It’s hard to describe the phenomenon that is HBO’s Game of Thrones, because anyone who’s got his or her finger on the pulse of American pop-culture knows that fantasy isn’t exactly mainstream. With the exception of The Lord of the Rings, I can’t think of a property in the genre with a fan base as dedicated, enthusiastic and sizable as those who have helped make George R. R. Martin’s sprawling saga a multimedia sensation. The fact of the matter is that there’s nothing else on television like it, and even though it was initially considered an underdog on a channel that boasted broader hits in 2011 like Boardwalk Empire and Entourage, it has become one of (if not the) prized gem in HBO’s stable. Aside from being a favorite of viewers thanks to its conniving characters, layered, conspiratorial plot and colossal scope, it’s also a critical darling. Already recognized by the Emmys for Best Drama Series, Supporting Actor, Writing and Directing, the epic series is now up for a Golden Globe for Best Drama, and I believe that it’s good enough to take the cake for a plethora of reasons.
From a production standpoint, every element of filmmaking is masterfully executed by a pack of the small-screen’s best directors, including Emmy winners Alan Taylor and Tim Van Patten, to authentically create the world of Westeros. We’ve seen major advancements in technical achievements on the tube in the past year (Terra Nova’s CG comes to mind, as does The Walking Dead’s killer make-up design), but Game of Thrones harmonizes them in a unique way, making all of the show’s visuals appear completely natural and consistent – not an easy task when your fictional universe includes breathtaking castles and fortresses, the undead and dragons. Whether your specific taste is for costume and production design or visual and special effects, the show has championed them all, resulting in one of the most aesthetically pleasing programs on TV.
But its quality is not limited to behind-the-scenes wizardry. As with any TV series, the cast is incredibly important to its success, and Game of Thrones sports of the most electrifying ensembles I’ve seen all year. Peter Dinklage has acquired the majority of the kudos thus far (his Emmy win for Supporting Actor is evidence of that), but if it wasn’t for the dramatic might of Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Michelle Fairley, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke and others there would be no Westeros. Period. They’ve all exhibited a strong commitment to their roles – particularly Clarke, who has bared all through almost all of the inaugural season – and constantly surprised audiences each week as they exposed new fascinating virtues and flaws.
On top of all that, Game of Thrones is blessed with some truly inspiring writing; no surprise considering Martin himself is an executive producer. Along with series co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the trio has continuously concocted poetic prose that explores the politics, genealogy and secrets of the seven kingdoms and draws viewers deeper into its narrative. Episodic writing is crucial to a show’s staying power, especially with a franchise as dense with mythology as this one. The inclusion of too many details could alienate casual audiences unfamiliar with the source material, but excluding important plot points to cater to those people would be blasphemous to the “Song of Fire and Ice” loyalists. The genius of the show’s writers lies in their skill of balancing the needs of two very disparate audiences while staying true to the novels. They’ve accomplished this task with grace and honor, and have pleased many entertainment junkies and pundits along the way.
The new season of Game of Thrones will begin on April 15, but before it returns I have high hopes that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will present the first with the award that it so obviously deserves.