Late to the Party Reviews: Game of Thrones

Posted: August 10, 2012 in Late to the Party Reviews
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Sorry it has been so long since my last post, things have been busy here trying to get my latest short story ready for a beta read.  In case you’re wondering it has already received the ‘thumbs up’ and edits from the wife, and is soon on its way to a friend, and very good critical beta reader, for final edit suggestions.  Then starts the long, heartbreaking road of trying to get a magazine to like it enough to publish it.  Anyway, onto the show…and book, yes this review is for both.

Game of Thrones on IMDB

I will start with the series, since that is where I started with this little gem.  I had heard of the books years ago, but being human, and with limited time, I have to be extremely choosy when it comes to starting new book series.  I have a lot of books in my library and quite a few series that I’m working on, so I try not to add new ones willy nilly.  Anyway, I had wanted to see this series since it was first announced, but not having HBO I had to wait several grueling months, seeing blurbs on the internet, reviews on TV, and in general listening to people rave about it before it came out on Netflix.  Finally the day came and we got our first disk, and popped it in.

I have to admit, the first episode didn’t grab us right away.  It wasn’t bad, the acting was great, the costuming, sets, props, music, was all great.  The writing was also very good.  There was just something about it that didn’t hook me right away, same with the wife.  I suspect that it was because there was no real introduction to our main protagonist, no lead-up, we were just kind of thrown into a story that seemed to have already been going on for awhile, like stepping into the middle of a movie.  I imagine this was intentional, and backstory would soon be given, it was just a different approach.

So, as we tend to do, if the first episode of a new show isn’t terrible, we watched the next one.  That changed everything.  I’m not sure at what point I forgot that I was watching a show, no idea at what part I was drawn in as thoroughly as if I were reading a book and lost to the world, but it happened.  Episode 2 ended and we both looked at each other and agreed, we would be devouring this series until it was over.

The shows themselves were very good, some of them spectacular.  There is a lot of political intrigue, but thankfully it’s presented in such a way that you can follow along.  At no point did I find myself confused by the story, or wondering what had just happened.  Well, there were some parts where I wondered what had just happened, but it was more disbelief that they had written something into a show, this is definitely not for kids, or adults who are easily offended.  Mr. Martin has presented us with a realistic depiction of a fantasy world, written for adults who don’t burst into flames at the mere mention of breasts, and HBO did a damn good job of translating that world to the small screen.  While many fantasy authors out there felt compelled to write kid friendly books that would be sold outside the ‘young adult’ or ‘children’s’ book categories, Martin unapologetically writes books for his target audience…adult fantasy fans.

Anyway, back to the show.  I think the casting was fantastic.  Sean Bean and Mark Addy, as Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon respectively, were great together.  Robert, the king, and Eddard (Ned), one of the Lords of the land, are old friends who fought together in the war to unseat the previous king.  While they don’t show any of the pair’s past exploits, stories are told, and you do get the feel that these two have known each other for a long time, and were the best of friends.  The acting gems don’t stop there, some great known actors like Peter Dinklage, Lena Heady, and one of my favorites, James Cosmo, head up a cast of great young and unknown actors.  Even the children, some of whom have never acted in anything before, were great.  It’s not often that the children in shows, especially shows like this, are any good at acting.

To top it all off the sets, costumes, and props were top notch.  Too often fantasy shows are given the shaft when it comes to budgets, but that is slowly, and thankfully, changing.  As companies realize that yesterday’s young fantasy fans are today’s adult fantasy fans, they are starting to put more into these shows and movies.  They are starting to get it, that fantasy doesn’t have to be animated cartoons of dragons and unicorns, or stories that are all right to show on PBS after school gets out.  This show is definitely not that, so if you are waiting for it to come out on TV, don’t, at least not regular network TV.  If it did, it would be a sad, gutted, unrecognizable creature that would not be worth watching.  Did I mention they did a great job of translating the books as well?  There were only a couple of spots in the book where I noticed they had changed something major, otherwise it followed along very well.

For the show, I’m putting it up there with my favorites, Battlestar Galactica, Spartacus, Sons of Anarchy, Tudors and Rome.

I decided, after we finished the first season of this on Netflix, that I could, and probably should, work this into my list of books to read.  I did, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I have only read the first one so far, and so far I’m liking it.  As I said above, Martin delivers a decidedly adult fantasy series in a world inundated (now) with young adult, teen, children’s, and young adult masquerading as adult, fantasy books.  The books are deep, gritty, gory, sexual, dark, and well, honestly, realistic.  I know that seems odd to say about a fantasy series, the definition of unrealistic, but it’s true.  Characters act like people from a medieval era, they talk, sing, cuss, fight, and have sex like people from said era.

Also as I said above, the political intrigue is good, and not delivered in such a way that you get lost.  A lot of people try to write political fantasy, or thrillers, but tend to lose you in the complexity, to the point that you really don’t care who did what.  This book has a lot of honorable men and women, as well as outright craven knaves (that’s some medieval speak for ye).  What the book doesn’t give you is heroes.  Sure, there are people talked about like heroes, legends, great figures of history that did great things, but there’s no shining knight with a magical sword, out to save the princess.  That doesn’t mean every character in the book is a grim, cynical anti-hero, being as emo as possible just to express how dark and gritty the world is, it just means the characters are realistic and easy to relate to.  I like heroic fantasy as much as the next guy, don’t get me wrong, but this is a nice change of pace.

Speaking of pace, I was told the books were slow and too long.  While I can only speak for the first one, I can say that is not true of this novel at least.  It is long, that is quite true, but the pacing, to me, was good.  At no point did I lose interest or want to put it down for a different book.  It kept going, at a steady pace, delivering story, plot, drama, and action that kept me reading until I was finished, and excited to read the next book and see season 2.  I think it also helped that each chapter was dedicated to a different character.  Sometimes if you are reading about a character you don’t find particularly interesting, sometimes its hard to suffer through the story when they hold the viewpoint for half the book.  In this case, if one particular character isn’t to your liking, you know that the next chapter won’t be about them and it can make it easier to get through that character’s story.  Just so there’s no confusion, I didn’t feel that in this book at all.  I have before, in other books, but I liked the way every character was written in this book.  We’ll just have to wait and see if the other books can hold my interest like this one, but for the first book of a series, I was quite satisfied.

I would recommend seeing/reading both, but I’m not sure in which order.  There’s not much of that disappointment one gets when a book is turned into a movie, and major plot lines are gutted to save time.  The show did pay close attention to the book, which is good considering how long and complex the story is.  Whichever way you do it, I would recommended doing it close together, I think it will enhance the thrill.  One benefit of watching the show first, I guess, is picturing the characters faces from the show, and hearing their voices.  That adds a whole new level to the book for sure.

High recommended from us at Frags and Beer!

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