Although I am going to try very hard to review Game of Thrones without the books in mind, the faithfulness of this adaptation to the source material is going to make that an incredibly daunting task. I will steer clear of book spoilers in this review, but be warned that spoilers concerning the first episode, entitled Winter Is Coming, abound.
The show immediately drew me in with the cold open. It served to show us a hint of the supernatural in a world where the supernatural has not been sighted for millennia. Stunning to see in HD and more than beautifully shot, my very first thought was that I was watching a movie. This feeling continued throughout the next scene, which effectively introduced all of the key members of the family Stark. It wasn't just that the image quality was excellent. There was a moment when the camera circled around Sansa and Arya as they practiced their needlepoint, exploring the differences between the characters almost wordlessly. The style of the shot was exactly what I would have expected in some sort of movie introduction. I have never seen a technique like that used on television. Game of Thrones would be well served to continue this kind of storytelling.
Although most scenes in the first portion of the episode are character introductions, they also include important bits of exposition while mostly remaining interesting for the viewer. As such, I could continue recapping the episode for about as long as the episode aired. Instead, I'm going to shift my attention to a general discussion.
Like me, he loved the cliffhanger ending; however, that wasn't the sole reason for which he will continue to watch the show. He felt that "the characters really [came] across as people." It's wonderful and rare to see a cast of literally dozens with the power to make you feel strongly for each of their characters. It's even more rare to find a group of characters this flawed, complex, and real.
On the bright side, this episode seems to have set up what's to follow quite well. I am now invested in the characters and, although there will undoubtedly be more exposition to come, the cast seems up to the task of making it quite interesting. On that note, I'd like to discuss said cast.
It quickly became apparent that the casting directors struck gold with 99.9% of their actors. Instead of heaping praise upon the likely candidates, namely Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage, I thought that I would point out three others that really caught my attention.
Mark Addy, who is probably best known for his comedic work, didn't seem like the right fit for the heavy role of King Robert Baratheon . As such, fan reaction to his casting was somewhat lukewarm. In Winter Is Coming, Addy not only rose to the challenge, but quickly became one of the most fascinating actors to watch. He gave Robert, a Heroic Warrior turned Drunken King, the exact right combination of adulterous fool, humorous clown, and regal monarch. His line deliveries occasionally gave me chills, especially during the scenes with Sean Bean in the crypt. I look forward to seeing more of his performance throughout the season.
Having heaped praise upon the cast, I now have to discuss my only huge disappointment with Game of Thrones. The music did not move me an inch. The Main Theme used during the opening sequence was nice enough, but Game of Thrones had the potential for so much more.
I have made it known here on SpoilerTV that my favourite kind of composition involves musical variations. This technique roughly entails the same musical ideas being repeated in slightly different ways. The melody and the harmony grow in complexity while counter-melodies creep into the mix. Different instruments pick up each of these lines, changing the feel of the piece. The harmonies serve a similar function, changing to allow the melody a brand new context.
For an example of this, listen here to the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony.
Game of Thrones has 18 series regulars, 8 featured cast members, and dozens of named roles besides. Such a huge cast calls for music of epic proportions. Each character could have had a theme written in his or her honour (something known as a "leitmotif"). That theme could then have been varied based on a character's location and emotional state. Disparate character themes could have been combined in novel ways as characters grew closer or farther apart.
LOST was able to do this brilliantly. The majority of LOST fans will probably tell you that the music was key to making the show such an emotional journey. I just can't help but feel that Game of Thrones has lost out on an amazing opportunity. Instead of giving us beautiful music, the show opted to give us practically none. What music was actually present was nothing more than long notes accentuating the mood. It wasn't really "music". Hopefully, later episodes (OR LATER SEASONS :D) will try to do something like this. Sadly, the perfect time to have set up leitmotifs would have been during this first heavily expositional and introductory episode.
All in all, I was impressed with how accessible the showrunners made Game of Thrones. As someone who has read the books, I would have preferred less exposition; however, I understand its importance and hope that it kept newcomers interested. I have also been following the hype for over a year now. I have seen numerous featurettes, read countless pre-air reviews, and watched the first fifteen minutes three or four times. All of that has likely clouded my judgement. As we get farther into the season, this will likely no longer be the case.
Finally, based on the completely subjective and arbitrary scale of Ridiculously Bad to BEST. SHOW. EVER., I'm going to have to give Episode 1 an Excellent (let's call that 8.5/10).
Let me know what you all thought!
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