Game of Thrones
KIERAN CORCORAN gets deep about HBO’s newest, and greatest, creation.
Sky Atlantic, 18th April-20th June, Mondays at 9pm
Every episode of this series contains: some killing, some sexing and some swearing. Which is great.
But under and around all the stuff that makes teasingly-cut trailers look cool, Game of Thrones has a lot of brains, and treats its audience as if they do as well. And you’ll need all your precious little synapses to keep up – the ten hours of series one cover only the shortest instalment of George R R Martin’s as-yet-unfinished seven-part series that just keeps getting (and taking) longer.
Given its huge scope (demonstrated by the nifty opening sequence) and large roster of characters, the series can be deservedly dubbed ‘epic’ without it being a gross misuse for once – but the fantasy label carries a lot of unwanted baggage as well as being a shortcut to grandeur.
When Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) rocks up in the first episode dressed a lot like Boromir, worrisome LOTR alarm bells start to ring. There’s even a short man, though Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister doesn’t bear much comparison with Frodo and the gang beyond that. Despite its fantastical setting, this drama features none of the facile characterisation, high-contrast morality or deus ex machina plotting which can characterise the genre.
Another fantasy weakness GOT avoids is an overload of expositional dialogue. As with any massive work of fiction, there’s a lot of information to take on board – cities, institutions, laws, family trees. But the series is a gentle teacher, and gradually expands your knowledge and horizons without the need for any HERE IS SOME HISTORY filler scenes. Lots of characters start out innocent (the series is well-stocked with excellent child-actors), and we get savvy as they do.
At least to a degree. GOT isn’t averse to letting its characters do stupid things and suffer for it. Don’t get too attached to your favourites – several of them die for completely avoidable reasons.
As you’re probably beginning to realise, there are a lot of characters in this thing; and attempting to evoke them all in a review of this size would doubtlessly lead to selling them short, or ignoring their development – which is precisely the thing that shouldn’t be done to them.
The series’ greatest strength is its determination to stick to the complicatedness of things; not to let itself get pigeon-holed or let you pigeon-hole it. Even the ‘good’ side of Bean and his offshoots show some tragic lapses in judgement and do bad things; and, equally, pesky little domestic scenes keep reminding us that the schemers and backstabbers have feelings and reasons too.
As I gestured towards at the start (it’s worth saying again), Game of Thrones does all the standard big-budget fantasy series stuff right. And lord knows few pleasures compete with watching people in unplaceable period costume doing stabbing and the other kind of stabbing. But as well as just raising your pulse, or whatever else might get raised, for the few minutes it’s on-screen, what it does exceptionally well is bring out a subtlety and complexity which makes it a rewarding watch even after the blood drains away.