Over the past few weeks, I’ve said a few times that I wasn’t going to review Game of Thrones, at least not the first few episodes. And for the most part, that’s still true. This post on the first episode, “Winter is Coming,” will probably be the only one on the series for a bit as I still get my feet wet into this vast, compelling world. And really, I’m not sure how long or how interesting this post will be because I’ll probably just ramble for a little bit about how this episode hit me as someone who has never read a single page of the books and only heard about them for the first time when HBO announced they were going forward with this series. I also don’t really care about the “fantasy” genre, with my only real interactions with it being The Lord of The Rings films (which I do love). There’s obviously been A LOT of discussion about Thrones, both because it’s a massive project on HBO and because it has a supremely loud and rabid fan-base, and at this point, I’m just a little bit worn out by it all. But now that the episodes are actually here, I think I can let all of that pre-air nonsense go away and just talk about the series and its first episode, all on their own.
Which is great, because “Winter is Coming” is a very good introductory salvo for what should be an even better series. There’s been a lot of talk about how confusing the narrative is and the sheer amount of characters, but thanks to a few helpful pieces, I had absolutely no trouble recognizing who everyone was and what their initial place in this story is. Even with that background reading, I expected this to be wholly confusing and impossible to follow, but it really wasn’t. I was able to follow this opening episode more than I was the Boardwalk Empire, Wire or even Treme pilots. There’s obviously a lot going on here with the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens, but this opener is well-paced and informative without being too jam-packed with unnecessary information. We don’t particularly learn a lot about the character themselves in this first hour, but as someone who was fully unaware of them and the world beforehand, it was nice to get the basic information down before presumably future episodes jump faster into plot developments.
I think a lot of that comes from the fact that despite the fact that this is a fantasy series set in a past alternate universe where magic may have existed and dragon eggs are a thing, this is a story about people and their jockeying for position. There are most certainly other things going on and I’m sure that will only expand as the season and the series moves forward, but no matter the costumes or the setting or the genre, it’s still really easy to recognize a story about power, control, greed and politics. That doesn’t make Thrones less original or anything of that nature, it just means that it will be more appealing and digestible than some of the obvious markers say it will be.
Along with that, I found many of the performances here to be very, very good. Sean Bean is obviously going to fantastic in his role as Ned, but everyone else introduced in this episode is totally believable and natural in their roles. Mark Addy’s work as the gregarious, but maybe suspicious king completely removes the muddled image of Still Standing from my mind, Peter Dinklage is both humorous and sympathetic and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is tremendously charming and bright as the prince Lannister. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Emilia Clarke’s performance and although she doesn’t get a whole lot to do in this one but be naked, cry and get raped, I can see where people who have seen more episodes are coming from. She’s emotive without overdoing it and there’s a confusing innocence to her character that’s both appealing and sort of tragic as well. I was also really impressed with the performances of some of the younger cast. I imagine that they will only become more important as the series moves along, so it’s relieving that we won’t have to worry about a future major character being played by someone who cannot handle it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this series appears to be more like True Blood in that it’s super-addictive. Not only was this first episode easily to comprehend, but it immediately made me want to watch more of it. I’m confident that Game of Thrones won’t devolve into madness like True Blood so quickly did, but I was a bit surprised at how easily this world and these characters hooked me in. The use of a cliffhanger certainly plays into that, but it’s also the characters, the world, everything. While I was watching this I didn’t feel as confused or slightly bored like I was with the opening episodes of Boardwalk or The Wire. This is a more obviously entertaining series, which I think will help people get over the sheer mass of characters and scope of the world.
Like I said, I don’t know how often I’ll be writing about Game of Thrones and the words in this post aren’t particularly analytical or impressive. But I do think it’s worthwhile to get an opinion or two from people who haven’t read the books and so I hope I helped add to that side of the conversation. This is a very good introductory episode and I’m most certainly ready for more Game of Thrones, and that’s all you really need to know at this point.