‘Game of Thrones’ is bloody, bloody good

Courtesy of HBO

SPOILER ALERT!

When watching HBO’s Game of Thrones, there’s never a sense of what will come next. Sure, those avid readers of George R.R. Martin’s books will know the chapter headings of the future, but for the uninitiated, the hour-long drama provides surprise after surprise after surprise. Season one, which was recently released on DVD, shows no mercy for its lead cast. If they receive ample screen time, there’s a good chance they won’t make it until the end.

This lust for carnage never ceases to amaze. It’s almost like Janet Leigh’s short stint in Psycho — how can this beloved character be dead? How can the series continue after so much blood?

The answer to these questions is why Game of Thrones excels so well. The TV series, much like the original source material, is dedicated to the overall story and not any one character. There is no king or khaleesi that can trump the goings-on of Westeros.

The new DVD set features all 10 episodes from the inaugural season, plus helpful bonus features for those audience members who have trouble following all the bloodlines in the show. It can be quite difficult to keep everyone and everything in order, but watching episodes back to back on DVD helps tremendously. When there’s no seven-day break in between segments, it’s much easier to follow the fluidity of the series.

Sean Bean plays Eddard Stark, lord of Winterfell. His wife is Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), and his sons include Robb (Richard Madden), Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and the bastard Jon Snow (Kit Harington). His daughters are Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams). Everything is largely peaceful in their northern kingdom, although there seems to be some worry that a long winter is on the horizon. There’s also rumor that the Whitewalkers have emerged from beyond the wall. It’s still unclear who these mystical creatures are, but most everybody speaks their name with a tremble.

In King’s Landing, you have King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), Eddard’s old war buddy who has now become a fat, lascivious drunkard. His Grace finds himself in a loveless marriage to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), and the two have a wicked son (Joffrey, played by Jack Gleeson), who stands to inherit everything.

Much of the action in Game of Thrones spawns from relationships that sour. First, there’s Cersei and her twin brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who carry on an incestuous relationship. Their brother is Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who is nicknamed the Imp. These three Lannisters are fascinating to watch, but they are conniving, petty characters who know how to spend their father’s fortune and start trouble in Westeros.

After the King’s Hand is found dead (killed?), King Robert asks Eddard to move to King’s Landing and become his new assistant. At first, the lord of Winterfell is reluctant, not wanting to give up his plum life in the northern parts. But who can say no to a king?

When Eddard arrives in the capital, all hell begins to break loose. Immediately, he is at odds with the king’s court, Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen), Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) and Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover). Petyr is the owner of a successful brothel. Varys, a eunuch, is known as the spider, because of his whispering, gossiping ways. Pycelle is the elder statesman, a man eternally beholden to the king.

Across the Narrow Sea are the two heirs of the ousted Targaryen dynasty — Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Viserys (Harry Lloyd). The brother-sister duo team up with Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) and his Dothraki horsemen. Their intention is to cross the Narrow Sea and retake the kingdom.

There are many more characters and plot occurrences, and all of the details can become quite dizzying. It’s best to give oneself over to the series and get lost in the melee. There will be times when you’ll question a person’s relationship to another character, but don’t get caught up in the minutiae. Just learn the large family names and go with the flow.

The season one set features a host of bonus features that will aid avid fans in their hysteria for Westeros. There are featurettes on the making of the series, how the show’s creators adapted the book for the screen, a look into each character’s life and a nice examination of The Night’s Watch, a troupe of men who watch a northern boundary of Westeros.

Watching season one of Game of Thrones not only gives you an appreciation for the rich complexity of the story, but it also amps you up for season two’s premiere, which will take place Sunday, April 1 at 9 p.m. on HBO.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Game of Thrones

  • HBO

  • Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

  • Based on the books by George R.R. Martin

  • Season one running time: 600 minutes

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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