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Reasons to Watch: Game of Thrones
“Winter is coming”
In a world where the seasons can last years rather than months and a long, prosperous summer is only to be followed by a longer, arduous winter, the coming of cold weather can only spell disaster and death. In George R. R. Martin’s series “Songs of Fire and Ice,” we enter the world as winter approaches, heralding change through conflict for the family whose motto celebrates strength in times of adversity. The Starks may be prepared for a hard winter due to their position in the colder north, but nothing could prepare them for the power struggle in which they are about to be embroiled. And debates and war over the line of succession will be nothing compared to the threat that awaits beyond the monstrous, icy Wall , which protects the boundaries of civilization from the vast and powerful wilderness that hides its own ghastly secrets.
A Land of Fantasy
It is this epic, literary landscape that inspires the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” so named for the first book of Martin’s series. Television based on fantasy such as this does not often meet with great success because the undertaking is momentous. The small screen must capture the complexity of not only the characters but also the landscape and culture of a world at once familiar and unnatural. But HBO portrays it all with faithfulness, allowing the viewer to be captivated by a world under fire.
The excellence of this series has been acknowledged on many levels, garnering some surprise nominations for a freshman series and some well-earned wins for actor Peter Dinklage.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama
Outstanding Main Title Design
2012 SAG Awards
Outstanding Performance By A Stunt Ensemble In A Television Series
2012 Golden Globes
Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television
The Reasons to Watch
What sets this series apart from the rest? Well, like another favorite of mine, it is on HBO, which means that restrictions on other television shows are out the window. The lack of a decency filter allows the world to come to life in a more realistic manner. Life is complex, and awful, and dirty in this show about war, power scheming, and incest. But there is more to love about this show than the gratuitous sex and violence (although I always seem to recommend the shows where such traits are rampant). Here’s a few things to consider…
Perspective and Depth
Let’s talk about the thing that always draws me into a show like this: characterization. George R. R. Martin’s books actually use each chapter to delve into the situation and mind of a different character, taking the reader to different social ranks and geographical locations. In the show, it plays out the same way. Multiple characters, who are all connected in at least some small way, wage their small battles in life as a part of a larger, ever looming-war. You can see the motivation behind each action as it is formed, and you empathize to some extent with each character’s situation. Even though the main focus of the series is the Stark family, you do grow to appreciate their enemies as well. One of my favorite characters, Tyrion Lannister, is a part of the house that fights directly with the Starks, but he has his own problems with his family despite his allegiances to them. The makes for divided sympathies in the viewer, and a more conflicted, yet rich, viewing experience.
Intrigue and Danger
Did I mention war? The entire kingdom in which the story takes place is in a battle for succession. Factions spring up, pitting families against each other. And that is not to mention to last descendant of a former king, who is returning home to claim her birthright. And while there is a battle for power amongst the civilized, there is the ever-approaching threat of the wilderness, which is held off by a dwindling band of outcasts banished to the Wall, the a giant ice structure that marks the kingdon’s northern most boundary. Each beloved character is in danger from steel and the darker, more sinister threat of deeply buried magics. These dangers must be negotiated with dexterity, leading characters to plot constantly against each other in ever-twisting webs of deceit. Interested yet?
Culture and History
If none of this detail grabs you, perhaps you can appreciate the visual manifestation of George R. R. Martin’s rich world. While the current goings on are enough, each family and land comes from a rich background of history that informs the present day. Game of Thrones displays the culture and maps out the history beautifully (something demonstrated quite literally in the gorgeous opening sequence, in which the various locales are seen building from a giant map (the brilliant opening is embedded below). All this cultural and historical detail unfolds in the same manner, enriching the viewer’s understanding of the literal and figurative landscape. A vast history informs the decisions of the major characters, and this detailed framework is revealed as necessary to viewers. George R. R. Martin's books depict not only a story but also an entire world that exists beyond his writings, and the series offers the visual hints that relate to this rich back story.