If you’re at all familiar with George R. R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire novels, you’re probably already destined to watch HBO’s massively ambitious adaptation Game of Thrones when it premieres Sunday night. If you’re down for badass epic fantasy in any way, you’ve probably already got your calendar marked and your TiVo programmed so you can watch the premiere over and over.
But if you’re still on the fence, or you’re considering that HBO subscription, or you’re just not sure what’s going on with this show, we’ve got you covered. First, take a look at my review of the premiere episode, “Winter is Coming,” then take a look at this list of 10 reasons why you’re guaranteed to love this show.
THE OPENING TITLES
Best to start at the beginning. The opening titles sequence of Game of Thrones is like nothing else on television. Designed by HBO veteran Angus Wall and his team at a52, who also worked on Deadwood, Carnivale and Rome, the titles are a visual representation of the dark machinations that will take place throughout the series, an allegorical pulling back of the curtain so you can literally see the machinery. It’s impressive, but even more impressive is the main theme, a thrilling, pounding composition by Ramin Djawadi. Between the lush design and the absolutely exhilarating music, it’s a sequence bound to get you in the mood for the hard, sweeping world you’re about to encounter.
From the opening moments at the foot of the giant wall of ice in the north, to the gloomy confines of Winterfell to the warm expanse of King’s Landing, the locations in the land of Westeros feel as lived-in as anything HBO could have found on location, both inside and out. The halls of Winterfell, the rooms, the walls, are dark and cold and hard as winter, while King’s Landing feels open and bright in green, in contrast to its often malicious residents. If the sets didn’t work, the series wouldn’t work, and lucky for all of us, the sets are a near perfect vision of Martin’s world.
It would’ve been easy for the costumers on this show to just drape the actors in flowing medieval-looking cloth and a bunch of shiny armor and call it high fantasy ware. It would’ve been frighteningly easy, and we know tons of shows have gone that route before. But just like the sets, the costumes of Game of Thrones, even the more elaborate, rich ones, just seem lived in. The armor, the gowns, the crowns, even the little touches like the badge of the hand of the king, look like they existed for ages before we saw them, and we’re just getting a glimpse at this phase of their existence.
If you’ve read Martin’s books, you know that they’re full of intelligent, often deliciously venomous quipping between characters, as well as moments of deeply moving personal expression. Executive Producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who wrote all of the 10 episodes in the first season, took great pains to preserve this tone, and often simply lifted lines directly from Martin himself. The character development between the series and the books is altered somewhat, often simply to improve the pacing for television, but the dialogue, the way the characters’ tongues define them, is still intact, and even if you’ve never read the books, you’ll hear the difference.
All that great dialogue and storytelling doesn’t work without a group of awesome actors to pull it all together, and the cast of Game of Thrones is probably among the best ever assembled on television. That’s not an exaggeration. Apart from Sean Bean, who stars as Eddard Stark, you might never have heard of any of the other stars of the series, and even though you might recognize others when you see them, you likely won’t acknowledge them as famous. But in a way, that’s the perfect feeling to have going in to Game of Thrones. The people seem familiar (moreso if you’ve read the novels), but you still have a chance to get to know them, and they seem to inhabit the roles they’re playing, leaving little chance that you’ll see them as actors rather than characters.
In the world of Martin’s story, swords carry an almost talismanic power. They’re symbols of families, of great deeds, of legacy. This doesn’t come up in any literal sense in Game of Thrones, but the awesome presence of the swords themselves, particularly when things start to get bloody, is enough. And if the complexity of that doesn’t grab you, you can just sit back and focus on how awesome they look as they’re cutting stuff.
Any discussion among Song of Ice and Fire fans over who the best character in the saga is will definitely include a mention of Tyrion “The Imp” Lannister, the vastly intelligent, endlessly snarky dwarf who loves dirty jokes and whores as much as he loves scholarly texts. The casting of his character was watched just as closely as the casting of Eddard Stark, and many nerds rejoiced when Peter Dinklage landed the role. He doesn’t disappoint. He carries the perfect blend of sensitivity, sarcasm, viciousness, humor and resourcefulness, whether he’s confessing his crimes or explaining the purpose of his endless reading. Dinklage might be the best part of this show’s wonderful cast.
SEXY FUN TIMES
What HBO show would be complete without a little full-frontal nudity? Game of Thrones doesn’t disappoint on that score (and a good thing too, because a lot of what’s going on otherwise can get pretty grim), bringing you plenty of marriage beds and brothels to sate your need for premium cable goodies. If that sounds shallow, it’s because it is, but the sex and nudity also serves another purpose: to remind us that (finally) we’re watching a full-blown epic fantasy series for grown-ups.
He’s the most recognizable name in the cast, the guy on the poster, the selling point for many viewers who’ve never heard of the books and the force that must carry the launch of this series. Through all of that, Sean Bean proves he’s not just a gifted actor, but a full-blown star. Once you’ve seen his performance as Eddard Stark, all thought of him as “that guy from Lord of the Rings who isn’t Viggo Mortensen” goes out the window. He was dream casting from the start, and his work here is a dream given form.
VIOLENCE, VIOLENCE AND MORE VIOLENCE
Ask any fan of Martin’s books why they keep reading, and at some point they’re bound to mention A Song of Ice and Fire‘s unflinching brutality. It’s the main reason this show could never have happened anywhere but HBO, and Benioff and Weiss make certain to pull no punches. From the first gruesome sequence to the point when a knight beheads his own horse (not kidding), Game of Thrones doesn’t ever look away from the moments of violence that permeate its medieval setting. Once again, it’s a reminder that we’re watching a mature vision of the fantasy genre, and it might seem gimmicky, but for fans of these stories it’s proof of their impact.
Game of Thrones premieres Sunday night on HBO. If you’re not sold yet, something is likely wrong with you. Get help.