TV Review: A Game of Thrones (HBO)

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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43 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.


    Maybe *THIS* is why girls’ toys suck.Report

  2. Mike Schilling says:

    Even better news for Martin fans is that A Dance with Dragoons is due out in July.

    And, on an even geekier note, I met GRRM at a book-signing for A Feast for Crows, and mentioned to him that I thought of Tyrion Lannister as what Miles Vorkosigan would be like if he’d been raised by wolves. He grinned evilly, and topped me with “By lions!”.Report

    • NoPublic in reply to Mike Schilling says:


      The Vorkosigan saga is #1 on my fairly short list of “Series that I wish someone with some talent would adapt for a long-running miniseries adaptation”. I’d never made this correlation before but I have to say I can see it.


    • North in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Finally, thank whatever gods there are! I was beginning to quake and consider burning Martin in effigy like I did Robert Jordan.Report

      • Plinko in reply to North says:

        Have you read last week’s New Yorkers profile of GRRM?Report

        • North in reply to Plinko says:

          Nope, I’m a fan but not a -fan-.Report

          • Plinko in reply to North says:

            I say that because the whole Robert Jordan thing is addressed rather directly and in a way that makes it hard to hear comments like that.
            It’s also a pretty good piece on superfandom itself, I recommend it regardless of one’s feelings on GRRM at all.

            “One group at the party responded with head-shaking and exclamations of disgust when Martin informed them, “I’m still getting e-mail from assholes who call me lazy for not finishing the book sooner. They say, ‘You better not pull a Jordan.’ ” Robert Jordan, whose real name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr., died of amyloidosis in 2007, before the “Wheel of Time” series was finished. (Another writer, Brandon Sanderson, will finish it.) Martin said that he found such remarks particularly heartless: “I knew Jim, which is what his friends called him. He was a friend of mine.”

            “How dare he die?” a woman said, witheringly. “I mean, what an inconvenience to the fans.” “Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Plinko says:

              The main knock on GRRM is that it’s so long between books (5 years between books 3 and 4, 6 between 4 and 5. And that’s with 5 effectively being the other half of 4.). The main knock on Jordan was that the books continued to come out regularly but without moving towards any conclusion. (This was often interpreted as milking his cash cow for as long as possible. That might be untrue, but it’s not something only a heartless jerk might suspect.) Not really the same thing.Report

              • Plinko in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                On the other hand it took Stephen King 16 years to write books 2-4 in the Dark Tower, but 5-7 came out within another seven -heck King nearly was killed before he finished these and then banged out the las three in three years.
                I think it’s OK to gripe a bit in good fun about how disappointed you are that a series you like is taking longer to finish than you’d prefer but that’s about it. I’m disappointed Mervyn Peake died before he could finish the Gormenghast books, but I find it unseemly to take it as a personal affront.Report

            • North in reply to Plinko says:

              That’s perfectly fair on his part. On the other hand maybe it’d be fair if he added on his first novel in the series: “You’ll be an old man before you’ve finished the end of this series” so that some people can take that into account before beginning to read.Report

  3. Michael Cain says:

    On the one hand, the “Ice and Fire” series is on my list of things that I really, really hope the author finishes before he dies (Zelazny’s original Amber series was on that list for some years; the second Amber series, not so much).

    OTOH, the Potter story went steadily downhill. Really, E.D., the plot turned into LoTR and became entirely predictable. After my son and I had both finished reading the sixth, I gave him a sealed envelope with a list of the major plot elements for the seventh. The only one on which there is any question as to my being correct depends on whether “Dumbledore isn’t really dead and continues to run things” counts as a match for “Dumbledore is dead but his ghost continues to run things.”Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Look, Potter was a seven-book series for kids that had some pretty complex characters and made some tough choices that a lot of kids books don’t make. It was entertaining and pretty well written. I had my complaints also, but overall I thought it was a wonderful series. But I’m easy to please.Report

      • ThatPirateGuy in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I’ll that I read the hp books not because I was looking to be surpassed but because I wanted to watch a boy and his friends grow to be men and women who would take the hard path when it was the right path.Report

  4. Ryan says:

    Looks like I have something to add to the torrent queue then.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Ryan says:

      You know, at $60 million for the first season, I highly encourage you to actually subscribe. I want them to make every season and they need subscribers to do that.Report

      • greginak in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Pimping for HBO….oh lord no..(insert smiley face here) Dropping the pay channels years ago was a great move on my part. However i will get the DVD’s when netflix has them. It’s to bad nobody seems to be willing to try to make all the good scifi books into a series like this.Report

