TV Review: Game of Thrones, S01E01 – Winter is Coming

Show: Game of Thrones
S01E01 - DanyChannel: HBO
Episode: S01E01 – Winter is Coming
Original Air Date: 17 April 2011

I figured, while I’m waiting to acquire Episode 2 in a completely legitimate and not at all suspicious fashion, I would take the time to pen my thoughts about last week’s Episode 1. This review will be filled with spoilers, both for the book and the tv show. Consider yourself forewarned.

The first twenty minutes of this actually didn’t have much new — the first fourteen minutes had nothing at all new, in fact, if you watched the earlier preview, and even the bit following that we’d seen much of before. HBO threw a lot of Winterfell action at us early on — but that’s okay, because it’s so darn good. The opening is creepy as all hell, and I suspect some viewers will be wondering if they’re watching a fantasy series or a paranormal horror flick. Just when you thought the Others couldn’t get any scarier, HBO makes one of them a little girl. Thanks a lot, guys, I didn’t need to sleep or anything.

The opening credits sequence is awesome and I sort of want to live inside it.

The direwolf puppies are incredibly precious, but — and here’s the first “They changed it!” whine you’ll get from me — I wish Jon had gotten his line about the albino pup being his, rather than Theon making it a condemnation. I wanted to see Jon’s possessiveness over Ghost. It changes something to have it be someone else’s proclamation. I was definitely wanting them to show the wolves just around some more, too. Except for Bran’s (as-yet-unnamed Summer), we don’t really see any of them in attendance with their Stark counterparts.

The story really starts to open up with the Lannisters et al arrive. Mark Addy is perfect as Robert Baratheon, who I’ve always envisioned as a Henry VIII analog. I’m uncomfortably attracted to Jaime Lannister, and I really enjoy Lena Headey as Cersei. I know some have expressed their reservations about her, but I think she’s great. Cersei is a stone-cold bitch. We don’t see the crazy start to come out in full force until much later in the books — here at the beginning, she’s an ice queen with a heart of steel. And Lena’s portraying that really well. And then there’s Tyrion, who hasn’t actually had all that much to do yet, but who still steals scenes. Peter Dinklage is, as everyone suspected, perfect, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.

Now, this could be the downside of being so familiar with the books, but I really felt like they went light on the backstory. It seems like they skimped on things that those of us who have read the books all know, but they didn’t really explicate that much for new viewers — So if you’re new to the series, what you get is this: We know that Robert killed someone for something to do with Ned’s sister (did they even say her name? I know they didn’t say Rhaegar’s, because I was waiting to hear it pronounced) and still dreams about it and is clearly super-upset, but we don’t really know why. We know that Ned’s gone to war for Robert more than once. Theon isn’t explained at all, he’s just kind’a… there. Did they even mention that Jaime is the Kingslayer? Or mention the Kingsguard and its attendant vows?

I mean, obviously, this sort of complex backstory is super-hard to fit in without it being all exposition city, and that would be as much of an error and probably a more fatal one for the show — I’m just vaguely worried a lot of it might get glossed or left out completely. And it’s not like the backstory is unimportant — it’s really the underpinning for everything. A lot of the dynamics, the family relationships, the old rivalries, those are all hard to understand if you don’t know why they came about. But maybe they’ll seed it all as they go along in future episodes.

Alternatively, this could be me being too sensitive thanks to how much I heart Lyanna.

They are setting up the Stark-Lannister rivalry really well, though. I enjoyed just feeling the awkwardness with Cersei and Catelyn, while Robert’s doing something inappropriate or when they’re talking to Sansa. I think I was also unnecessarily entertained by Robb’s reaction to Sansa making eyes at Joffrey. Sansa comes off as such a spoiled brat in this first episode, and I wonder if they’re going to make it any easier to like her as the series goes on. I am not a fan of Sansa’s in the books, but I was thinking the series might make her more appealing — instead, I feel like sympathies are definitely weighted toward Arya. I’m sort of okay with that, though, because Maisie Williams might be the best thing happening on that screen. She’s such a delight to watch.

A lot of folk have been sort of hard on Daenerys in this first episode, but I think Emilia Clarke is doing a great job — she’s conveying something that it’s really, really hard to get across when you don’t have the benefit of an internal monologue, that sense of taking yourself away from the present because too much about it is too difficult to handle. Dany doesn’t have confidantes in these early parts of her story. There’s no one for her to talk to, no one that she can spill her inner thoughts to for the benefit of an audience. So we have to get all of that from implication, and it’s tough. I think it’s going to pay off, though — I think all of her passivity and blankness in this first episode is going to explode into action later on, and that will allow the TV medium to show her transformation really effectively. I also enjoyed Harry Lloyd’s performance as Viserys — I knew he’d be great for it after having seen him in Doctor Who. He hits the perfect notes of inappropriate, entitled, angry, and pathetic, all mixed together.

And then the last scene — It’s another place I feel like there was stuff left out that should’ve been there, because what Jaime and Cersei say is as important as the fact that they’re screwing. Bran doesn’t know what he’s hearing, of course, but it provides so much for the audience about what the Lannisters are up to, just how deep their treason goes. “The things I do for love” was just perfect, though — so casual, with just a touch of loathing, and such a brutal, undramatic shove. Great ending to the episode — and I can only imagine what viewers new to the series thought about it.

So! I’m excited to keep watching. I can’t really make a full judgment on the series yet, and I do feel like the first twenty minutes or so sort of dragged, but there’s enough good stuff there that I’m eagerly awaiting E02.

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