On Monday, we were treated to the first two episodes of HBO’s highly anticipated, big-budget fantasy serial Game of Thrones, based on R.R. Martin’s fantasy series of the same name. Though we left the screening rather impressed, we wonder whether the series will have the cross-over appeal required to sustain itself at its current budget – roughly estimated at 4.5 million per episode.
Despite our concerns, Game of Thrones has a lot going for it. The pilot and the second episode are filled with bloody middle-ages style violence, and feature a number of gorgeous actresses in the buff. The heady cocktail of beheadings, blood, the supernatural, perversion and sex that pervade the first two episodes of the series, hints at Thrones‘ potential to be a better version of True Blood – only catered towards nerds and straight guys. HBO released the first 15 minutes of the series as an exclusive sneak-peak on Sunday evening and it attracted 720,000 viewers. Though the balance of the first two episodes fails to maintain the “beheadings per minute” ratio of the sneak-peak, it’s a good indicator of the level and quality of the violence in the first couple of episodes.
The pilot centers around Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark – portrayed by a characteristically grim Sean Bean – and his family. The Starks are a noble house, and they occupy Winterfell, a remote outpost in the North. But there is trouble afoot in the kingdom, and Ned is asked by the King to take up the dangerous, and powerful position of ‘Hand of the King’ in the capital of King’s Landing. Sean Bean grapples with the decision of whether or not to accept, and luckily for the audience, he’s a master at making decisions seem particularly grave and significant. Frankly, I would happily watch Sean Bean fret about his order at Subway for an hour (Turkey… Or Tuna? <grimaces>) – thankfully in Game of Thrones he’s given significantly more intriguing circumstances to grapple with.
The sound effects were of particular interest to me, the presence of gusting winds in the North being a dominant feature of the first episodes. The wind is omnipresent in the North, almost its own character, and its used effectively – infusing the action with a sense of wildness, suspense and vulnerability. The visual effects, costumes and settings are inspired; the acting is stellar; and the plot, though satisfyingly complex, manages to avoid being too complicated for the uninitiated to follow.
HBO mainstay Tim Van Patten – a veteran of The Wire, The Pacific, Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos – directs the first two episodes with his usual steady-hand. His accomplishment is commendable, he ably manages to introduce the viewer to a diverse set of characters, and the unfamiliar world they occupy, while maintaining a watchable, entertaining pace. It must have been a tough balancing act – but it’s pulled off with aplomb.
Regardless of the ultimate success or failure of the show – we applaud HBO for committing their talent, experience and money to an ambitious experiment within the fantasy genre. We enjoyed their previous foray into medieval/classical period pieces with Rome – but, it’s safe to say – we’ve never seen anything like Game of Thrones on cable before. Will that be enough to sustain the series? We’re not going to bet our dire-wolf on it, but our fingers are crossed.
Game of Thrones begins airing April 17th at 9 PM on HBO and HBO Canada.