In 1996 George RR Martin released Game of Thrones, the first novel in his epic A Song of Ice and Fire series. Fifteen years later, the fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, has recently been released, and a TV adaptation began on American cable giant HBO and Sky Atlantic. As a fan of the books I was worried about how such a massive, sprawling novel with its multiple storylines and subtle political machinations would be conveyed in a TV series, but by signing a deal with HBO Martin ensured the series’ more adult tones wouldn’t be compromised, and also guaranteed quality directors and camerawork from the likes of Soprano’s veterans Tim Van Allen and Alik Sakharov. The production work is excellent and the sets are fantastic - the first view of Winterfell (the home of the Starks) was almost as I imagined it in the novels.
The TV series closely follows the multiple storylines of the book and remains faithful to the novels, something author George RR Martin has given the writers credit for. Set in the Seven Kingdoms Of Westeros, it tells the tale of the dynastic struggle among noble families for control of The Iron Throne, and of the battle in the far north of the country at The Wall, where the Nights Watch protect the Seven Kingdoms from the Wildlings – we also see that a new threat is emerging, however, which the increasingly stretched Nights Watch may not be prepared for.
As with any TV drama, the writing and production can be as slick as anything but it will ultimately live or die on the strength of its cast and this is, in my opinion, its biggest plus point. In casting Sean Bean in the central role of Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark, the producers made the right choice. For me, this is Bean’s best performance and gives him a chance to show just how gritty and northern he is - this would normally be construed as stereotyping but when you watch the show you’ll understand exactly what I mean and how Bean conveys that. A strong predominantly British supporting cast, the excellent Peter Dinklage aside, adds to the grim authenticity of the medieval landscape, and newcomers Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark and Maisie Williams as Arya Stark give frighteningly assured turns in important roles. Williams seemed to go that one step further when, despite being right-handed, she learned to use the sword left-handed because Arya is left handed in the novels.
Obvious comparisons arose with Lord of the Rings, due to its fantasy nature, and comparisons were also made with The Sopranos, due to the violence and sex scenes in the show, but this is unfair to Game of Thrones, which in my eyes competes with both of these and in some ways exceeds the comparisons. There is a lot of violence and sex but apart from one particular scene in episode seven it isn’t gratuitous or unnecessary. I’d recommend that people watch Game of Thrones because, for the first time on TV or film fantasy, it has been given a more adult approach which doesn’t patronise the audience. As we approach 2012 and season two is on the horizon, more casting news has been announced and, without giving too much away, the main piece of casting I am excited about is Irish actor Liam Cunningham being given a significant role as Lord Davos Seaworthy. He is one of my favourite characters from the books and the choice of Cunningham is an excellent one.
The production work is excellent and the sets are fantastic - the first view of Winterfell (the home of the Starks) was almost as I imagined it in the novels.
In a series with so many excellent performances, I have found it difficult to pick my favourite characters but, after hours of soul-searching, here they are in no particular order:
Ned Stark the central character of the series and patriarch of the Stark family, played by Sean Bean. Ned played a vital role in securing the crown for King Robert Baratheon and is a plain spoken man who has no time for politics and its machinations.
Tyrion Lannister the third child of the Machiavellian Lord Tywin Lannister, and played by American actor Peter Dinklage. As a dwarf, he is a disappointment to his father and is known as ‘The Imp’. He is an intelligent man and fond of wine, women and food, but he is nobody’s fool and behind his ‘Imp’ facade lays a politically shrewd and ruthless brain.
Jon Snow the illegitimate result of Ned Stark’s fling with an unnamed female during the war known as ‘Robert’s Rebellion’, which saw King Robert Baratheon claim the Iron Throne from the ruling Targaryens. Jon is quietly spoken with aspirations of being a warrior, and is fond of his Uncle Benjen, a ranger in The Nights Watch. Jon is played by debutant Kit Harington.
Arya Stark the youngest daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark, who despite her mother’s attempts at moulding her into a young lady, has far too much of her father’s blood in her and prefers to spend her time practicing her sword skills rather than needlework. Newcomer Maisie Williams gives an assured performance.
Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish the king’s Master of Coin, and a man whose motives are very unclear. To say too much of ‘Littlefinger’ here would only take the fun out of discovering the character, so I’ll stop at this brief description. Baelish is played by Irish actor Aiden Gillen, who appeared in The Wire and Queer as Folk.
Khal Drogo played by Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa, Drogo is the ‘Khal’ or leader of a fearsome band of horse warriors known as the Dothraki who live on a continent across the narrow sea from Westeros. Drogo has over 40,000 warriors at his disposal and Viserys Targaryen sees him as a valuable ally in his quest to retake the Iron Throne.
Jaime Lannister known as ‘The Kingslayer’, he is the first-born son of Lord Tywin Lannister, elder brother of Tyrion Lannister and member of the elite Kings Guard. Jaime is a formidable warrior and fiercely protective of his twin sister Queen Cersei. Jaime Lannister is played by Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Daenerys Targaryen played by Emilia Clarke, ‘Dany’ as she is known is the youngest surviving member of the former royal family The Targaryens. Along with her older brother Viserys, she has been forced to rely on the generosity of others in order to survive. She believes that one day she and Viserys will be married and rule as King and Queen of Westeros.
Syrio Forel a Braavosi sword master who has been hired by Ned Stark to teach his daughter Arya to use her sword. Forel is an elegant swordsman and was the former First Sword of Braavos, a country across the narrow sea.
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