      • Ryan in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I’ll find other ways. I don’t actually have cable, nor any interest in it, so I’ll just sign up for the DVD on Amazon.Report

  5. North says:

    I loved Song of Ice and Fire though oddly enough I loathed Arya Stark and John Snow; I was more fond of Rob, Brandon and even poor silly Sansa.
    I’d planned on avoiding the HBO series, but since you reccomend it I’ll give it a chance. Besides, maybe having an active TV show grinding up his material will put a hot fork in Martin’s ass. Then again if they’re even half way loyal to the script it’ll take them a decade to convert what’s been written so far into hour long shows.Report

    • Tom Hilton in reply to North says:

      Second the recommendation. They’re doing a fabulous job (so far–1 episode in, so take that for whatever it’s worth) translating GRRM’s story into great television. Very faithful overall; any changes are a) minor, b) consistent with the characters, c) consistent with the overall story, and d) make for better storytelling in a visual medium.Report

    • Murali in reply to North says:

      I loathed Arya Stark and John Snow


      (Honestly, I think Brandon is kind of irritating)Report

      • James K in reply to Murali says:

        And Sansa is extremely irritating (up until book 4 or thereabouts once she’s grown the hell up). But then she’s basically a character from a medieval romance novel dropped into an authentically medieval setting.Report

  6. Tom Hilton says:

    Are you going to post this at Balloon Juice? Please do–there’s a regrettable dearth of Game of Thrones fangeekery there!Report

  7. Elia Isquire says:

    So, what are the chances that someone who loves drama in general — and is especially positively disposed to HBO series, thinking that HBO and AMC is where the best pop-art has been over the past 10 years — but who isn’t a fantasy fan would like this? Just based off of episode 1.

    For whatever it’s worth in terms of outlining my taste in this regard: I’m a modest LOTR fan, love Guillermo del Toro’s films, and think Battlestar Galactica is much over-praised.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Elia Isquire says:

      Alk I know is that a lot of people I know who aren’t into fantasy really loved the books.Report

    • North in reply to Elia Isquire says:

      If they adhere to the script from the books then you’ll find the shows very gritty; there’s magic but it’s subdued and subtle (nearly gone) in the beginning and stirrs only mildly so there’s a lot of sword fighting, army combat and political/personal intrigue. So, less magic than Tolkein, less googoo spirituality than BSG.Report

  8. Elia Isquire says:

    OK I’ll give it a shot. I’ve heard only good things.Report

  9. Plinko says:

    I watched it with my wife last night. I recently read the first book, she’s never read them at all.

    I enjoyed it (I’m not super enthused yet but it’s too early to form a real opinion), my wife was lost. I am not sure how well anyone who hasn’t read the books could keep up with the way the show throws everyone into the deep end right away. Major characters have their names said once or twice if you’re lucky, much less their relationships established before the plot is already moving along.
    That and that weird depiction of Khal Drogo as 60s era Star Trek Klingon on steroids kind of weirded me out.

    Bellafante’s writing on the show seems crazy to me. I love Game of Thrones because it seems to demolish a lot of fantasy genre conventions about good/evil and honor/pragmatism – good and bad ends are met by people on all sides without regard to their principles. There are fascinating women characters but they don’t get freedom from the limits of the society they live in, instead they’re constantly struggling against limits and not always succeeding.Report

  10. Maxwell James says:

    As another fan of the books, I thought it was good. I’m withholding full judgment until I’ve seen more of it, but I agree that the cast, script, & production values are all very encouraging, and there were a number of deft visual touches that helped streamline a very complex story. I’d question some decisions, particularly with regards to the Dothraki subplot, but to be fair the problems there originate with the book itself.

    Oh, and while I liked parts of Serwer’s essay, the notion that LOTR is “strictly Manichean” only holds true if one completely overlooks its central theme.Report

  11. BlaiseP says:

    Why can’t I enjoy scifi or fantasy anymore? I think it happened somewhere in the middle of a Robert Jordan novel, recommended by someone I respected.

    Once, when I was driving back from Louisville to Chicago, I had a bag of red Twizzlers on the seat beside me. It’s a long, straight road, 360 miles one way to my home. Before I realized it, I’d nervously munched through most of that bag. I can’t even think about a Twizzler without a faint wave of nausea.

