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Series Premiere: Game of Thrones – “Winter is Coming”

“Winter is Coming”

April 17th, 2011

“That’s an honor I could do without.”

The moment which brings “Winter is Coming,” the series premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, to a close is meant to shock the viewer. It is the very definition of a cliffhanger, a moment which makes us anticipate its resolution and theorize as to the result. I would also argue that it’s quite an effective cliffhanger, one which shapes the remainder of the series’ narrative and one which is tremendously well-rendered in this adaptation.

However, for those who have read A Song of Ice and Fire, the George R.R. Martin-penned novels on which the series is based, it isn’t a cliffhanger at all. In fact, for those viewers, it was never a cliffhanger: when the event in question took place on page 85 of my well-worn paperback, all one had to do was turn to page 86 in order to see what happened next. The cliffhanger would last mere moments, unless one somehow had the willpower to stop reading at that precise moment and return to the book a week later. Martin’s novels are designed to be devoured, not savored, and yet his story is now arriving in hour-long segments that will air once every week.

Ultimately, “Winter is Coming” demonstrates the compatibility of Martin’s novels and the televisual form: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have brought Westeros to life by capturing the spirit of Martin’s prose and by embracing the opportunities presented by both the visual and structural qualities made possible by HBO’s commitment to the series. The episode is a compelling introduction to this story and these characters, successfully navigating the plethora of pitfalls that are created in an adaptation of a high fantasy series.

But at the same time, let’s be frank: everyone, from fans of the novels to those who don’t know their Starks from their Lannisters, will need to adjust to the particularities of this particular form of storytelling.

And thus the Game begins.

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“It’s Not Fantasy, it’s @HBO”: Going Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones

“It’s Not Fantasy, it’s @HBO”: Game of Thrones

December 5th, 2010

Tonight is the night that most people will be writing about Boardwalk Empire, which ends its first season on HBO, and The Walking Dead, which ends its first season on AMC.

In the former case, I’m actually incapable of writing about it: after watching the premiere, I have fallen entirely behind – my Mondays have been busy from the time the school year started, and as a result my Sunday evenings have been spent with an easy-going hour of The Amazing Race and work for the following morning. This also meant skipping Dexter, for what it’s worth – Sundays just haven’t been a space where I was able to focus on television.

And yet I find myself with some time this evening, which presents a choice: I could catch up on last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, since I am only an episode behind on the zombie series, but to be honest with you I don’t particularly care. This is not to say that I won’t watch tonight’s finale eventually, but with the show not returning for ten months, and with only six episodes, the accumulated interest is just woefully unsubstantial.

However, the night’s real event television took place before Boardwalk Empire, when HBO revealed a 10-minute glimpse into the production of Game of Thrones, their new fantasy series which is now officially debuting in April. Perhaps it is just that I’ve spent my weekend researching and writing about the HBO brand, or that I’ve been tempering my expectations for the series amidst the seemingly endless wait for an official date for the series’ arrival, but I think I’m officially excited about the show for the first time. I’ve always anticipated seeing what Weiss/Benioff would be doing with this story, and hearing the various casting announcements (most notably through the fantastic Winter is Coming) made the series a constant presence in my online existence, but something about a concrete date and our first substantial look at the world of Game of Thrones has turned anticipation…well, into hype.

And so, some thoughts on what we’ve seen to date, the way in which we’re seeing it, how HBO intends to sell the series, and how I expect to cover it.

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

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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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