Future classic or oversexed Tolkien knock-off? Reviewer Kieran Mathers introduces George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Make sure you check out his episode-by-episode reviews of the HBO television series! (Links at the foot of this article).
Game of Thrones is the new, heavily hyped fantasy TV series from HBO. It reportedly has a $100 million budget and features a range of well known movie stars, including Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings, Goldeneye), Peter Dinklage (Willow) and Lena Headey (300). A critical and ratings success, it has already been renewed for a second season.
Game of Thrones has been adapted from the fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, written by George R.R. Martin. The show takes its title from the first book, A Game of Thrones, which was released in 1997. The story continues in the subsequent volumes; A Clash of Kings (2002), A Storm of Swords (2003), A Feast for Crows (2007) and the latest volume A Dance of Dragons (2011). To say that this latest volume has been eagerly awaited by fans of the series would be an understatement.
Game of Thrones takes place in the land of Westeros, which has enjoyed 17 years of peace since the deposition and murder of the last of the ruling Targaryen dynasty. King Robert Baratheon, sometimes known as the ‘Usurper’, now sits upon the throne, supported by his loyal ‘Hand’ John Arryn, a senior advisor and councillor.
Far to the north, in the great castle of Winterfell, lives the Stark Family. Faithful supporters of King Robert, they are the focus of the action. Lord Eddard Stark and Lady Cateyln have five children – Robb, the eldest, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon – as well as Jon Snow, Eddard’s bastard son who has been taken into the household. Winterfell is also home to Theon, a hostage from another noble family who revolted a decade previously.
Meanwhile, the Lannisters, the richest and most ambitious family in Westeros, seek to influence King Robert against the Starks by exploiting his marriage to Cersei Lannister. Cersei is supported by her brother Jaime, a famous knight known as ‘The Kingslayer.’
Finally, across the sea in a city called Pentos, the final survivors of House Targaryan plot to raise an army to re-invade Westeros and return it to their ‘rightful’ control.
North of Winterfell is the Wall, a barrier of ice seven hundred feet high and stretching from coast to coast. It was raised thousands of years in the past to prevent an invasion by sinister beings known as ‘the Others’ or the ‘White Walkers’ and is garrisoned by the Night’s Watch, a volunteer brotherhood of warriors. But there has been no sign of the enemy for years and the Night’s Watch has fallen into decline. But mysterious events are afoot in the frozen wastes beyond the wall and it seems the Watch may be called into a conflict it is ill-equipped to fight…
Martin’s background as a medieval historian is revealed by the sheer breadth and scale of this series. Westeros is a fully realised world, and is intensely political with characters who scheme, betray and murder each other in pursuit of the power they covet. The sheer complexity of the plot – a dynastic conflict on the scale of the War of the Roses – blends seamlessly with the high-fantasy ingredients of magic and mystery.
Martin has also created one of the great literary characters of our decade; Tyrion Lannister. A hideous, hunchbacked dwarf, Tyrion is a remarkable creation, in equal parts witty, deeply clever, devious, monstrous and sympathetic. Despite being one of the nominal ‘bad guys’, he is brilliantly characterised throughout. The story asks us to look beyond the monster and see the hopes and dreams, loves and losses of a character like any other.
The writing is always powerful and the story is gripping. Martin does not hold back on the details, and his world is viscerally real in all its sex, blood and toil. Through this brutality of story and characterisation, Martin avoids most of the pit-falls of high fantasy and delivers what is regarded as the greatest ‘deconstruction’ of the genre. Many well-loved characters die, and it is all to the stories’ strengths. These novels are the work of a hugely confident writer and are future classics not just of fantasy, but of the canon of English literature.
So, does the Game of Thrones TV series live up to the book? Check out Kieran’s weekly assessments and find out:
Episode 9: ‘Baelor’ (Coming soon)
Episode 10: ‘Fire and Blood’ (Coming soon)