    I’d read scifi and fantasy since I was old enough to read. LOTR shaped my life in odd ways: my handwriting resembles Tolkien’s variant of Carolingian miniscule and I’ve written with a fountain pen since I was a teenager. I eventually read linguistics and philology with people who’d studied under JRRT. But right in the middle of that Robert Jordan novel, it was as if I realized I was no longer in love with someone. I drifted into Pynchon and Vollmann,

    I still love Stanislaw Lem and a few of the cleverer oddballs from the scifi genre. Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast still holds water and I re-read it every few years. I continued to read some cyberpunk but anything with a knight or a castle or a wizard stank of deus ex machina and Twizzlers. All those faux Tolkien wannabes and the pawky homiletics of Sci-Fi drove me away. I’m still in mourning, for once I loved the genres and I know I’m being unfair. But they’ve become like country music and hip-hop, inward looking genres grown stale and clichéd.

    I dunno. Where do I restart? Any suggestions?Report

    • Plinko in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I’ve felt the same way at times. I highly recommend Ian M. Banks for science fiction. I have never been much of one for fantasy for the same reasons you detail. GRRM is the first thing in a long time I thought was worth reading.Report

    • Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

      For me, I think it happened earlier in life, right around the transition from high school to college. I suddenly realized that I was interested in people that had interesting things to say, and most fantasy and sci-fi authors simply don’t.

      But there are a few that do. Banks, suggested above, does. Alastair Reynolds can, from time to time. Cordwainer Smith definitely does, though he’s sort of dead these days. Honestly though, a lot of the more interesting stuff is found in short fiction. I picked up a subscription to Analog last year, and I’m glad I did.

      As far as fantasy though… Martin comes about as close as anyone seems to. I’ve always been more into sci-fi than fantasy, mostly for that reason, I think.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Ryan says:

        I’ll start in on Ian M. Banks then.

        Apropos to nothing, I’ve been writing a longish novel on pre-Islamic Yemen. Islam believes in the jinni, treacherous creatures of the fire and wind who frequently appear in the Qu’ran. It is a love story about a djinn and a human woman, a tragedy which has gotten completely away from me, a novel written as a framework around a series of stories in the style of the Thousand and One Nights. Much of the dialog is Borges-esque backwork from a fictitious early Arabic manuscript. I’m currently encapsulating the internal stories, pencilling them in Arabic, using Husain Haddawy’s translation of Muhsin Mahdi’s Arabic version of the Thousand and One Nights as a guide to this pseudoepigraph. A pedant’s novel, written to be translated into another language by a better scholar of Arabic than myself.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

          In that case, you might also enjoy Tim Powers’s Declare.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Hmm. Interesting. Googlegoogle…. St. John Philby, huh? That is a name I know. A nasty little bigot, trained by Gertrude Bell, who we may thank for the dog’s dinner of the Iraqi borders today. Those Brrritish Arabists, genius linguists but twisted people.

            I’m stepping a lot farther back than the Islamic world, into what Arabic calls Jahiliyyah, the Period of Ignorance. I’m having to construct a proto-Islam, a feature my alpha reader (a Saudi) really enjoys.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Trying to avoid spoilers here. Many of Powers’s novels are “secret histories” that show the occult struggles that are “really” behind the mundane history we read about. Declare does this with the Cold War by showing what Philby and his son Kim were really up to, and the legends of ancient Arabia feature prominently.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Even read any Bujold? I recommend the Vorkosigan series unreservedly.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Jim Butcher. _Storm Front_.

      It reads like bad Raymond Chandler. Or good Raymond Chandler. (It’s difficult to tell the difference between the two.)Report

    • James K in reply to BlaiseP says:

      If Robert Jordan put you off fantasy, then read Brandon Sanderson, he’s Jordan done right. The Mistborn Trilogy will blow your mind.

      For SF, I second the recommend Iain M Banks. Also try John Scalzi. Old Man’s War is basically a more sophisticated non-didactic version of Starship Troopers (and is much better because of it)Report

  12. Daniel says:

    “nothing in my imagination’s vision of the books was really shattered, except perhaps that the most excellent Peter Dinklage is too handsome to be the Imp.”

    That’s exactly what I said but there was a lot of pushback centered around the argument that in the Medieval Period dwarfism itself was considered a type of ugliness but from GRRM’s description Tyrion is both ugly and a dwarf.

    Anyway, yes, Dinklage is just too charming. Even in the pilot it’s too easy to like him. In contrast, as I reread A Game of Thrones, it’s clear that the reader is supposed to learn to like Tyrion. He’s not supposed to be that appealing in any way at first glance. But the difference might be because of the constraints of telling a story in television format.Report

    • James K in reply to Daniel says:

      I haven’t seen the show (it’ll could be years before we get it down here), but I wonder if the difference is that when reading about Tyrion your opinion of him is shaped more by how others treat him, since novels are more dialogue-driven. But in a TV show we can make up our own minds, and we don’t think dwarfism is as grotesque as medieval people did.Report