|'if it reads like a tick list of fantasy elements then, in a way, it is, but here they feel presented with new vigour and the unmistakable sheen of HBO's production values'|
As Season Two starts its run on Sky Atlantic, Game Of Thrones will be trying to consolidate its position as the pre-eminent example of something we've arguably never seen on TV before; a fantasy-epic, with the scale, budget, sets and characters to match its big screen counterparts.
Tempting though it is to lob the HBO production in with cinema fantasies, Game Of Thrones is really its own sort of beast. I don't remember there being any breasts in Lord Of The Rings, for example, certainly there was much less than the amount of cleavage on display here, ditto the blood. Avatar and others are much more Science-Fictiony than Fantasy. One off examples, including things like Beowulf or Stardust haven't shown a longevity of story to warrant a franchise, which this clearly does. The mass-market appeal of Pirates Of The Caribbean is a world away. No, Game Of Thrones is all on its own, filling a gap hitherto only populated by books, such as those by George R.R. Martin, upon which the series is based.
And what a gap it is. From the off, Game Of Thrones is dangerous; a mix of the supernatural (the little-seen White Walkers), the oft over-the-top adult (aforementioned blood and nudity), densely plotted, in a world that needs the stunning, map-based, opening credits to be shown each time, lest your forget where exactly you are. There's different languages, a North vs South battle that should have every Englishman smiling, hints of dragons, an ice-world and much more. If it reads like a tick list of fantasy elements then, in a way, it is, but here they feel presented with new vigour and the unmistakable sheen of HBO's production values.
Much of the feeling of vigour comes from the characters and players, who are near uniformly excellent, deep and unpredictable. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is arguably the comedic highlight, the easiest character to warm to, but how good is he? He's the member of a Household set up as the villains, introduced to us in a prostitute's bed, clearly shown as something of a coward; more likely to buy his way out of trouble than anything else. It's a depth of character repeated throughout. Quite how you're meant to feel about ultimate ambiguous duo, advisers Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) - who share the series' best dialogue in Episode 5 (The Wolf and the Lion) - is anyone's guess, although, by the end, your sympathies might be more defined.
There are some weaknesses to watch out for, but nothing noticeable enough to steal away the unashamed enjoyment the series promotes. Episodes Three (Lord Snow) and Four (Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things) form something of a lull after the strong opening the first two present. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is a hugely interesting character but spends most of the narrative doing very little, presumably all set up for her development in Series 2. Jon Snow (Kit Harington), another interesting individual, disappears completely for a two-episode stretch. There's also something of a problem with the Dire Wolves, who rather turn up whenever the narrative needs a shove or an arm bitten off and then disappear.
Aside from this though there's very little wrong here, and that's ignoring the fact that, not withstanding the finished product, the whole endeavour is brave and epic in its very inception. Nobody gambles quite like HBO and this was, make no doubt about it, a big gamble. In any game though, the bigger the stake, the bigger the reward. This should be a huge success for numerous seasons to come.
'this dark, gritty and grim series has something for everyone' - Geeky Girls Love Sci-Fi, 5/5