The very first scenes of Episode 1 of Game of Thrones were a welcome relief to fans of the books, as it was immediately apparent that some actual money had been spent to make it look and feel realistic.
We’re not talking full on epic-battle-scenes-with-war-elephants-and-Nazgul cool, but the Wall looks suitably impressive in passing and everything looks solid and realistic enough.
Winterfell seems a little sparse at first glance but again, not the worst thing in the world, and likely a good example of how a family like the Starks would be living; solidly upper-middle class but not prancing around in ball gowns in a huge sprawling castle with thousands of surfs milling around.
It’s always a little scary to see the casting of characters you’ve come to know well only through words but nothing much to complain about; Ned (Sean Bean) and Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) seem especially good choices, as both have the gravitas and slight world-weariness that plays really well.
Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) makes his grand appearance, almost like a Shakespearean king gone to seed entering from stage left. That’s not the worst comparison for both this and later episodes, as a lot of the dramatic action and best scenes come across almost as a stage play, often with two central characters facing off.
Something about the very sight of Prince Joffrey makes me want to punch him in the face, which I guess is yet another tip of the hat to the casting department.
It won’t be an original HBO series without some gratuitous sex and nudity, which you have to wait at least until the halfway mark of the episode for.
It’s at about the same halfway mark when I felt like the episode and series made its first real misstep, as Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) is just outright terrible, and the first time we get a character with exactly zero depth or complications.
So much of what makes the scenes with Ned and Robert so excellent is what’s not said, and the depths that are lurking beneath; Viserys and Daenerys are very one-dimensional at first glance and not the most inspired choices.
Drogo has the noble savage thing down cold (or I guess the just plain old savage thing) but the Dothraki scenes in general fell pretty flat to me.
I get the budget limitations and having to pick their spots but if he’s commanding 40,000 riders it might be a little more impressive to show more than a dozen of them in the frame at any given time.
Tyrion shows off a skill he’ll continue to display in later episodes: sneakily stealing the spotlight. Understated acting and some of the best lines in nearly every episode serve the Half Man very well.
After nearly falling asleep during the Drogo-Daenerys wedding that drags on way too long with random dry-humping dance floor antics thrown in for no good reason, things pick up a bit at the end.
The cliffhanger ending (well, technically speaking a cliffdropper I suppose) provides a nice point to wrap things up, and manages to set the basic stage of a pretty complicated set of narrative threads in one hour of running time; not too shabby at all.
- Pretty faithful to George RR Martin’s books, visually looks good.
- Production values good, leaning towards realism over fantasy-land CGI and pyrotechnics
- Great casting for the characters of Ned, Catelyn, Robert, Tyrion, and Cersei
- Drogo, Daenerys, and Viserys are cartoonish and one-dimensional in our first look at them.
- Lazy writing/acting at times with characters spouting off what they’d internally think (Ned telling Jamie why he doesn’t fight in tournaments, Catelyn and Ned in bed discussing the whole Hand of the King dilemma, etc.)
- Pentos and the Dothraki almost an afterthought, with only Jorah sparking any real interest and coming across as having any depth.