Politics with swords? Vast improvement.
Game of Thrones [TV Series]
Oh man. Have you watched TV lately? Like, broadcast television? Oh man.
Fortunately, the internet is abuzz with news of better things, and news of HBO’s decision to make a new series based on some classic ‘swords and sorcery’ novels really grabbed me. Apparently it got booked for a second season within two days of the pilot airing in April this year. Still, I approached the show with some trepidation: could a fantasy TV series really be that good?
Of all the genres in which one might produce a television series, fantasy has to be one of the toughest. Much like sci-fi, the appeal of good fantasy is that it’s so distant from reality, creating the opportunity for all kinds of unusual plots. However, reality is pretty complex – and the further you move from it, the more a writer’s imagination has to fill in details that would otherwise come naturally in a real world setting. This is a dangerous space, where clichés and inconsistencies can slip into a script like elves slipping into the northern moon-forest.
Game of Thrones is set a long, long way from reality, but it delivers the goods. We enter the series as a fractious alliance of kingdoms is spinning into chaos, both from crazy internal politics (think federal parliament, with daggers and poison) and the impending ‘long winter’ which seems a bit like the opposite of global warming. There is all manner of epic corruption and psychological warfare happening at any given point in the plot, spiced with the occasional prospect of properly ridiculous medieval violence and debauchery.
Despite an opening scene which involves undead soldiers, the supernatural aspects of the series are used cleverly and sparingly. I think this is what makes this series so compelling: the fantasy setting is an enabler for a strong plot, rather than an excuse to perv on dragons and wizards and fireballs. Where there is swordplay or mysticism, it’s delivered cleverly and leaves you hungry for more – the scriptwriters make the most of the ‘wow’ factor that a fantasy setting (and a high budget) can bring, but then pull it back before it loses potency. The plot progression is also great. It avoids done-to-death fantasy formulas like ‘a young gifted person gradually discovers their special powers’ or ‘some badasses form an unusual alliance and go on a heroic quest’, to the point that I sometimes wonder if hardcore fantasy nerds would actually find much appeal in this show. If you’re reading this and you do happen to have manboobs dusted with cheeto residue, do set aside the Mountain Dew between raids and tweet me your thoughts on the show.
Really, Game of Thrones is a solid character drama, not unlike other classics from the HBO stable like Oz or The Wire. Except, I never got so lost in either of those series; Game of Thrones is up to its eighth episode as I write this, and I’m just starting to be certain of all the relationships in the show. Unusual twists like incest and midget protagonists certainly spice up the plot, but do nothing for ease of comprehension. You’ll have to concentrate to follow this show, but you’ll want to as well. The casting is brilliant, drawing on a solid crew of familiar-looking Brits (including Sean Bean, who you might remember as Boromir from the Lord of the Rings films).
Like other HBO workhorses, no punches are pulled in either the nudity or violence stakes. Full-frontal dangly bits and messy medieval violence are common in Game of Thrones, but presented so artfully that you’re only really aware of how controversial this might be on reflection. Except that thing with the lance around episode 5, that was truly rough…
Curious? Game of Thrones lands in Australia on a pay-tv network next month. Keep an eye out for this one.