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 Tolkien 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 Tolkien-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.


9 responses to “Game of Thrones series one: spoiler-free review

  1. …and if you haven’t read the books, you should. They add layers and layers of historical references. There is definitely a bit of Thirty Years War as the religious wars get more and more complex and then some very weird cults in the East. Fantastic stuff, but having read all the available titles so far, he really needs to start thinking about how he is going to wrap it all up. Apparently HBO sat him down and forced him to tell two of their producers how the story ends. They were worried that they were investing all this money into something and he might die before he gets to the end of the books.
    BTW, having been the recipient of editorial training from your own illustrious self, you won’t mind me pointing out the you are spelling Tolkien inocrrectly!!

    • Curses! They do say that the best way to get comments on your blog is to misspell a few words and then the feedback begins! I have corrected JRR’s name now.
      I have to confess that I haven’t read the books yet but I have watched series one twice and I’m about to start series 2 for the second time. It is astonishing how much detail you pick up the second time around. I really should get round to reading the novels but I’m worried it’s going to take over my every waking hour. I’m already watching two or three episodes a day!!!
      Having read a lot of modern fantasy over the last couple of years, I have to say that Martin is streets ahead of the competition in scope and ambition. Most books have barely one likeable character, whereas he has so many interesting ones like Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark.

  2. Okay I am sold on this, having little time to read anything but the books sent to me at the moment then I will plump for the TV version and then regret not reading the books first later. I will commence it later on as there is the usual dearth of good programmage on.

    I was a little underawed with Breaking Bad, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as The Wire.

    • I’m doing it the other way round too because I love the TV series so much that I don’t want the books to ruin it for me. The most shocking thing about Game of Thrones is the way that major characters die at sudden moments, sometimes with barely any warning. It’s gripping. I hope you like it now I’ve bigged it up!
      I liked Breaking Bad, I have to say, although I’ve only seen series 1 so far. Chemistry was never like that when I was at school.

      • I only really enjoyed Breaking Bad for half of season 4, it was just tension ratcheted up…other than that it was just something to pass the time…Twin Peaks is still the winner of TV though.

        I will confess I fell asleep to the snooker so have yet to start but I will be doing soon and going for it in a big way…I like random major deaths, it is something TV lacks these days but keeps the viewer wary and appreciative of each character.

  3. I watched the whole first series, minus the final episode the other day and have now picked up the first book. I think it helped watching the series first as i could just fly through the opening chapters knowing who was who without resorting to the appendix. Good stuff all around, there is perhaps not enough incest in Tv I think.

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