Thursday, 9 April 2015

TBT - 'Winter is Coming': Game of Thrones Season 1 Episode 1

I'm pretty fucking excited: not only is the new season of Game of Thrones only a matter of days away, George RR Martin released another sneak peak of his next book, The Winds of Winter. Yes, it was a Sansa chapter but it just so happened to be an awesome Sansa chapter. I can't for Martin to finish the next book but realise that it'll take him a bit of time. I appreciate the magnitude of the task he is undertaking and would much prefer him to take his time to create a wonderful next novel instead of rushing some second-rate piece of shit. However, I'm hardly known to be the most patient person on the planet so whilst I wait, and in time for the start of Season 5, I decided to rewatch season 1 again. Turns out, it's still fucking great.

The opening of Episode 1 of season 1, Winter is Coming, is a massive fucking tease. It opens so fantastically with the introduction of the White Walkers and then leaves them to one side until the end of the next fucking season. You get yourself worked up about this new fantasy zombie show but it turns into House of Cards meets Lord of the Rings.

There's nothing wrong with this, of course, it's just the fact that when you build something up to that degree your audience will have certain expectations. It's exactly the same frustrating situation that you've got with Daenerys in the books: you patiently wait for Dragons to invade King's Landing and burn the self-satisfied look of Cerys face but she just keeps getting distracted by her fucking white guilt.

Anyway, as an opening to a TV show, Winter is Coming has to be up there with the greatest. Like the pilot episode of Lost, the first episode of the adaptation of George RR Martin's epic, showed an insane amount of potential. It also followed the books very faithfully. HBO did a, quite frankly, amazing job of adapting a potentially confusing set of books.

Of course, this comes with a bit of a price: there is a lot of clunky bits of exposition within the script that feel unnatural. In order to explain the world without relying on a Peter Jackson style prologue, the society and history of Westeros is awkwardly explained through conversations between the main characters. Of all the sins a fledgling TV show could commit, this isn't nearly the worst. After all, there is a lot to try and get across about what kind of world you are watching.

Looking back now, episode 1 feels kind of boring: again this is mostly because it had a lot of explaining to do and introductions to make. Really, after the epic opening, it's a bit of a low burner. I found it difficult to keep my attention on this most recent viewing. I'm not trying to say that the show is bad but the first book only really got interesting later on. I mean the Dothraki wedding may have seemed intense once upon a time but, since the fucking horror of the Red Wedding, it looks like a pretty tame affair. It also makes me hate Drogo/Daenerys again: how came something so good come from something so initially rapey?

Those watching now and not in 2011 will no doubt notice the increased budget and improved aesthetic value of the recent seasons. However, season 1 is still beautifully realised and contains some pretty impressive special effects. The land of Westeros is brought to life in breathtaking detail and the styling ensures that you are always clear about which location you are in. Rather than feeling like complete and utter fantasy, the Westeros brought to you by HBO feels realistic and natural: as though you're watching something from our distant past but with more dragons.

Game of Thrones had almost limitless help from Martin's detailed novels to create such an expansive world and it helped to create some of the most memorable opening credits in television history. I still get fucking chills whenever I see the animation on screen at the start of each episode. A worthy award winner I think.

Of course, all of these fancy visual treats would have been nothing without a wonderful cast. There are some great and rounded characters within Martin's world and it required a lot of talent to bring them to life. Thankfully, HBO have managed to secure one of the top casts imaginable. Series 1 brings together some of the best British talent with energetic up-and-coming young actors. The Game of Thrones cast is only improving as time goes on and, despite my misgivings about the series as a whole, season 4 had one of the best casts ever.

The ensemble is great as a whole but from episode 1 there were already some major stand-outs. Most notably were: Mark Addy as the drunken and lusty King Robert; Sean Bean as the loyal and lovable Ned Stark; Lena Heady as the vicious Queen Cersei; and Peter Dinklage who has clearly been having the time of his life playing Tyrion Lannister. It's a cast that showed fucking huge potential even whilst the show was still finding its feet.

Winter is Coming raced its audience through the first few chapters of George RR Martin's first novel but it did so in a way that didn't feel rushed or confusing. It ignored things that really weren't needed and made certain aspects of the books seem clearer. It did what it needed to do and, as we have seen since, cemented the show as another of HBO's classics.

The first episode of the series not only satisfied fans of Martin's original work but opened up this sexy, bloody new world to a whole army of fans. It may have caused Martin a great deal of grief in relation to his lengthy writing time but it's been worth it for the fans.  

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