HBO’s new series “Game of Thrones“, based upon George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series of books might be the most actualized adaptation of a book that I’ve seen on television thus far.
This is no small feat. The first season of the HBO program is adapted from A Game of Thrones, the first book in Martin’s series. The book features more than 50 characters, many of whom are central to the plot. It also rapidly switches between different characters’ points of view. The plot contains large gruesome battles, pages upon pages of political intrigue and subtle supernatural elements that begin to rear their head.
After the early cancellations of “Deadwood“, “Carnivale” and “Rome“, I was concerned that HBO was shying away from ambitious projects with huge budgets. Even though “True Blood” has been a commercial success, I chalked that up to its camp value and the fact that vampires are en vogue. It seems as though HBO has labored long–and spent a lot of money–to get “Game of Thrones” just right. The pilot alone is estimated to have cost between five and ten million dollars to produce. After watching the first season and reading the first book (I’m currently more than halfway through the 1,000 page sequel) I have to say that HBO has successfully brought Martin’s novel to life.
It would have been easy for HBO to emphasize the battles and supernatural elements in the book while de-emphasizing the intrigue. Perhaps shows like “The Tudors” and “The Sopranos” have shown that there is an audience for scheming. I have heard people complain that the show is slow-moving at times, but I think that the pace is absolutely necessary to preserve the spirit of Martin’s novels.
The fact that the show takes itself extremely seriously really helps draw me into the world. The show focuses on story and characters and therefore allows me to suspend my disbelief, even in the wake of dragons and zombies. Other fantasy adaptations (I’m looking at you “Legend of the Seeker”) were unable to remove their proverbial tounges from their cheeks and sacrificed storytelling for buffoonery, excessive action sequences and hot lesbian love scenes (don’t worry lesbian love fans, “Game of Thrones” has you covered).
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire distinguishes itself from other fantasy cycles through his use of stripped down language. By comparison, other fantasy authors such as David Eddings, Terry Brooks and Raymond E. Feist sound overly pulpy. Martin’s books owe more to the historical War of the Roses and Ivanhoe than they do to Dungeons and Dragons or Middle Earth. The show’s gritty style really mirrors the tone of his books.
Martin also makes it easy to empathize with his characters. By constantly switching the point of view, Martin allows the readers to identify with many of the characters, even ones who are, for all intents and purposes, villains. HBO accomplishes the same feat, largely through the brilliant casting choices. Like “Rome”, they seem to have chosen actors that are best for the parts rather than those who are famous. Sean Bean (most known for playing Boromir in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring) gives a gruff and believable performance as the conflicted patriarch Eddard “Ned” Stark. Maisie Williams and Isaac Hempstead-Wright perfectly embody his children Arya and Bran Stark. Though it is Peter Dinklage steals the show as the coniving, fatalistic “Imp” Tyrion Lannister.
On any occasions whenthe show diverted from the book it was only to better tell the story on screen. By and large, however, the show stays extremely true to the book’s tone and plot. Since “Game of Thrones” has been picked up for another season, I look forward to seeing Martin’s second book, A Clash of Kings come to life. Since I’ve read ahead, I don’t mind telling you that things are going to get really interesting as a new host of players enter into the so-named game of thrones.