Game of Thrones series one: spoiler-free review

“When you play the game of thrones … you win or you die.”

Jon Arryn, Hand of the King, second most powerful man in The Seven Kingdoms, is dead. The King Robert Baratheon fears foul play so travels to the wild Northern lands to seek his old comrade-in-arms, Ned Stark. Surrounded by the powerful family of his wife, the Lannisters, Robert needs an ally to run a kingdom that is falling apart. He fears treachery everywhere.

Robert Baratheon

For Robert Baratheon is a usurper. With the aid of the Starks and the Lannisters, he had wrestled the throne from the mad king Aerys Targaryen who burned his people to death whilst his nobles watched and said nothing. Seventeen years of peace followed that war, but now the noble familes of Westeros, the known world, are jockeying for position. The long peace has been shattered by a dark secret which could ruin the succession, a secret so powerful that people will slay innocent children to keep it concealed.

Game of Thrones is Tolkein reimagined against the setting of the Wars of the Roses. Medieval dynasties clash and quarrel whilst the true heir to the throne, Viserys Targaryen waits as a ‘king over the water’, like Bonnie Prince Charlie. This king-in-waiting treats his sister Daenerys as little more than a chattle to be traded for horses and arms as he marries her off to a Mongol-esque warlord.

Yet in this fantasy world, the women are not to be underestimated. Mothers like Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister will fight tooth and nail to protect what is theirs. Daenerys too has hidden depths, and she has been aided by the most powerful dowry in history. On her wedding day, she is given a gift of three dormant dragon eggs.

One of the strengths of Game of Thrones is that it is ‘fantasy lite’. There are monsters and magic but these rarely affect the action in every episode. When a dwarf appears, it is not a denizen of Tolkein-esque mines, but a real member of the royal family, Tyrion Lannister. Played by Peter Dinklage, Tyrion Lannister may well be the finest fantasy character ever. Tyrion dominates the story as he struggles to survive in a world full of enemies, where even his nearest and dearest hold him in open contempt.

Tyrion Lannister

Despite heavy media coverage of the series masquerading as news, many people still haven’t got into Game of Thrones. I would urge anyone who has any interest in fantasy to travel across The Narrow Sea and pick up the first series. Television is fighting back in the face of competition from the Internet: there is also a Game of Sofas being played in the real world. With series like Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Sherlock, and others, we are now living in the golden age of television. Don’t get left behind.

Series 1 Unusual guest star: Mark Addy, once the overweight one in The Full Monty is almost unrecognisable as he turns in a great performance as the drunken, lecherous king, Robert Baratheon.