Finally, after months of waiting, Game of Thrones has aired. Whilst I only started reading the books around five months ago (you can see my original post on them here) it seems like an age since HBO first announced their adaptation of George RR Martin's books.
So was it worth the wait?
The next episode may only be a week away, but it's going to seem like a lifetime. For those who don't know what happens after that shocking final scene ("the things I do for love...") the wait must seem even longer!
There is so much good about this show it's hard to know where to start. Let's get the more peripheral stuff out of the way first; it looks absolutely amazing. The production design is superb; never once do you feel like you are watching a set. The scale and environments put many movies to shame.
The first episode opens well with a brief appearance of the White Walkers, much like the prologue in the book (I guess they are not going to be referred to as The Others due to Lost). In fact, the fidelity to the book really surprised me - it was nice to see a fantasy drama that focused on conversations and speeches rather than cheap action. Like in the books characters and events are introduced with little explanation, only to be fleshed out later (Martin does this a lot in the books, leaving the reader guessing as to characters' motives for some time). It shows faith in the patience and intelligence of the viewer not to explain everything at once.
When the opening credits started I got goose bumps (see embed below). They are simply amazing credits, brilliantly designed and doing a great job in setting the scene. Apparently they change for each episode, with the map focusing on the relevant parts of Westeros.
The complex plot from the novel is translated well to the screen, and the premier episode covers the first 60 or so pages from the book: In the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, united under the rule of King Robert Baratheon, the King's advisor has died. Baratheon travels to see his old friend Eddard (Ned) Stark, who helped him win the throne, and ask him to become the new Hand of the King. Rumours abound that the old Hand was actually murdered by House Lannister, of whom the matriarch is Baratheon's wife, Queen Cersei. As the politics start to unfold two external threats to the Kingdom also begin to rise. In the frozen north there are rumours of the return of the White Walkers, an ancient evil that has not been seen for centuries. Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, the exiled son of the previous King, who was usurped by Ned and Robert, plots his revenge by selling his sister to Khal Drogo of the Dothraki tribe in order to use their vast army to invade and reclaim his throne.
Add to that (very condensed) plot summary the requirement to introduce around 14 major characters (as well as minor, but important ones) all in the first hour, and the skill in transposing these complex books to the screen in a manner that is easy for newcomers to understand begins to be revealed. As a fan of the books I do worry that viewers who have not had the fortune to read them might find themselves lost, but the story is so well plotted on the screen that I hope this will not be the case.
The acting all round is great. Whilst some of the cast deal with the lengthy dialogue better than others all the performances are at the very least solid. Highlights for me were the ever-reliable Sean Bean as Ned, the fantastic Peter Dinklage as Tyrion, and Mark Addy as King Robert.
What really surprised me was how good the child actors were. This was a big worry for me before I saw the show, because as the tale unfolds many of them become major characters who drive the plot. Maisie Williams as Arya and Isaac Hempstead-Wright as Bran were particularly impressive given their ages.
There are a few minor changes to the book that I spotted. Arya's introduction was different (but brilliantly done), and there were a couple of scenes added that were not in the book. The new additions did not jar at all with the dialogue and story of the book however. Daenerys was older than in the books (in which she was 13 years old), but I can understand that seeing the character effectively being raped would be too much if she was kept at that age. Additionally, Daenerys and Viserys did not have violet eyes, but if that's all I can find to moan about it tells you what a great job they did with the adaptation! (A quick note about Daenerys: I hope that Emilia Clarke is capable of bringing a brilliant character (one of my favourite from the books) to the screen. She did fine in the premier episode, but much like in the books she starts off with little to do other than be meek and abused. Knowing what is in store for her character though she will need to be at least as good as the rest of the cast).
I really hope this series is a big success for HBO, because I now really want to see the other books transcribed to the screen. The good news is that HBO have already announced that the second series, an adaptation of the second book, A Clash of Kings, has already been green lit. I am just waiting for the day that a certain scene from book 3 is put onto screen. I just cannot imagine the reaction it will get (a friend described reading it as like being kicked in the balls at the same time as being punched in the stomach!).
In a way I wish I hadn't read the books yet (not really, they are just brilliant and reading them is a great experience), in that I envy those who do not know what is going to happen. I urge any non-readers to try and stay spoiler-free to get the most from the show.
It's a great feeling when one of your most loved books is translated to another medium in such a skilled and respectful manner. I just hope the rest of the season lives up to the promise of the first episode.
Check below for a preview of the second episode.