A Televisual Love Letter: HBO’s Game of Thrones
April 3rd, 2011
When I sat down to watch the first six episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones – which HBO subscribers can preview tonight at 9/8c when the first fifteen minutes of the pilot air before the third part of Mildred Pierce (and arrive streaming online shortly after) – I knew that I would be viewing them from a particular perspective.
As someone who has read the first four books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series – the fifth comes out in July – on multiple occasions, I knew my way around this story. I would not count myself among those who have an encyclopedic knowledge of Westeros, and I’ll readily admit that the density of the books means I often misplace particular story events within my memory, but the fact remains that I am very familiar with the world Martin created and the characters that inhabit it.
Accordingly, I expected my view of the series to be influenced by this perspective: I would know more about these characters than the show would expect me to know, able to fill in details and see foreshadowing that some viewers would not even know was foreshadowing. I would be more excited about seeing things come to life than I would be about seeing things happen, surprised not so much by the events transpiring but by the decisions made in giving those events physical form. However, I also presumed that I would ultimately remain the stoic critic figure, my familiarity with the series presenting less as a “fandom” and more as an extra layer that would contribute to my experience.
So imagine my surprise when my experience became defined by this familiarity, my fairly casual “fandom” transformed into a giddy reverie by the time the credits rolled on the show’s pilot. Game of Thrones is not precisely Martin’s books come to life fully formed, but I would argue that this is a love letter to A Song of Ice and Fire and those who hold it most dear. It does not just stumble its way into bits of foreshadowing: it fully embraces the scale of this narrative from the word go and begins to craft a tale worthy of the source material. It does so not just through strong performances and evocative production design, but also through tapping into the very qualities that made the source material so compelling on a structural level: this is not just an instance of plot and character being spun into a new medium, but rather David Benioff and D.B. Weiss drawing inspiration from a man who knew how to build something.
The result is a rare adaptation which compounds, rather than challenges, our appreciation for the franchise in question. Game of Thrones may not yet be the finest show on television, but it is well on its way to being one of the most rewarding television experiences I’ve ever had, and certainly shows the potential to be found in continuing to explore Martin’s – and now Benioff and Weiss’ – Westeros for many seasons to come.