So it’s finally here, George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus on the tubes after lengthy gestation. Yes ladies and gentlemen, no more cliche Tolkienesque uppity elves and grumpy dwarves to make us roll our eyes. While not strictly a measure of quality, it helps, unless you’re a certain Sam Raimi adapting a certain fantasy series that should be best left nameless.
I don’t think any spoilers are neccessary for something that is best experienced with a clean slate of mind, assuming the watcher is unfamilar with the literary canon. Suffice it to say that the first episode seems to be as faithful as a television series can get with regard to its original material, and the only reason anyone who has read the books should stay away is to avoid fixing the actors’ images into the character slots whenever they read the books again. I don’t think it’s that big a concern, because most of the casting calls seems well done, even if they’ve understandable discrepancies in terms of appearances. The only role I think is unsuitable is Michelle Fairley as Catelyn. While I’m not too convinced about Kit Harington’s Owen Hargreaves impersonation as Snow, it’s a minor quibble compared to how nailed on others are (such as Daenerys and the Lannisters.) Sean Bean is the biggest name here, and he carries Eddard Stark with the kind of solid, pensive dignity that he projects so easily. Although there isn’t a huge degree of audience hand-holding, watchers should still be able to get the gist of the plot, with all four major houses (the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons and Targaryens) making their appearances.
It’s hard to fault the technical aspects, since this is the most expensive single TV season for a series ever made. Following like for like in the first novel, the scene beyond the Wall is as good an opening for a “realistic” fantasy series as it gets, showing the “out of sight, out of mind” approach to the supernatural elements Martin uses for the books, with nothing allowed to overwhelm the “meat and potatoes” political struggles of Westeros. The bleak beauty of the North Irish countryside is used to great effect in the Winterfell shots, and the use of music is naunced and low-key. What’s most amusing are the visuals for the opening theme, which are artistically novel and smack of sheer nerd appeal to the fanbase. The episode also ends on the best possible cliffhanger, the first of many illustrations that the characters of this show are different from the usual high fantasy treatment, and plot shields are far and few in between. HBO has already renewed the series for a 2nd season, which will hopefully suggest confidence that what happened with Rome when the show was cut short and the plot had to be adjusted with difficulty won’t happen again here.