time, The Sopranos did not inspire me to run out and get cable television. Until my wife started reading the book series, I had no compulsion to sit down to Game Of Thrones. It was not that I had an antipathy toward the show, I simply knew nothing about it other than that it was popular, had a fantasy look to it, and was making Peter Dinklage a household name.

Having now done a marathon viewing of the first season of Game Of Thrones (which my wife claims stuck very closely to the first book), I find myself in the position of not siding with popular opinion on the season. The first season of Game Of Thrones was not bad, but it was not truly superlative in any way. In fact, I found myself bored with the first season of Game Of Thrones much quicker than many of my peers for the same reason I was not simply blown away by House Of Cards (reviewed here!). While one of the characters in Game Of Thrones asserts that everyone wants to rule the world, that is not true and it hardly works for characters who are compelling to watch episode after episode. In other words, characters have to have sufficient motivation to be compelling and the reactive nature of most of the characters in the first season of Game Of Thrones is hardly enough to sustain my interest. In fact, the way most of the characters are simply reacting to their immediate circumstances or are motivated by revenge for the wrongs against their family becomes droll fast.

Despite what some have argued to me, virtually all of the characters are motivated by a sense of honor that puts the character on a trajectory to avenge the assassination or betrayal of a family member in the past. In Westeros, a kingdom ruled by the capital of King’s Landing and consisting of seven major territories, the recent history involves many of the middle aged characters having been involved in the usurping of the last – the Mad – King before King Robert was installed to the throne. The King’s Hand (the executive officer of the King’s will), John Aaron dies rather abruptly which sets off a chain of events in the kingdom of Westeros and puts into play the machinations of each of the major houses.

The death of John Aaron causes King Robert to turn to his oldest friend, Ned Stark, to become the new Hand. Ned very reluctantly takes the job and relocates himself and his two daughters to King’s Landing from Winterfell. There, he quickly becomes mired in Court intrigue and even as he prepares for his oldest daughter, Sansa, to marry Robert’s cruel son, Joffrey, he begins to doubt that his friend’s wife has been entirely faithful to him. Ned’s problems are multiplied by the wife he left back in Winterfell. Ned’s posting to King’s Landing came after his young son, Bran, fell off the tower while Robert was visiting. Catelyn has deduced – with some help from an old friend who is still infatuated with her – that Bran was pushed. She soon learns that Robert’s wife, Cersei, was likely involved. This causes tension between Ned and Robert and soon puts the whole Stark family in danger.

As the Starks and Lannisters come to blows, Viserys Targaryen essentially sells his sister to the nomadic horselords, the Dothraki, on the promise that Khal Drogo will commit his forces to help Viserys usurp King Robert. As his sister Daenerys falls more in love with Khal Drogo, and gets pregnant by him, she begins to assert herself more. Not content to let the Dothraki rape and pillage their way around the plains, Daenerys stands up for the people and puts Viserys’s agenda at risk.

Subplots include Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow, taking a position at the remote Wall, which is all that stands between the good people of Westeros and the nightmarish creatures that live on the other side of the Wall. Another has the dwarf Tyrion Lannister getting caught by various people who want him dead until he uses his wits and his wealth to escape what would otherwise be certain death.

The first season of Game Of Thrones is not bad, but it seems incredibly familiar. In fact, it might well be analogized to HBO’s Rome (reviewed here!) meets The Lord Of The Rings (reviewed here!) – and not just because Sean Bean is the top-billed actor for season one. The plot-heavy stories and heavy political intrigue take the place of most of the potentially compelling character moments. So, for example, Ned is actually a pretty boring guy; he wants nothing more than to stay home in the safety of Winterfell and raise his younger children and not be bothered, despite having a past as a warrior. Yet, he is roped into the palace intrigue which menaces all he claims to care about and he blithely goes along with it and even digs deeper into the murder of John Aaron.

The two most interesting characters who actually have development in the first season are Daenerys and Jon Snow. Snow wants to impress his father and by being forced to live separately from the rest of the family in the barrens of the Wall, he comes to find a sense of honor and stands on his own in a way that allows him validation away from Ned. In fact, while he is initially likable in a generic good guy way, in the course of the first season of Game Of Thrones, he develops into an individual who is genuinely good, honorable and more emotionally well-rounded than dependent.

Daenerys also has an actual arc, though it is a harder one to initially care about and she gets lost for many of the later episodes as well. But, Daenerys starts off as the abused sister of the man who would be king, sold into marital slavery and grows to love Khal Drogo. So empowered, she begins to assert her own wishes and agendas, which puts her at odds with much of the tribe, but gives her a distinction that she did not initially have.

The acting, costumes, and direction are all good, but because so much time is spent on explaining the plot relations and past events, the characters do not pop as much as they ought to. Because it is an HBO-produced show, there is plenty of nudity and a strong amount of gore (Game Of Thrones Season 1 is not for those squeamish about seeing throats slit on screen!), though to its credit, none of the characters in the first season use cocaine, so it’s not virtually every other HBO show ever (off screen, some of the characters are given what sounds a lot like morphine . . .). After the first season, the political game for Westeros is in full swing, but who might win the Game Of Thrones is both anybody’s guess and hard to actually give a damn about.

For other works that are or were on HBO, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Girls - Season 1
True Blood - Season Five
Six Feet Under
Sex & The City - Season Three
Da Ali G Show
Jim Henson's The Storyteller


For other television season reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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