Winter Has Come - Winter Week


By Timothy Dillon

HBO is not TV. Their popular ad slogan has become less of a marketing scheme and more of a standard. Consistently HBO has produced some of the best original content in addition to hosting numerous other hits, classics, and quality cinema. I don’t tell people that I watch TV. I tell them that I watch HBO.

Game of Thrones, the HBO instant cult classic, has taken fans by storm. Based on the bestselling book series A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin, this show takes place in an alternate world riddled with mystery, magic, and royal drama. The showrunners and executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss began production with HBO in 2007, three years before airing. To create this world, Benioff and Weiss have taken viewers to some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet to instill the sense of realism and grit needed when producing truly captivating fantasy. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, being shot almost exclusively in New Zealand set the precedent. If you are going to have a fantasy world, let the viewer explore that world. No show has come close to the quality that Game of Thrones brings to the screen with their hyper vigilant attention to detail and excellent production value. So, for the fan that is not familiar or the viewer who remains unconvinced, what is it exactly that makes fans and critics so crazed for the series?

~SPOILERS~ (Season 1 and 2)

The Opening

Whomever developed the Game of Thrones title sequence is a genius. Scored by Ramin Djawadi, the animated sequence depicts an aerial view of Westeros and Essos, the two mythical continents of this alternate world. As we descend into this fictional world we watch as the buildings protrude and construct themselves. The world itself is created in just two short minutes. Over the course of the opening sequence we are whisked between one castle of Westeros to the far reaches of the north and the massive wall that divides the continent. Every time you tune in to Game of Thrones we are letting them create the context for the next hour of viewing. Either directly or subliminally, this world is manifest in all its little idiosyncrasies and details and we are left knowing we are in a world that is not our own. Once prepared for this we can more readily accept the dramas that drive the show.

In part, this is what also makes the “magic” of the show, forgettable. Once we have established this world with different laws of nature and science it is important to recognize what causes great changes. Dragons, “white walkers”, and magic all are catalysts rather than major characters. Unlike some fantasy stories where magic drives the plot, Game of Thrones aims to use it as a way of progressing the story arcs and lending power to one character or another. Thus magic is no longer a major player central to the story, at least so far.

For those of us who enjoy the score and the opening sequence I recommend you check out this homage to the title sequence:

The Simpsons‘ take on the Game of Thrones Intro

The Quality

The Production value of this show is nothing short of astounding. I can’t even understand how they are able to produce this show or make any money from it based on the spending. The first season costed between 50 and 60 million dollars to produce. Not to mention the cost of the ad campaigns and serial marketing done for the show. Raising awareness was extremely important to making this a crossover hit, and not just a show for the “target audience” alone. There is sex appeal but it is character driven. There is violence but its simply the show’s underlying visceral drama manifesting itself physically. Everything you see is important to progressing the storyline. Even filming the show in Icelandic mountains contributes to the otherworldly setting of the “frostfangs” the majority of the Nights Watch storyline occupies in the second season. Landscape and scenic shots are important to the show. They give the world we are operating in depth and a realism that is greatly needed in any fantasy series.

Each episode is more like a short film than a television episode. This new season is going to have, on average, an extra five minutes of content per episode, with the season finale estimated to be well over an hour. Show creators Dan and DB do not stop at their budget’s end, however. They are held to the standards of author George RR Martin, and he writes the books so he can give the best reading experience, not make it easier for the show creators to adapt them. It’s not all cold and tough to film. Besides Iceland the cast and crew are fortunate enough to film amidst beautiful and historic parts of Ireland, Scotland, and Croatia.

The Acting

Peter Dinklage. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tyrion Lannister, portrayed by Peter Dinklage, is a powerhouse in the show, and since Sean Bean’s fatal departure, Dinklage has become the lead in this gripping series. Dinklage is known for being an actor who steps outside the obvious stereotypes. This is also true of his character. We get to watch the rise of a true underdog that sleeps and wakes with his “scarlet letter”, his dwarf stature. Dinklage brings a great emotional depth to the role. Despite being aligned with the sinister Lannisters, we continually see him struggle with the burdens of ruling. This palpable internal conflict manifests itself in a captivating and award-worthy performance. There are many reasons to watch this show and Dinklage should be at the top of that list.

Besides the award winning Dinklage, this show has also been blessed with youth. There are three young scene-stealers and each one captures his or her purpose on the show perfectly. First we have Jack Gleeson, as Joffrey (Lannister) Baratheon, the false bastard king. His portrayal of the spoiled-rotten prince-turned king is amazing. Don’t think so? Try watching the series without wanting to remove his head. And that is the point of a good villain, isn’t it? Gleeson plays his role perfectly and has made himself a force to be reckoned with on screen. Even the moments where we think we may find a redeeming quality, he discards it, having no use for kindness when you are the king of cruelty.

Maisie Williams. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Second there is Maisie Williams, who portrays Arya Stark of Winerfell. Perhaps one of the finest actresses of her age, Williams, takes on the role with enthusiasm and a youthful curiosity that shines through. Of every character we follow, there are few who have endured so much as Arya. Bearing witness to the execution of her father, disguising herself as a boy to try to escape home, only to find herself as her enemies’ prisoner in a place that closely resembles hell. Williams is thrown into extreme circumstances and what’s more amazing than her convincing us of the real and present danger to her, is that she was only 12 when she began filming the series. Could Williams be the next Natalie Portman? Since Williams fell in league with an assassin in season 2, its looking likely.

Emilia Clarke. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Last but not least, there is the dragon who would be queen. Emilia Clarke portrays the exiled princess Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen across the sea from her home and throne. At only 25, Clarke takes along a true rise to power. From sex slave to savage queen, Clarke gives us a story that runs parallel to the main dramas of the show and keep us wondering, what is in store for the main characters when she finally meets the shores of Westeros, and has her throne in sight? What should we expect from her in this season? Clarke is going to show us what a queen with a craving for power will do to seize her throne.

~SPOILERS~ (Season 3)

The third season of Game of Thrones is based mainly around the first half to two thirds of the third book in the series, A Storm of Swords. In case that title doesn’t clue you in, let me reassure you, heads will roll this season. Ned Stark set the precedent in season 1 episode 9; no one is safe on this show. Characters we hate and loathe may meet their ends, but there is no rest for the wicked of this world. Bad things can happen to good people, and the Starks have had a knack for being double crossed. Perhaps it is the anti-karmic award for being honorable and self-righteous, but the Starks aren’t done losing allies. We will see our show favorite Tyrion, fighting from a serious disadvantage at the season’s beginning, and where the queen failed in the second season to shuffle Tyrion off his mortal coil, we may see more attempts on his life to come. We are entering a dark time in the series, filled will peril and deceit. In the long run, the Starks are always right. At long last, winter has come.