Gosu.com is currently inactive. All content on the site will remain for archiving purposes, but no new content will be added for the foreseeable future. For the weekly podcast and new material from many of our old contributors, check out TiSBcast.com.

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

A Song of a Wildly Popular TV Series: Game of Thrones Season 1 Review

Game of Thrones Season One

Score: 86/100

The following review contains spoilers from episodes 1-9. Around ten years ago, a group of my high school friends were deeply engrossed in a series of books by a miraculously talented author with a penchant for driving his fans insane. They pleaded for months for me to start reading, promising I would be rewarded with a truly epic experience. When I picked up “A Game of Thrones”, first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, I did so with the trepidation of someone who’d been convinced to try heroine.

Surprisingly, I read the first 50 pages and put the book down. I didn’t dislike it, but I must admit I may have been turned off by the initial quantity of characters. The hovering threat of the white walkers was not enough to keep enthralled. There was simply too much information to digest, and I wasn’t patient enough to take it all in. Upon graduation, however, I found myself willing to revisit the series. I had an easier time learning this time around, and quickly found myself familiar with the various cultural nuances between Starks, Baratheons, Lannisters, and Targaryens. From there on out the series had me in its clutches, and I completed books 1-3 strategically close to the release of “A Feast for Crows”. Suffice to say, I went into the HBO TV series already a fan of the source material.

Even back then, my friends and I often talked about the complexity involved in bringing A Song of Ice and Fire to life in a visual medium. There was much debate as to how it could be handled successfully, but we inevitably always agreed on two things. The first was that it would simply have to be an HBO series, and the second was that Sean Bean would play Ned Stark. Needless to say, when I read this blog post, I knew I should expect good things.

Now that season one is nearly complete, and Sean Bean has made his tragic departure from the series; it’s time I put forth some thoughts about the overall experience for the record.

What they did right.

The simplest answer to the above statement is “a great many things.” The brevity of that statement, however, fails to do justice to the efforts of those behind the series.

Perhaps the most essential element in bringing any narrative to life is to focus not just on sequence, but on spirit. It would be entirely impossible to replicate the books exactly on screen. In fact doing so would be detrimental. The way the books are written, with shifting perspectives, takes distinct advantage of something exclusive to the literary medium.

As a result, the feel of the books must be captured, not just the events which unfold. It’s been well documented that the show runners have been in close contact with George R.R. Martin throughout the creative process from casting to post-production. What better way to maintain the adaptation’s integrity than to openly collaborate with the author of the source material? They even went so far as to let him write the teleplay for an entire episode (“The Pointy End”). This was their first, and perhaps most essential, good decision.

Let’s also take a moment to acknowledge the immense cleverness behind the opening sequences. Each episode’s intro-credits are coupled with visuals of a map highlighting the key locations of the following hour’s events. These graphics, while also visually stunning, are an extremely seamless method of presenting essential information to the audience. This effectively addresses a broader point. I mentioned earlier that I had trouble initially getting into the books because of the quantity of characters. A TV audience is likely even more fickle, and a series with an appendix the size of a tome presents quite a challenge. Compressing as much of the complexity of this world into simple, digestible portions is essential for holding their attention. The title sequences not only achieves this, but do so with engrossing visual flair.

For those of us who are already book fans, they also include intriguing symbolic imagery of the Stag, Dragon, Dire Wolf, and Lion, keeping educated fans intrigued while not leaving newbies behind. Ingenious.

Onward to casting, where many a great decision was made. Aside from Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, I was a particular fan of Maisie Williams as Arya Stark, Harry Llyod as Viserys Targaryen, Iain Glen’s Ser Jorah Mormont, Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo, and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. Notably, Dinklage is absolutely not the image of Tyrion I had in my head from the books. In all honesty he’s far too handsome to really fit the bill of “the Imp”. Despite that, observing his on screen charm is such an absolute joy than I can no longer envision the role any other way. The rest of the cast has done a very solid job as well. I don’t think there’s a single actor or actress who I’ve felt hasn’t done at least reasonable justice to the character they’re portraying. The child actors involve have been stellar in particular (Joffrey, Sansa, Bran, etc), especially given the propensity for young actors to be, well, annoying.

I’ve also found myself a fan of the onscreen combat. While it hasn’t been up to the standards of say, a cinematic epic; I’ve been highly impressed with both the attempt at gruesome, gritty realism and the choreography of each scene. Sword fighting consists of legitimate parries, pirouettes, and strikes, and nothing seems overtly flashy or impractical. It’s really quite good for a TV series.

I love the transition of Jaime’s facial expressions in the above sequence from cocky and smarmy to frustrated and slightly worried.

