Tuesday, April 19, 2011


A GAME OF THRONES has been considered the Kwisatch Haderach of fantasy TV series. So many fantasy fans are looking to it and pinning their hopes on it. A lot of fantasy fans are hoping that it legitimizes fantasy as a genre, or that it somehow shows the mainstream audiences that fantasy is more than just wish fulfillment or "that crazy dragons and elves stuff". George R.R. Martin fans are looking for a kick-ass adaptation of his A Song of Fire and Ice series and Robert E. Howard fans are hoping for some crossover interest, given that one of the actors in this series, Jason Momoa, stars in the new Conan film being released this August.

I caught the first episode last night and, despite what the various camps may hope, the show is, above all, an HBO product.

It has the signature features of an HBO show -- lush, beautiful production values and a whole lotta in-your-face sex and violence.

Like HBO's landmark series, ROME, A GAME OF THRONES jumps out of the gate with all of these elements. There is a gruesome tableau of dessicated corpses (which very quickly come to life) there are two beheadings in the first fifteen minutes, one of which is thrown at you with grim and gory, blood-spurting detail.

The rest of the episode is back and forth between lush visuals, a lot of modern-day curse words and many naked breasts and bums (although in a show of remarkable restraint, they fall just shy of showing full frontal nudity).

The plot follows the GRRM novel fairly closely. It is as faithful an adaptation as one could hope for a television show. Martin should be very pleased. His work has certainly been better treated than Terry Goodkind's was with LEGEND OF THE SEEKER. As an adaptation of the novel for television, A GAME OF THRONES works very well.

As a fantasy series... well..

Fantasy is a big arena. There are almost as many types of fantasy as there are fantasy writers. This is only one type of fantasy. George R.R. Martin's Seven Kingdoms is a quasi-medievel world with a lot of Machiavellian plotting and scheming. Do fantasy fans really want this one type of fantasy to become fixed in the minds of the mainstream TV watching public? When we speak of fantasy do we want the great unwashed to nod their heads and say "Oh, yeah, I saw Game of Thrones. I know what you're talking about?

Can all the subtleties and varieties of western literature be encapsulated in LONESOME DOVE? Is the breadth of  excitement and action of comic book superheroes to be found in SMALLVILLE? Can the complexities and galaxy spanning diversity of science fiction be justly represented by BATTLESTAR GALACTICA?

Of course not, and here is the folly of pinning one's hopes of legitimacy on one TV series. Fantasy literature needs no more legitimacy than it already has. The idea that fantasy needs to be presented to a greater audience is folly. The lowest common denominator is not what fantasy fans should be striving for when they are exploring fantasy literature. Fantasy is meant to take you to surprising and wonderful places, and if it appeals to all, then that's great, but to try to shoe-horn it into a package that would be appealing to the masses is a task for MacDonald's, not George R. R, Martin or A Game of Thrones.

As a television series, based on the first episode, A GAME OF THRONES is good. There is much that is wonderful about it and much that is prosaic. I liked the title sequence. The performances are, for the most part, very good. There was not enough time in the first hour to get to know all of the characters. I would defy a watcher who has not read the book to name all five of Eddard Stark's children based on this first outing. Sean Bean was solid and likable as Eddard Stark (although a trifle more gruff than his literary counterpart). The actor playing Tyrion was very good, but again, his character has many subtleties and contradictions that could not be fully explored in one episode.

The complaints I have is that some things that should have been big and epic just seemed small and flat on the small screen. The Dothraki riders were not given the epic scope they deserved. Winterfell seemed small and claustrophobic. The modern language didn't do much to enhance the sense of being in another time or place. As with HBO's western series DEADWOOD, the modern vernacular, particularly the cursing, was jarring. It took me out of my sense of being in another time. HBO's ROME handled that aspect much much better. The language was raw but it was structured in a stylized way that fit appropriately with ancient Rome. The language of A GAME OF THRONES is prosaic and flat.

I will be watching the series and so, I suspect, will most fantasy fans. As for a wider audience I very much doubt it. I still maintain that the series will be lucky if it goes to a second season. If the first seasons covers the first book that would be nice. You'll have a nice adaptation of a first book in a series. But I don't believe there will be much more than that.

Fantasy as a literature does not need  HBO's A GAME OF THRONES, but at this point HBO needs the fantasy fans (and more) to keep tuning in order to continue.

UPDATE: This just in:
HBO announced the Game of Thrones will be picked up for a second season.
I guess I have been proved wrong. Good for fantasy fans and good for George R.R. Martin. Well done!

ve been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?


Kilsern said...

I will no doubt watch this, but I must say, I've fallen by the way side as a GRRM fan. His too long breaks between books is too jarring. I'm still debating picking up the next phone book offering being published in July.

M. D. Jackson said...

I'm just starting the second book myself so I guess I'm fortunate in that I won't have to wait between books if I don't want to.

I probably will, though. Too much of it can get pretty saturating. I'll have to read at least two other books before picking up the next one in the series.

Anonymous said...

bytch! do ya know what kwisatz haderach means?

M. D. Jackson said...

Anonymous: I know what it means. Do you understand metaphor? More to the point: Do you know how to spell? Evidence would suggest otherwise.

Nick Ward said...

Poor old Anonymous. No name and no grasp of the english language.

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