Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Game of You

Here are a few random thoughts on A Game of Thrones. (My background: I've read through the series, and have watched the first six broadcast episodes, but haven't yet seen the seventh episode that's streaming from HBO.) Consider this post MEGA SPOILERS for the first six episodes, not the books.

  • This may be the most beautifully shot television series I've seen. They've finally moved out of the predominantly gray and overcast surroundings of Winterfell, and the new areas look absolutely sumptious.
  • Most of the casting is quite good. Sean Bean seems just a bit old for Ned, but he's totally nailing the character.
  • This is a writing complaint, not a casting complaint: the characters seem much more sympathetic and likeable on-screen than they did in the book. In particular, I really disliked Cat, Jaime, and Cersei when I was at this point in the books; here, Cat is almost entirely heroic (if a tad tragic), Jaime has a roguish charm, and Cersei, while still more or less positioned as a villain, comes off as much less of a schemer and more of a victim. This isn't necessarily bad, of course; but, by starting these characters off in a more positive light, the creators are limiting the available arcs.
  • Oh, and probably the biggest example: Sander Clegane. In the first book, The Hound is downright scary: he's aggressive, pointed, opinionated, dangerous. We eventually get to like him, but he isn't a nice guy. On TV, the only thing at all scary about him is his scar; his personality seems entirely quieted and somber.
  • That said, I've come to understand and, to some degree, appreciate that the show has completely discarded the Point-Of-View technique that George R. R. Martin used in his novels. POV worked great in the books, but doesn't serve much purpose on the screen. And, since almost all of the POVs from the first book were Starks, it makes sense that we'd get a somewhat skewed view of the situation prior to the introduction of alternate POVs. Essentially, revelations and attitudes from the later books have been retconned into the first installment. Nothing wrong with that - it's different, but not worse.
  • Example: Arya's overheard conversation in the skull room. In the books, the identity of the two speakers is a huge mystery and a plot point that takes several books to track down. Here, it's rather straightforwardly shown to us (although Arya and Ned don't know who they are). This provides a different sort of tension: instead of us being kept in the dark, we're given more knowledge than the characters, which increases our own stress as we see them approaching danger.
  • The show has gotten quite free at creating scenes that don't appear in the books, but that we know occurred or that fit within the larger plot. This is a Very Good Thing. In the books, we're often treated to dialog or storytelling from other characters that explain what's happened in another part of Westeros; here, we get to see it as it happens, which just works better in this medium.
  • Least favorite casting so far: Renly. I really hope they improve the character in future seasons, but right now, he seems much too whiny.
  • Least favorite character so far: Sansa. I didn't exactly love Sansa in the book, but I sympathized for her; she's a bit like Juliet in R&J, in that I feel like smacking my forehead when she makes poor decisions, but I can't get mad at her. In the show, though, she's overly petulant and petty.
  • Most improved from the book: Hard to say so far, but I'm leaning towards Viserys. I didn't care for him much at all in the books, where he seemed distant, cold, angry, and ineffectual. Here... well, he's still many of those things, but comes across as a more tragic figure.
  • Weirdest presentations: Bran and Theon. Bran is probably the most intriguing character in the first book other than Ned: his dreams, his encounters with the strange events around Winterfell, and his hard-fought recovery have a particular drama. Most of that stuff is internal, though, and so far we've mostly just seen floppy brown hair and a three-eyed raven. (Not the actor's fault - you just can't do too much on television with Bran's first-book material.) Theon was kind of weird in the first book, too, but it didn't stand out as much there. Here, whenever he shows up I wonder, "Why is he in this scene?", even though I know what the answer will eventually be.
  • Favorite character: Tyrion, of course! He eventually became my favorite in the books as well, but at this stage of reading them, I was still very unsure of what to make of him. Peter Dinklage, though, has managed to stand out in an already crowded field of talent, and every second that he's on-screen is absolutely riveting. He gets the best lines, gives the best deliveries, has amazing facial expressions, and even in his quiet pauses he holds your attention.
  • Favorite environment: I've been most impressed so far by the Eyrie. 
  • Favorite sex scene: Gosh, how can one choose from so many?
  • Are there going to be any GRRM cameos? Have I missed any? I really want to see him in this thing.
  • I don't think I've ever re-read the first book, so some of my memories of events are a bit hazy. This is a good thing - I'm not exactly surprised at anything that's happening, but neither am I paying too much attention to what's book-canon and what isn't.
  • Have you noticed that the opening credits are slightly different each time? They cover the cities and regions that are featured in that episode. Nice touch. I can't wait to see, say, Braavos get its own treatment.
Stuff has finally kicked into high gear with the last two episodes, and it'll be non-stop action for, well, the next three and a half seasons. A miniseries was definitely the right way to tell this story; even there, I find myself wishing for more time. It seems like there's an incredible amount of plot that needs to happen in the four hours we have left. It would be awesome if HBO bumps up the episode orders for future seasons - say, thirteen episodes instead of ten. That would give the show a little more time to breathe and explore all the characters and minor plots that make up the whole. That said, so far I'm impressed by what they've kept from the first book - lots of individual scenes are missing, of course, but I don't think they've cut any significant characters, nor omitted any plot threads. (For example: the tournament was really abbreviated, and I would have LOVED to have seen the melee, along with some more of the knights who jousted. That said, they kept the joust itself, and the most important events that happened.) I'm happy with what they've given us so far, and am hoping for more of the same quality.

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