Finally, the choice of Ireland as the primary shooting location was dead on. The diversity of its climate and the majesty of its wilderness have provided the essential ingredients for a mis en scene that screams “this world is old and deserves respect.”

What could be better.

There were a few specific elements this season that put me slightly off. Some of it may have to do with my perspective as a fan of the books, but alas it that is a position I cannot escape.

First and foremost, the show has kind of ruined Littlefinger. The subtle, crafty master of coin responsible for the first large scale betrayal of the series has been reduced to a thinly veiled tool for exposition. I do not blame Aidan Gillen for this. I think he’s done a fine job with what he’s been given. My primary beef lies with the fact that his motivations have been made so abundantly clear that he may as well have been twirling his mustache during every conversation he had with Ned. The scene where two of his whores are “practicing” for him while he explains almost exactly what he’s all about deflates the shock of his later betrayal so much it’s almost more criminal than the act itself. I want him to be the unassuming, seemingly reasonable man I was so affronted by in the novels.

What’s worse is his blatant dastardliness reflects poorly on Ned, who ends up looking less like the honorable man I enjoyed reading about and more like a sap. TV Littlefinger even TELLS him he’s not to be trusted. I mean come on.

Secondly, the show has reduced the role of the dire wolves to the point where I almost question their decision to include them at all. Yes, I know it’s difficult to train and shoot wolves, and yes, I know they cannot hope to feature them as they were featured in the books. Even so, I think they could be doing better than they are. Here’s a good exercise. Find a friend who’s watching the series who hasn’t read the books and ask them to name Robb’s wolf (Grey Wind). I’m willing to bet they will not be able to. Just a little more onscreen presence could rectify this. A few background shots, for instance. Ghost, who I think they’ve done a more decent job featuring, could’ve served as a model for the others.

General Impressions

As a fan of the books (not to mention a fan of good television), I think David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have done an outstanding job. They’ve taken a supremely complex and rich piece of source material and filtered it into a new medium with the sort of polish that has earned its keep. Likewise, the entire cast and crew deserves a pat on the back and a pint of Irish Guinness. Despite a few understandable yet conspicuous imperfections, the show has made its mark on Television and will likely raise the standards for not just fantasy or science fiction programming, but all fictional drama.

I await the finale with baited dragon’s breath, and I will certainly miss the show during what’s sure to be a long, cold off season.

Game of Thrones is broadcast at 9pm EST on Sundays on HBO

for the record

Game of Thrones Season One

The following review contains spoilers from episodes 1-9. Around ten years ago, a group of my high school friends were deeply engrossed in a series of books by a miraculously talented author with a penchant for driving his fans insane. They pleaded for months for me to start reading, promising I would be rewarded with a truly epic experience. When I picked up “A Game of Thrones”, first book of A Song of Ice and Fire, I did so with the trepidation of someone who’d been convinced to try heroine.

Surprisingly, I read the first 50 pages and put the book down. I didn’t dislike it, but I must admit I may have been turned off by the initial quantity of characters. The hovering threat of the white walkers was not enough to keep enthralled. There was simply too much information to digest, and I wasn’t patient enough to take it all in. Upon graduation, however, I found myself willing to revisit the series. I had an easier time learning this time around, and quickly found myself familiar with the various cultural nuances between Starks, Baratheons, Lannisters, and Targaryens. From there on out the series had me in its clutches, and I completed books 1-3 strategically close to the release of “A Feast for Crows”. Suffice to say, I went into the HBO TV series already a fan of the source material.

Even back then, my friends and I often talked about the complexity involved in bringing A Song of Ice and Fire to life in a visual medium. There was much debate as to how it could be handled successfully, but we inevitably always agreed on two things. The first was that it would simply have to be an HBO series, and the second was that Sean Bean would play Ned Stark. Needless to say, when I read this blog post, I knew I should expect good things.

Now that season one is nearly complete, and Sean Bean has made his tragic departure from the series; it’s time I put forth some thoughts about the overall experience for the record.

What they did right.

The simplest answer to the above statement is “a great many things.” The brevity of that statement, however, fails to do justice to the efforts of those behind the series.

Perhaps the most essential element in bringing any narrative to life is to focus not just on sequence, but on spirit. It would be entirely impossible to replicate the books exactly on screen. In fact doing so would be detrimental. The way the books are written, with shifting perspectives, takes distinct advantage of something exclusive to the literary medium.

As a result, the feel of the books must be captured, not just the events which unfold. It’s been well documented that the show runners have been in close contact with George R.R. Martin throughout the creative process from casting to post-production. What better way to maintain the adaptation’s integrity than to openly collaborate with the author of the source material? They even went so far as to let him write the teleplay for an entire episode (“The Pointy End”). This was their first, and perhaps most essential, good decision.

