Shiny Shelf

Game Of Thrones

By Eddie Robson on 05 March 2012

What is there left to say about Game Of Thrones? Any more praise and it’ll hit that point which The Wire hit, where people feel it can’t possibly live up to the hype and decide not to watch it. So… well, I haven’t heard anyone say what a great title it is. Titles beginning with ‘Game Of’ are usually winners (like titles beginning with ‘House Of’) and it fits the series beautifully, the cheapness of life and the scale of the stakes. The show is also, as Shelfer Mark Clapham noted, the most Yorkshire-accented thing ever made for American television. There you go, those are our original observations.

Seriously though, convincing any remaining doubters almost seems pointless. Fantasy, despite being a perennially popular genre, is one of the most fiercely resisted by those who feel it’s not their bag. With this in mind, hailing Game Of Thrones for ‘taking fantasy seriously’ – as some have done – is probably not helpful. Fantasy is often at its worst when it seems to be taking itself too seriously. The classic brand of fantasy is always about matters of life and death on an epic scale – which is why we’ve started calling it ‘epic fantasy’ to distinguish it from all that embarrassing stuff about sparkly vampires – so it’s serious by default. But you have to convince your audience that something is really at stake. Anyone can say ‘the fate of a whole world rests on this’, but if it’s a world you’ve made up, it has to be solidly realised – otherwise it just seems a bit silly in its seriousness.

And that’s why Game Of Thrones works. It takes its time and builds a world (and it has the benefit of being based on a large body of prose by an author who’s taken years to work this stuff out). It opens with an excellent action sequence involving soldiers being slaughtered by supernatural creatures – who are then not seen again in this episode, or in the next, or the next… thus the viewer is primed for supernatural elements, but these are then pushed into the background to leave room for the characters and situation to be established. Anyone with a fantasy allergy can relax for a bit, as there’s no magic, no talismans – there isn’t even a quest for some plot tokens. It’s more of a political/family saga, so those comparisons to The Sopranos are not spurious. It takes its time, but never feels slow. And for all the talk of seriousness, it does have proper jokes in.

Like other HBO series, it finds excellent roles for actors other shows would’ve overlooked: Sean Bean is obvious casting for Eddard Stark, Lord of t’North, but Mark Addy makes a superb gone-to-seed King. Of course, the real star is Peter Dinklage (previously best known as the blockbuster children’s author in Elf) who gets the lion’s share of the funny lines without being a mere comic relief character. The production values are superb, rising to the challenge presented by scripts featuring dozens of locations. And like other HBO series, the makers assume that the viewer is paying for this stuff and is going to be committed enough to watch the whole thing – so in the UK they find their best home on DVD.

The DVD contains a very significant bonus. There’s a decent 30-minute making-of documentary and some little featurettes on matters like the adaptation and the excellent title sequence, and seven of the episodes feature commentaries. But the really valuable extra is the cheapest one – a complete guide to every character, divided into families. So if you find yourself asking ‘Who’s that guy again?’ you can easily find out without having to consult a potentially spoilery Wiki entry. Smartly, this is included on all five discs, so you can access it at any time. Additionally, on the first disc fifteen of the major characters are also profiled by the actors who play them. It’s not easy keeping track of all the characters in a massive ensemble piece like this, so there’s no shame in needing a cheat-sheet. In fact I’d go one step further: I’d like to be able to point the remote at the screen, Wii-style, and click on characters to bring up their name and a potted bio in Pop-Up Video style. Give it a few years, I bet it’ll happen.

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By Eddie Robson

One Response

  1. MerseyMal says:

    Really looking forward to getting this on Blu-Ray, but unfortunately have to wait until my birthday in June.