So after the first five minutes of screentime, things looked up. Or rather didn’t seem as egregiously wrong as before.
Instead of explaining minutiae of the world I am going to assume that if you’re bothering to read a rant on Game of Thrones you have at least a passing familiarity with the characters, the world and general flow of the series (if not the books, which you should because they’re much more rewarding and rich in their experience).
Alright, that out of the way, things actually flow fairly well in line with the source material. Little character details are missing though, things where the writers felt the need to tell rather than show us aspects that would become important later.
For instance, Theon Greyjoy (also known by his aliases Reek or Walter Peck):
Pictured Above: Theon before and after his stay at the Dreadfort
When Ned Stark beheads the Night’s Watch deserter with Jon Snow, Bran, Robb and Theon present, in the show its fairly sterile and straightforward, the emphasis mostly on Bran’s reaction to the grim business of passing sentence on lawbreakers in the world of Westeros. In the books this moment is used a bit more effectively in showing us character traits for everyone. There’s a moment in the book where Theon punts the head of the deserter like he’s kicking a soccer ball.
Pictured Above: A comic retaining more faithful representation of the story than the show
It’s a perfect little encapsulation of his personality. He’s a Greyjoy, the Westerosi equivalent of a uber-viking who live on nothing but reaving. “We do not sow”—can’t get any more straightforward and definite words to describe than those. He’s lived for years a ward (read: post-war hostage) of the Starks, among them but not of them. This is pretty much his whole self-justification for betraying them later, that he wasn’t treated like another of the Stark boys.
He idolizes the Starks but there’s a foreign bloodlust to him that colors his actions, a real love of violence itself. The Starks kill because they must, the Greyjoys because they love to. Its interesting enough that the only people who see that are Jaime Lannister and Catelyn Stark, both ignored by those they tell.
Why was it not included? Because the writers decided it would be better to have everything about Theon explained in painfully stilted exposition, as if this was going to hook us into the arc of Theon Greyjoy better than say him punting a deserter’s head down a hill. The later bit with him shooting the Wildlings taking Bran hostage is perfect, spot on—but it still doesn’t excuse the sheer expository dead weight that came before.
That’s what this show became for me: a looming dread of future disappointment sprinkled with both brief flickers of hope and quality. I would make excuses for it, on the slim hope that maybe they would get it right eventually. Not anymore.
I have little else to say about the first few episodes. They’re solid, good characterizations for the most part, excellent visuals, Westeros actually feels like a huge continent as opposed to the very compressed and relatively lifeless world it becomes in later seasons.
It’s minute details like that early Theon scene, a missing line of dialogue here (“While all dwarves are bastards, not all bastards need be dwarves”), the oddly uniform and sterile design of the knights and soldiers of Westeros—-
—-Okay, big bitching segue coming: the medieval armies that are the direct inspiration for the armies of Westeros, were comprised of many landed knights with their retainers, each sporting devices of their houses in the form of banner or sigil to represent them on the field. A medieval army looked like a parade of iconography, each beautiful and individual even if they fought as a cohesive whole. The book details this so richly your imagination really goes wild picturing a vivid mix of colors, themes, icons and beautifully colored banners, barded horses and armor. The show on the other hand—partly due to the cost of making production armor most likely—just creates a “uniform” set of armor for each kingdom or major family. Read Jon Snow’s description of Stannis Baratheon’s army smashing Mance Rayder’s host: it’s brilliant in describing the multi-colored and bannered army of knights with their individual devices, all fighting under the much larger banner of the king. In the show they look like a video game army, all perfectly identical. Even Medieval Total War 2 did a better job of giving the armies more appropriate diversity in their look—–
Okay, take a breath, take your meds….
Alright, so I’ll close out this segment with a really important aspect of these stories the show’s writers apparently either don’t know or don’t understand:
YOU CAN NEVER FULLY TRUST A POV CHARACTERS OPINION
Nope, not even Ned “Headless yet Honorable” Stark.
Pictured Above: Not Ned Stark, also a wonderful literary example of a man whose actions would appear villainous to some (Samwise and Frodo) or heroic to others (Merry and Pippin).
Every single POV character is a fully fleshed out human being. And human beings come programmed with a lifetime of experiences, beliefs and tics that color how they perceive themselves or others.
Remember this whenever you think about these main characters: Jaime Lannister, Tyrion Lannister, Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre of Asshai (one of whom the author himself says more people misunderstand than any other).
Jaime is our Subject Zero for the untrustworthiness of POV character opinions (including their opinions of themselves). Ned sees them through the prism of his own biases and prejudice. The Lannisters seem to everyone like an archetypical arch-ambitious, rich, arrogant, vain and ruthless noble house—all qualities they themselves want everyone to believe about them. The Lannisters want people kowtowing to them or at least shitting their pants whenever the Rains of Castamere is played.
“For you, the night the Rains of Castamere played and your whole family was slaughtered at their wedding feast was the most important night of your life. For me, it was Tuesday.”
But its not the whole story. Ned’s opinion, and events like Bran getting pushed out a tower upon witnessing Jaime and Cersei’s incest, color our opinion of him thereafter. It’s only later we realize just how much more there was to the man than Ned ever allowed himself to suspect, how truly heroic the (known) actions for which he is universally despised really were, the real stakes behind the relatively unknown actions we as readers despise him for, and just how much these have poisoned his soul over the years.
The redemption of Jaime Lannister, and the really dark and messed up turn Tyrion Lannister took, were not arcs you were expecting, but they happened—-in the books, the show fucked them up royally. Call it reason 2,391,131 I’m writing this.