Over the holidays I got my mitts on some of the early Game of Thrones dvds for dirt cheap. Then for Christmas my daughters got me the rest of the series and I've just finished them. I'd never been all that attracted by the HBO series for a couple of reasons, the first is I'm too damn cheap. The idea of paying extra for TV when I have more TV than I can watch now always struck me as ludicrous. And when I sampled the show once upon a time, I must've found a dull episode because it didn't strike me as much of anything but a wee bit of spectacle. So why buy it? Curiosity as a sword and sorcery fan of Conan and LotR and frankly the spur of the moment.
I enjoyed the early seasons for what they were, soap operas in medieval clothing with a hint of magic. What I found to my pleasant surprise were some really good actors in some complex roles. Sean Bean has been a fave for years and his morally tormented Warden of the North Ned Stark was a noble but ultimately foolish man. Ian Glenn as Sir Jorah Mormont has proven to be perhaps my favorite character, a tortured failure of a knight who is desperate to win back some measure of approval from his chosen queen and his peers, but mostly himself. Other standouts are Bronn (Jerome Flynn), the Hound (Rory McCann), and the Onion Knight (Liam Cunningham). Some of the darlings of the show like Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister and Kit Harrington as Jon Snow are fine but my interest varies as their stories wax and wane. The girls are dandies with Maisie Williams as Arya Stark the stand out. Sophie Turner has grown into her role, but still falls short relative to the other talents who populate the show.
The show hurts itself with the exceedingly soft porn it peddles from time to time. A woman's breasts and behind are lovely to behold and I'm happy to do it, if it makes sense in the story. Sometimes it does, but more often the nudity is clearly presented for its own sake. When the lovely Emilia Clarke as the would-be queen Daeneryis Targyrean steaps out naked from the fire which gave birth to her dragons, that's necessary for the story. A few of the visits to the brothels make sense but often they seem thrown into the story just to wiggle some bum at the audience. I noticed this sort of thing waned as the series progressed. The internal strife of King's Landing usually brings the show to a halt, the political intrigue is never ending and frankly can be quite dull at times. Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) was fun, but he wasn't on screen all that much.
My favorite story line was about The Night's Watch, a cadre of dedicated men who have committed crimes or fallen out of favor in some way who work to protect the world of mankind from a threat it no longer understands nor really believes. Much of the best of the early series dealt with that aspect of the world and spoke to the core plot which slowly (too slowly sometimes) begins to develop.
And that brings me to the show's greatest weakness, a sense of scale and time. When it is required by the story a character's journey can take weeks if not months. But if the story requires it, a character's journey over that same territory can take only a few moments in terms of storytelling. The Army of the Dead have been marching relentlessly for years, while humans come and go across the same territory multiple times. It don't make sense to me. Communication across the sprawling world of Westeros is maintained by a network of ravens who carry messages, a great gimmick, but one relied upon a bit too much and conveniently.
The story adapts the unfinished fantasy series by George R.R. Martin, a writer I've been dabbling in all my reading career. He's a good one for certain but this sprawling yarn has the looks of a tale which might have consumed its creator. The inspirations of Tolkien are clear and I see more than a mote of Moorcock sprinkled about Westeros and beyond. The last few seasons of the show are derived from Martin's notes and not from the books because those books have not been published nor are they written to my knowledge. The story has only gotten better as the show gets more resources for special effects to support the world-building they required to do. The greatest difference is in the way the Night Walkers and the Army of the Dead are displayed. When they first showed up they were mysteries (smart move) and later weak computer graphics. Now as they the story focuses on them more and more they have become a truly awesome enemy, one I'm eager now to see routed...I hope.
More to come as the end isn't near, but I hope it will come.