Let’s also take a moment to acknowledge the immense cleverness behind the opening sequences. Each episode’s intro-credits are coupled with visuals of a map highlighting the key locations of the following hour’s events. These graphics, while also visually stunning, are an extremely seamless method of presenting essential information to the audience. This effectively addresses a broader point. I mentioned earlier that I had trouble initially getting into the books because of the quantity of characters. A TV audience is likely even more fickle, and a series with an appendix the size of a tome presents quite a challenge. Compressing as much of the complexity of this world into simple, digestible portions is essential for holding their attention. The title sequences not only achieves this, but do so with engrossing visual flair.

For those of us who are already book fans, they also include intriguing symbolic imagery of the Stag, Dragon, Dire Wolf, and Lion, keeping educated fans intrigued while not leaving newbies behind. Ingenious.

Onward to casting, where many a great decision was made. Aside from Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, I was a particular fan of Maisie Williams as Arya Stark, Harry Llyod as Viserys Targaryen, Iain Glen’s Ser Jorah Mormont, Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo, and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. Notably, Dinklage is absolutely not the image of Tyrion I had in my head from the books. In all honesty he’s far too handsome to really fit the bill of “the Imp”. Despite that, observing his on screen charm is such an absolute joy than I can no longer envision the role any other way. The rest of the cast has done a very solid job as well. I don’t think there’s a single actor or actress who I’ve felt hasn’t done at least reasonable justice to the character they’re portraying. The child actors involve have been stellar in particular (Joffrey, Sansa, Bran, etc), especially given the propensity for young actors to be, well, annoying.

I’ve also found myself a fan of the onscreen combat. While it hasn’t been up to the standards of say, a cinematic epic; I’ve been highly impressed with both the attempt at gruesome, gritty realism and the choreography of each scene. Sword fighting consists of legitimate parries, pirouettes, and strikes, and nothing seems overtly flashy or impractical. It’s really quite good for a TV series.

I love the transition of Jaime’s facial expressions in the above sequence from cocky and smarmy to frustrated and slightly worried.

Finally, the choice of Ireland as the primary shooting location was dead on. The diversity of its climate and the majesty of its wilderness have provided the essential ingredients for a mis en scene that screams “this world is old and deserves respect.”

What could be better.

There were a few specific elements this season that put me slightly off. Some of it may have to do with my perspective as a fan of the books, but alas it that is a position I cannot escape.

First and foremost, the show has kind of ruined Littlefinger. The subtle, crafty master of coin responsible for the first large scale betrayal of the series has been reduced to a thinly veiled tool for exposition. I do not blame Aidan Gillen for this. I think he’s done a fine job with what he’s been given. My primary beef lies with the fact that his motivations have been made so abundantly clear that he may as well have been twirling his mustache during every conversation he had with Ned. The scene where two of his whores are “practicing” for him while he explains almost exactly what he’s all about deflates the shock of his later betrayal so much it’s almost more criminal than the act itself. I want him to be the unassuming, seemingly reasonable man I was so affronted by in the novels.

What’s worse is his blatant dastardliness reflects poorly on Ned, who ends up looking less like the honorable man I enjoyed reading about and more like a sap. TV Littlefinger even TELLS him he’s not to be trusted. I mean come on.

Secondly, the show has reduced the role of the dire wolves to the point where I almost question their decision to include them at all. Yes, I know it’s difficult to train and shoot wolves, and yes, I know they cannot hope to feature them as they were featured in the books. Even so, I think they could be doing better than they are. Here’s a good exercise. Find a friend who’s watching the series who hasn’t read the books and ask them to name Robb’s wolf (Grey Wind). I’m willing to bet they will not be able to. Just a little more onscreen presence could rectify this. A few background shots, for instance. Ghost, who I think they’ve done a more decent job featuring, could’ve served as a model for the others.

General Impressions

As a fan of the books (not to mention a fan of good television), I think David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have done an outstanding job. They’ve taken a supremely complex and rich piece of source material and filtered it into a new medium with the sort of polish that has earned its keep. Likewise, the entire cast and crew deserves a pat on the back and a pint of Irish Guinness. Despite a few understandable yet conspicuous imperfections, the show has made its mark on Television and will likely raise the standards for not just fantasy or science fiction programming, but all fictional drama.

I await the finale with baited dragon’s breath, and I will certainly miss the show during what’s sure to be a long, cold off season.

Game of Thrones is broadcast at 9pm EST on Sundays on HBO

for the record

More from Movies & TV


Make Custom Gifts at CafePress