Tag Archives: A Song of Ice and Fire

A Televisual Love Letter: Reveling in HBO’s Game of Thrones

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.

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HBO at TCA: Story, Genre and Scheduling

HBO at TCA: Story, Genre and Scheduling

August 8th, 2010

I’ve been following along with the news out of the Television Critics Association Press Tour through Twitter, but to be honest there hasn’t really been anything that’s caught my attention: while I’m incredibly wary of the changes being made to Human Target, I’ll save any judgment until I actually see them in action, and since I haven’t seen the fall pilots I can’t really offer any opinion on how the panels seems to have changed my view on each series.

However, on the final day the HBO executive session ended up being a really interesting one: not only did HBO programming guru Michael Lombardo confirm that Entourage’s next season will be its last, but he also offered up some intriguing quotes about their planned Spring launch of Game of Thrones as well as a curious statement regarding the network’s approach to scheduling. With the networks, there’s this sense that they’re there to sell the critics on their already announced lineups, but with HBO there’s a laid-back confidence which could be read as cockiness, and it makes for a more interesting environment in terms of the kinds of discussion it creates.

So, let’s take a gander at what an Entourage movie and a question of genre vs. storytelling tell us about the channel’s approach as compared with its pay cable counterparts.

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Winter is Still Coming: Anxiety and Awareness as HBO takes Game of Thrones to Series

Winter is Still Coming: Anxiety and Awareness

March 2nd, 2010

The motto of the Stark family is that “Winter is Coming,” which in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire is inevitable but unknown: seasons can last for years, even generations, but eventually they will turn, and a winter that lasts that long can be absolutely devastating. Accordingly, the Starks live by a motto that places them in a state of constant anxiety, aware that the flowers may bloom right now but there is still the potential for darkness around the corner. It is prudent, perhaps, but also limiting in how it places fear and concern over the ability to enjoy one’s situation.

Was there ever any doubt that HBO would take Game of Thrones, the adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series, to series? Not really. Sure, there was always the chance that the pilot wouldn’t turn out well, but with an established director (Tom McCarthy) at the helm, and with an ever-expanding cast with considerable name recognition, the chances of HBO not ordering a season of the show were pretty slim.

So, one would think, fans of the series can now breathe a sigh of relief: the series’ rich fantasy tapestry will be committed to film, and their favourite characters will come to life, so the anxiety is over. However, for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, the anxiety has become a way of life not dissimilar from the wariness of the Stark family motto: it’s been almost five years since the last entry in the series, and it’s come to the point where some fans fear that Martin might die before he finishes his epic story. Some readers, like the Chicago Tribune’s Maureen Ryan, have actually put off reading the latest book until the next one has a clear release date, afraid of creating a state of heightened anxiety knowing that the next installment could still be years away. And so the anxiety surrounding the pickup, even when everyone was predicting that the show would make it to series, was normal for the fans who could potentially make the series a smash success.

However, as Jeremy Mongeau pointed out on Twitter, I wonder if that anxiety will make this series even more problematic for fans in life than it would have in death; the show will be full of potential for new viewers who have no idea where this story is headed, but fans may be tripped up by some of their foreknowledge. Just to be clear, I’m not characterizing ASoIaF fans as those who will complain about small changes (although I’m sure there will inevitably be some of that), but rather that they know where this story is going, and they know an important fact about the first book in the series (A Game of Thrones) which will heighten their anxiety surrounding the show’s long-term potential at the network who has given it a chance.

The pickup is a sign that Winter has been delayed for at least a season, but one can’t help but realize that Winter is still coming, and the anxiety surrounding that could well dominate fan behaviour.

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Winter is finally Coming: Anticipating HBO’s Game of Thrones

gamethrones

Winter is finally Coming:

Anticipating HBO’s Game of Thrones

When I was roughly 14, I read The Lord of the Rings. I enjoyed it, so my parents went to a bookstore ahead of Christmas and asked for something similar. The employee suggested A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire – when I unwrapped it on Christmas morning, I can remember being somewhat underwhelmed, having not (at that point) really delved into any literary series (I was a latecomer to Harry Potter, for instance) and not entirely keen on starting a new one. But, my reluctance aside, I started reading A Game of Thrones, and then A Clash of Kings, and then A Storm of Swords. Very quickly, I had read through the first three volumes.

And yet, today, I barely remember any of it. I don’t particularly know why, apart from a few key events (mainly deaths, which Martin seems to revel in), I found myself struggling to remember many specific details when I first heard of plans to bring to show to life as a new series for HBO. However, in spite of my lack of memory, there was one thing I was sure of: there was something compulsively readable about this particular brand of fantasy, and also something complex that seemed to confound my 14 year old memory but which may just be perfectly fine-tuned for my post-secondary critical mind.

Ever since the pilot was first announced as a potential HBO project, I’ve been pondering digging back into the series, but in the past few months I realized I had no excuse: HBO has been busy amassing the largest ensemble cast in their history, production is due to start in Ireland in just a few months, and a particularly resourceful blog has managed to turn casting speculation and analysis into a refined and comprehensive process worthy of this comprehensive story. Where some literary adaptations feel like a process being done independent of the material at hand, Game of Thrones has the series’ author onboard as a writer, devoted fans and active producers who have turned even casting into an internet event, and (as I discovered over the past week) some really amazing source material that feels like a perfect fit for both television as a medium and HBO as a network.

So, in short, I’m a little bit excited, and I think you should be too.

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