Game of Thrones, HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s novel of the same name, has already garnered a large and dedicated following, but popular genre based shows have fallen by the wayside before. Could that be the case here?
The story for the show, as best as it can be explained in short, is as follows [Writer’s note: This article contains NO spoilers]: In a land called Westeros, AKA The Nine Realms, rulers, nobles and warriors instigate or are pulled into a web of political angling and double crosses as The King’s judgment becomes increasingly impaired due to his apathy and alcoholism. Those who wish to take power manipulate and plot while friends to The King are faced with an uphill struggle thanks to The King’s own actions. Key players include the noble Stark family, rulers of the northern realm of Winterfell, The King’s own wife, a lady of the powerful Lannister family, and the airs of the deposed rulers, ‘Children of the Dragon’ the Targaryens, who plot from afar having been cast out of the land years earlier. Meanwhile, dark forces grow in the far north, behind a constantly manned eight hundred foot wall of ice.
It would be fair to say that the original or obvious target audience for Game of Thrones (read: Genre/fantasy fans) have already or plan to watch it in the near future; and why not? The first season has only just finished and it already stands as perhaps the finest example of fantasy storytelling to ever be made for the medium of television. The problem is that people outside that target audience, with a few exceptions, generally would not touch the fantasy genre with a ten-foot bargepole, and maybe understandably. Silly, juvenile trappings such as magic, creatures, yee olde talketh, weird names, manly warriors, swooning damsels and distinct moralising are all wrapped up in a package of seriousness and pomposity that acts as an instant turn-off for many people.
What is also true is that HBO’s output of trendsetting, truly extraordinary programmes, such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Sex and the City, True Blood and Curb Your Enthusiasm, have only really stumbled commercially with underdog genres that by their very nature are expensive to produce. Deadwood (western) and Carnivale (supernatural), though being fantastic shows by anyone’s book, and receiving respectable viewing figures, got cancelled after three and two seasons respectively; respectable viewing figures simply not justifying the immense cost of producing period based shows with huge casts.
So, will Game of Thrones suffer the same fate?… Maybe not, but a few things have to be considered.
First, HBO, as a brand, has gone from strength to strength, becoming more trusted and acquiring devotees with every hit series. Their talent for crafting ongoing narratives that bubble with intrigue and take an intelligent, grown-up slant on a vast array of well trodden subject matters is now a given. Put simply, if HBO are putting serious effort in to a show, smart people are willing to give it a look, no matter the content, which certainly wasn’t the case five years ago. From classic series’ such as Oz and The Sopranos to more recent shows such as Boardwalk Empire and Treme, it could be said that HBO’s bread and butter, the shows they excel at the most, are dramas with large casts, complex characters and numerous inter-winding storylines that often supply moments of unmissable TV and narrative genius. Game of Thrones fits in perfectly, it IS a fantasy, but it has that unmistakable HBO feel.
Second is the quality of the show itself. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series of books (of which A Game of Thrones is the first) have long been a staple for fantasy enthusiasts. Smart, mature and epic, the content leant itself well to the HBO format and was never in question, the question-mark always hung over the show’s execution. Here series creators David Benioff and D.B Weiss have hit the mark in almost every way; the show looks great, the sets and costumes have all been painstakingly well considered, same for the props, weapons and the seamless instances of CG. The cast range from well known actors such as Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings), Lene Headly (300, The Sarah Connor Chronicles) and Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) to fresh talents that embody each well written character with believable emotions and actions that pull you in from the very beginning.
An intelligent choice, that works especially well to placate and segue none-fantasy-fans smoothly into the story, was to allude to things overtly fantastical rather than showing them right away, thereby requiring less suspension of disbelief and placing the weight of the story on the characters, politics and occasional instances of badassery, full frontal nudity and creative swearing. The few criticisms of the show have been at the perception that it wussed out on large battle sequences due to budgetary reasons [writer’s note: The entire series of ten, hour long episodes was made for $50,000,000 – $60,000,00, which is about a third of the cost of an average summer blockbuster], but put into the context of the storylines, one would be hard pressed to even miss such a sequence.
Third is the kind of word of mouth and DVD/Blu-ray sales the series can expect. The word of mouth is already positive to say the least, critically and otherwise, and it seems unrealistic to think that this won’t carry on. Fans are already incredibly devoted, which in turn suggests that home entertainment sales will also be very good, which hopefully will beget more positive word of mouth.
Come what may, Game of Thrones at the very least has secured a second season, which is welcome news to its fans. If you still haven’t seen it I urge you to pick it up on its DVD/Blu-ray release and witness the cream of HBO’s already magnificent output, and a show which in its final two episodes had this writer leaning forward in his seat, incredulously shouting swears at his TV.
Enjoy… and tell a friend.