Those who read my previous posts might be interested in these thoughtful reviews and discussion of
elf-shagging Dragon Age 2 and Don’t Take it Personally, Babe, It Just Ain’t Your Story, respectively. And then you could read Dan Hemmens’ review of The Wise Man’s Fear and the discussion of it over at Asking the Wrong Questions, and actually you may as well just go and read all of Ferretbrain and Asking the Wrong Questions. It’s ok, I’ll wait.
I watched Game of Thrones the other day with a mixed group of both book fans, and those who’d never read any of them. I fall into the former group, and I think it’s unsurprising that I loved it, because this is a show, and the first few episodes in particular, where the experience is going to be so different between the different groups of fans that it’s hard to compare them.
(Here be spoilers, by the way.)
Trying to look at it objectively, I think it did the best job it could with the difficult task of introducing a whole new world and set of characters in one hour. Westeros is recognisable as a vaguely medieval world, a setting we’re familiar with, but you have to introduce the big things, like the seven kingdoms and the lands across the sea, and the long seasons turning to winter, not to mention the Wall and what it represents. Certain aspects were barely touched, but they got over the main points, helped by the way that Pentos and Kings Landing really do look different from the chill of the Wall and the grim greyness of Winterfell. Characters I’m not sure they managed as well. There was some debate as to whether they could have left the whole strand in Pentos until the second episode, and focus on the Starks and Lannisters and Baratheons, and there’s some merit to that – more time to dwell on Robert and Ned and how they are friends wouldn’t go amiss, and when they talk about the five Stark children it’s pretty tricky to work out which of the half-dozen children hanging around are actually Starks. I’m not sure that matters, though – what they needed to convey they did, and while it led to occasionally clumsy bits of dialogue about bastards and siblings, it gets across.
But were I coming to the show cold, I don’t think it would have won me over based on this episode. Watching Daenerys be so utterly passive is painful unless you know it’s going to contrast against her actions for the rest of the season; watching Sansa be a typical teenager isn’t as interesting unless you know what it’s setting up (and there’s a hint of it in Cersei’s cool attitude and blunt questions about whether she menstruates). There’s lots of sex, and you couldn’t do without Daenerys and Drogo’s wedding night, or Jaime and Cersei’s tryst in the tower, but it’s a shame that Tyrion’s introduction doesn’t bring out his cleverness as much as his lustiness. And I’m not sure the scene with the young men of Winterfell really needed to stand around chatting while stripped to the waist.
There’s another argument, though – should a show be judged based on a single episode? Yes, it’s important to try and hook your viewers, but especially on the cable television model of short seasons, are viewers more prepared to invest a few more hours before they get the payoff? Alan Sepinwall admits he occasionally uses Wikipedia to keep track of the characters and their relationships (although not for the pilot episode, which he still liked). I’ve done the same, when I was trying to keep track of who was who in Frank Sobotka’s union, or the Barksdale crew. I can think of a whole bunch of recent, really excellent shows where I haven’t been hooked immediately – Mad Men‘s first episode is deeply unsubtle, after the first hour of Treme I could name maybe three characters and one of those was “John Goodman”, and I still don’t know who all the interchangeable gangsters are in Boardwalk Empire. If what it takes to get TV which doesn’t stick to a tried and tested formula of police procedural or plucky lawyer is that I have to be willing to give it a little more time and spend some of it being confused, then I think it’s worth giving it a shot.