Dense and compelling, packed with deceit and danger, the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series has been a bookshelf sensation for author George R. R. Martin. Now the medieval fantasy epic is moving to the screen as HBO presents “Game of Thrones,” an ambitious new series from creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss that premieres April 17. One of the fans excited about the show is blogger Amy Ratcliffe and today she drops by the Hero Complex to give us five reasons she’s counting the days.
“Summers span decades. Winters can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. It will stretch from the south, where heat breeds plots, lusts and intrigues; to the cast and savage eastern lands; all the way to the frozen north, where an 800-foot wall of ice protects the kingdom from the dark forces that lie beyond. Kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars, lords and honest men … all will play the ‘Game of Thrones.’”
Intrigued by that prose from George R.R. Martin? Good, you should be. I am too. I’m also eager to see how the epic does in the hands of HBO, which has shown such a flair for tribal characters, be they mobsters (“The Sopranos“), vampires (“True Blood“), outlaws (“Deadwood“), cops and drug dealers (“The Wire“) or Hollywood agents (“Entourage“). A sword-and-shield story may not seem like an obvious fit for HBO, but it has a chance to be something truly special. Why? Let me count the ways …
1. This is not your father’s fantasy series: You may be thinking, “I’ve seen ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ isn’t this just more of the same sword-clanging?” Sean Bean is in the show after all. It is more than “Boromir: The Series.” The Martin books are epic fantasy at its grittiest. The characters aren’t polished and shiny and very few, if any, are true innocents. The first indication that something is different is the language. Martin doesn’t make up fake curse words for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Servants and nobles are as raw as Tony Soprano in one his best Jersey rants. The characters have plenty of sex, though probably not as much as the toga-crowd in the series “Rome.” There is incest, blood and murder — not necessarily in that order. So think of a medieval version of “The Sopranos,” but with a few supernatural beings hanging on the fringes of the story.
2. Cliffhangers and double-crosses: “The Song of Ice and Fire” series is labeled as a fantasy, but if you still have trouble with that word, think of it as a human drama. Each character has endless layers. You can’t separate them into tidy good and bad columns. Some of them are evil by nature, but others are forced into questionable behavior by circumstance. Past actions don’t dictate what someone will do next. The constant political intrigues put people in hard positions. The unpredictability is riveting in the books and contains the intense story pivots that lend themselves to episodic television.
3. A storytelling tapestry: In this series, everyone has a big part to play. There are no sidekicks, no minor characters. The books are narrated from a third-person perspective, the chapters alternating between different characters and their points of view. This style makes almost everyone integral to the progression of the story. Strong characters abound, and they fight for attention. Since one of the prominent themes is the fight for the throne, this narrative style works well. The number of primary characters might be confusing — the show’s creative team may need to pare down some roles to keep it all manageable — but if they pull it off, the series will be a complicated group portrait of a community of conflict, not unlike “The Wire” with battle-axes.
4. Direwolves, the Wall and the Iron Throne. Oh my: The Seven Kingdoms are rich with odd creatures, interesting architecture and pointy thrones. This means plenty of on-screen eye candy and HBO put some significant money into the Northern Ireland production. Some of the things I’m eager to see? In the story, the Stark children find six direwolf pups and take them as pets — but they are far more than fluffy companions. The Iron Throne is the throne of Westeros, the one everyone is fighting to sit upon. Blades from defeated enemies were used to build the royal seat. It is featured in the latest teaser. The Wall — a huge ice structure standing 700 feet tall — protects the land from the Wildlings and the Others who roam on the other side and represent an ongoing threat. The Wall is guarded by the Night’s Watch.
5.The “Game” master is on board: Martin is a co-executive producer and writer for the show. You only have to glance at his blog to see his excitement about the series. When casting started, he would play games with readers. He dropped obscure hints about the actors before the network made official announcements. He was present during much of filming, and it seems that he had a lot of room to give input. HBO has a large and loyal fan base to make happy. It makes a huge difference that readers can see Martin’s involvement and enthusiasm. Speaking of involvement and excitement, wouldn’t you be more engaged with the quest if you read the books? Now’s the time to start. Remember, winter is coming. Thousands of pages about the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros await you.
— Amy Ratcliffe
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