This is a spoiler-free recap where I discuss things that happened within the hour of the show but NOT how they fit into the larger story. For the Liveblog, which has some minor spoilers of that nature, go here
From the first moment of the first teaser I saw last fall, it seemed that HBO was prepared to do this right. Or, in the parlance of erstwhile HBO series, “come correct.” And they came correct, indeed. Nearly every minute of last night’s inaugural episode exceeded my expectations fabulously. I can’t help contrasting this with the Harry Potter films, a natural reaction as they are both adaptations of intricate fantasy fiction. Having just re-watched Deathly Hallows Part 1 the night before, the filmed Potter was very fresh in my mind. No matter how good those films are when taken on their own merits, they will always be poor adaptations of the books; a great example of how NOT to translate the images of the story into visuals. Until last night I’d never had the opposite–a convincing example of a good visual translation of fiction.
Whereas much of Potter is people shot against dark stone walls, every fibre of Game Of Thrones cracks and sizzles with the spark of Martin’s fantastical world. It’s the sort of show which envelopes you in its world; the kind you can’t wait to have archived in Blu-Ray. Even more amazing than the look is the fact that the script manages to fit nearly all the elements of the novel together without feeling overly expository. Never once in the first hour did I feel like I was being lectured about the mechanics of the story. Granted, I’m very familiar with the people, places and outcomes so I could fill in any minute gaps. But I’m betting even novices to the world of A Song Of Ice And Fire will have a good grasp of who is who and what they’re up to. That’s no small feat in this tightly woven epic.
As much as I wanted to gush with unstinting praise about the miniseries, I did however come away from last night’s introduction with a slightly unsettled feeling. Whenever I’ve read negative reviews of the series the key points of those finding fault nearly always seem to be about the sexual content of the story. Prior to reading the first three books in the series last summer I was not much of a fan of the fantasy genre, having tired of the endless Tolkein homages that comprised it for the last three decades. Martin uses both sex and food in his stories the same way writers in other genres use them. They’re handy ways to describe the sensual aspects of a character and the lifestyle he or she lives. I personally found any objectionable sex (ie. demeaning of women) to be great shorthand for exposing the faults of a character. I never once felt that Martin was being exploitative or prurient as much as he was telling a tale of different cultures.
HBO, on the other hand, seems to have seized upon the sexual content exceedingly gleefully. By the end of the episode I found myself thinking that they’d certainly hit upon a way to get all the bookshy folks of the world lining up for a subscription at their cable companies. In most cases the sexuality wasn’t too over-the-top.
Unfortunately, it ruined a key scene. A VERY key scene. (If you’re reading this before watching the show, you’ll want to just stop reading here and come back later unless you’re wanting to know ahead of time.)
When my dear climbing Bran spies Jaime and Cersei Lannister–yes, they are fraternal twins–having sex in a secluded part of the castle he sees a fairly graphic Regular Saturday Night Thing doggy style poundfest. It’s very much an acting-out of pure lust, carnal to the core. Which means it’s very against character. Whenever the book talks of those two sick pups and their relationship it speaks of them making love face to face. It’s not about lust as much as it is about deep self-obsession and narcissism. I was a bit disappointed to see the show get such a key element so very wrong.
As far as miniseries adaptations of excellent novels goes, however, this isn’t that great a quibble. From what I see in Hour One it looks as though HBO is committed to giving us the gold standard of book translations and I’m definitely along for the ride.