Apparently winters in the mythical kingdom of Westeros can last a lifetime, so it’s no surprise to see the locals wearing enough fur to make Rolf Harris cry. To make matters worse, there are some White Walkers (zombie-like things with haunting blue eyes) on the prowl in the snowy hinterland. “Winter is coming” says Sean Bean’s character as he looks to the sky and lops off the head of a deserter. Coming?! Are we to presume that this isn’t winter then Bean? There’s snow everywhere! And I thought British summer’s were rubbish…
Yes life can be pretty grim in HBO’s new high fantasy offering Game of Thrones. So grim in fact that despite being pretty much innocent, the poor bloke decapitated by Bean accepts his punishment without question. Billed by many as “The Sopranos of Middle-Earth”, fans of George R.R Martin’s (still unfinished) series of novels will be delighted to finally get a look at the show which has been over four years in production. Thankfully they should all be satisfied with the results, the sets are lavish, the tone is dark and the atmosphere broods malevolently. Making this show a hit with both long time fans and saga newbies will be no mean feat, but recruiting Martin as a script consultant was always going to be a good way of getting the balance right, and the early signs are very promising..
The story is skilfully layered (plot-lines are introduced and bedded in one-by-one) and there is no over-reliance on the magical aspects of the tale. In fact the blue-eyed urchins in the opening scenes are the only supernatural beings going at the minute. HBO has always understood that well-drawn characters and deep plot arcs always form the basis of fine drama and that principle works just as well in the forests of Westeros as it did in the mafia dens of New Jersey.
Tonight’s opening episode introduces us to the Stark family, but some other primary characters get a look in as the show draws on. Eddard Stark (Bean) seems to be the lord of all the land in the north of the Seven Kingdoms up to the massive wall featured at the very beginning of this episode. Stark is best mates with the King (The Full Monty‘s Mark Addy), but everyone else seems to have their eyes on his crown, and whispers that the Queen’s family are up to no good are soon abounding. The fact that the King’s wife is cheating on him with her own brother (who bears more than a passing resemblence to Shrek‘s Prince Charming) probably confirms that she and the Lannisters are destined to be a bunch of trouble-makers.
We also get a quick look at some other movers and shakers in the Martin-verse in this sex-filled pilot. He may have been restricted to a couple of scenes in this opener but Viserys Targaryen certainly gets some of the best lines. As he prepares to marry his beautiful but unwilling sister off to a powerful warlord on the other side of the Narrow Sea, he cushions the blow by telling her: “I would let Kahl Drogo’s whole army fuck you – and his horses too – if that’s what it took to get my throne back..” As I said, life can be pretty grim Westeros.