Game of Thrones

IN a recently released book about Game of Thrones, the brilliant George RR Martin says David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were either brave men or mad men to want to turn his Song of Ice and Fire fantasy books into a TV series.

“‘You’re mad’, I told them,” Martin writes in Bryan Cogman’s Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones. “It’s too big. It’s too complicated. It’s too expensive.”

But turn it into a series they did. And the result is spectacular, lavish, gripping and wonderful.

Martin’s books had already reshaped the fantasy world; bigger than epic, he had created an intricate medieval world of vastly different landscapes, castles, knights, kings, lords and battles.

And in this stunning world are complicated, intriguing characters we love and hate, with motivations we understand.

The author has the ability to put readers into his character’s heads so that we connect with their points of view: We might initially hate certain characters when seen from the “outside” but they become strangely sympathetic when we’re taken into their heads. I have a friend who swore black and blue she’d never, ever, ever like Jaime Lannister – who can like a man who throws a child from a window? – even though everyone swore to her that she would come to understand him. Sure, enough, she did.

But given that style of writing, the problem might seem to be how to recreate this intimacy when translating such a complicated series of books into a television drama.

The answer was brilliant actors, brilliant casting and excellent writing that reveals the character’s motivations and feelings through words and actions.

Game of Thrones has all this, and more.

It’s sharp, intelligent, insightful and exciting. We invest in the characters, we’re on their side or we want revenge against them. We feel for them. And we’re frightened for them because Martin shows no mercy. No one is safe, not even those we think will be the “heroes” and save the day. He’ll kill off a favourite character and we’ll gasp in horror. But this is no trite story about happy endings and evil always being overcome. Game of Thrones is real, often harsh, even brutal, and entirely brilliant.

Given all that, it’s hardly surprising it has an R rating for both violence and sex. And in this, I raise a small concern about one or two episodes where the sex did seem gratuitous (for example the character Littlefinger instructing his whores, and in the first episode, Daenerys Targaryen’s wedding). Unnecessary maybe, and certainly in the Littlefinger episode, not important to the plot.

But this is a minor concern. Game of Thrones is an exceptional series, with a talented cast that includes Sean Bean as Lord Eddard (Ned) Stark (“He won’t be a boy forever. And, winter is coming.”; Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister (“It’s the family name that lives on. That’s all that lives on. Not your personal glory, not your honour, but family. Do you understand?” he says to his son Jaime); Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister (“I should wear the armour, and you the gown”.), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Cersei’s brother and lover Jaime Lannister (“Was there ever a man as beautiful or so vile as this one? Catelyn Stark thinks of Jaime in the books), and the wonderful Peter Dinklage as the dwarf Tyrion Lannister (“Well, my brother has a sword, and I have my mind. And a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. That’s why I read so much,” he says to Ned Stark’s bastard Jon Snow (Kit Harington).

Cersei and King Robert Baratheon’s (Mark Addy) son Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon shows the character’s development from brat to vicious king. “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to give you a present. After I raise my armies, and kill your traitor brother, I’ll give you his head as well,” he says to his betrothed Sansa Stark of her brother Rob.

When I now read the books, nearly every one of these actors comes into my head when picturing characters. The exceptions being Renly and the Knight of Flowers.

Game of Thrones is a standout, with everything from the sets to the costumes, the sharp, savagely witty script and the acting just superb.

It’s already become so popular with such a devoted fan base that you’ll even hear phrases like “Winter is Coming” (the Stark family motto) commonly used, or the term Game of Thrones being applied to describe a general power struggle.

And that fan base is not only those who like fantasy. Game of Thrones’ appeal is so much wider. It often takes only watching to those last, shocking few minutes of the very first episode to draw you properly in.

All in all, this is a spectacular series. That old expression Bigger than Ben Hur needs to make way for “Bigger than Game of Thrones”.

The seasons roughly follow the books. Season one is already on DVD and Blu Ray. Season three hits Foxtel early next year.

It’s sharp, intelligent, insightful and exciting. We invest in the characters, we’re on their side or we want revenge against them. We feel for them. And we’re frightened for them because Martin shows no mercy. No one is safe, not even those we think will be the “heroes” and save the day. He’ll kill off a favourite character and we’ll gasp in horror. But this is no trite story about happy endings and evil always being overcome. Game of Thrones is real, often harsh, even brutal, and entirely brilliant.

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