Welcome to For Your Consideration, a new column at Hollywood.com that turns a spotlight to non-big screen media that should be of interest to any film fan, be it a TV show, a video game, a book or any other inherently cinematic bit of awesomeness.
It’s hard to think of a better first entry for For Your Consideration than Game of Thrones, HBO’s new fantasy series that begins airing this coming Sunday, April 17. It’s got everything this column seeks to shine a light on: easily recognizable actors and actresses from film, film writers and directors, and an incredibly rich source material that any movie would be lucky to call its own. The thing is, no movie could claim Games of Thrones’ story as its own since it’d be an impossible task to confine it all into a single film (or even a trilogy), which is why it’s perfectly suited as a 10-episode series on HBO. So let’s dive into who made it, who is in it, what’s it about and why you should go out of your way to see it.
Who Made It: A Game of Thrones is actually the first book in an ongoing fantasy series (the fifth book will be published this July) called A Song of Ice and Fire. The series’ author, George R.R. Martin, actually comes from a background in television, having written for the likes of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Beauty and the Beast. Back in the early 90s he grew tired of having to write stories that would be constrained by TV budgets, and so he turned his crosshairs to books, a medium where one’s imagination has an unlimited budget. 1996 saw the first publication of A Game of Thrones and now, some 15 years later, 2011 sees the TV show adaptation of a story that was once considered impossible to ever put on the small (or big) screen.
As for who created the TV show, those duties lay with David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the latter of whom is new to film and television, but Benioff has been in the industry for nearly a decade, having written Troy (yay?), The 25th Hour (Yay!), and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Boo!). But don’t let the series’ creators ties to Wolverine dissuade you; Game of Thrones is not some cash-in greenlit by Fox and rushed through production. It’s been years in the works. Plus, HBO rightly saw fit to bring on George R.R. Martin as an executive producer, constantly seeking his advice and even asking him to write several of the episodes.
Who’s In It: Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings), Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent), Lena Heady (300), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Kingdom of Heaven), Mark Addy (Robin Hood), Jason Momoa (the upcoming Conan the Barbarian remake) and approximately over 9,000 other people.
What’s It About: A Game of Thrones is a story about the ancient kingdom of Westeros and the political struggle between its major families to take control of the Iron Throne, the King’s seat forged out of the swords of the enemies killed to obtain it. Yes, I said political struggle. This isn’t orcs and wyverns versus humans and elves; this is man versus man stabbing each other in the back in order to take power.
There are hints and flareups of the supernatural in the story, but they’re established early and then mainly used as an ongoing threat. There is a giant, man-made wall of ice to the North of Westeros that was built to keep out all manner of inhuman beasties, and there is a family to the South that threatens to cross the sea and retake its lost throne using all of the might of the (now extinct) dragons their ancestors once controlled. But overall this is a very grounded story that takes place in a fantastical setting.
Why You Should Watch It: Simply put, I have never encountered a fantasy series better than A Game of Thrones. It may not have all of the crazy creatures and races found in Azeroth or Middle Earth, but its story is absolutely riveting. It’s dense and complicated with a myriad of interesting characters that you fall in love with and Martin tells it all in a very matter-of-fact way. And even though he once thought it would be impossible to adapt for TV just because of budget, the source material is actually a perfect marriage for the medium since Martin’s background in TV gives all of the chapters a very episodic feel, complete with twists, cliffhangers and surprise revelations that will keep people tuning in week after week.
If you’re worried that it’ll be like other fantasy series in recent years, don’t. A Game of Thrones is nothing like Legend of the Seeker (adapted from the Sword of Truth series) or Merlin. It’s got a dead serious tone to it and Martin isn’t afraid to not only endanger his characters, but to outright chop their heads off if it’s in service of his story. Hell, I can’t even think of the last time I was so engaged by a story that I was completely heartbroken by what happens to some of its characters. Martin is a ruthless writer and it’s going to make for addicting television, I guarantee it.
Basically, if you’re the kind of person that thinks too many TV shows dumb down their material so its accessible to the lowest common denominator, then A Game of Thrones is for you. This is a dark and dense story that is expertly told. Having seen the first two episodes and having spoken at length with a good friend who has seen all of them (and who hadn’t read a single page of the books), I’m confident, and relieved, to report that it is an incredibly faithful adaptation. That may actually be a problem for some at first, since it takes no breathers to explain who people are or what they’re doing, but considering someone who hasn’t read the books went crazy about the series, I think it’s safe to say that Game of Thrones is going to be the next Deadwood, Sopranos, Rome or The Wire— smart TV that people will still be talking about years after its done airing.