A Game of Thrones: What’s the fuss about then?

Even if you haven’t heard of George R.R. Martin or his (still unfinished) epic series of fantasy novels ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, you may well have seen the title of the first book – ‘A Game of Thrones’, of course – thrown around the internet over the last week or so. This is thanks to the HBO TV adaptation, which is airing over here in the UK on Sky Atlantic. With two videogames based on this first book pencilled in for release at the end of the year, we thought it would be worth taking a look, based on the first two episodes, at how the story has fared in the transition to TV.

It’s important to realise this: the TV adaptation pulls no punches. It is an adult production on several levels, made clear before even eight minutes of the first episode have elapsed. By the time you watch the show’s title sequence for the first time, you will already have seen the gruesome aftermath of a mass slaughter (with little left to the imagination) and you will also have watched a decapitation for good measure. Ew.

This takes place in the domain of Lord Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark, played by Sean Bean. Casting Mr Bean (insert your own joke here) in this series was always a gamble. Yes, he’s got experience of playing a role in a fantasy story with legions of fans; and having somebody from the Lord of the Rings films in the cast isn’t going to do Game of Thrones any harm. On the other hand, won’t Bean simply be repeating the Boromir role?

"02. See what you can do."

Pleasingly – surprisingly, perhaps – Ned Stark is quickly established as a very different character from Boromir. Primarily, perhaps, because he smiles and laughs now and again. Credit to the scriptwriters and Bean both though, Stark is a man with a rich and complicated history which comes across in everything he does; less what he says, more how he says it.

It’s not long before the first decapitation is followed by a second – an execution, performed by Ned Stark himself. Stark’s youngest son (Bran ‘Flake’ Stark – okay, I made the Flake bit up) had been taken to watch the execution; explaining to his boy why he had killed the man himself, Stark says: “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”. Clearly a setup for future developments.

I’m not going to quote any more characters, nor am I going to go into more specifics of the plot. This is partly because I don’t want to spoil things for those of you who have yet to read the book or watch the first two TV episodes; but also because the more you tell, the more you have to explain in order for things to make sense. You have to pay close attention here to keep track of who is related to who, in what way, and why they’re doing what they’re doing.

"I'm a pantheist. I have many dogs."

Remember how I said this is an ‘adult production’? That’s not just because of the explicit gore. The script is peppered with strong, modern, very much real-life swearing. Even the dreaded c-word is pulled out at one point – and the character on the business end of that word probably isn’t who you’d expect. It may sound crass, but Game of Thrones avoids overusing profanity. Just about.

What arguably dominates the second half of the first episode is sex and nudity. That’s not to say that it suddenly degenerates into 30 minutes of soft porn, but the five scenes which feature jiggly bits aren’t exactly rushed through coyly. I admire that in a way, as TV series’ which admit that sex exists in such a manner are few and far between for reasons of cowardice. On the other hand, I felt that all the boobs threatened to get in the way of the actual story – though having said that, I’ve been assured that the sexual content is all part of the series sticking closely to the book. Nonetheless, I can’t help feeling that a few of the ladies were given no more direction than “Take your clothes off and point your nipples at the camera”.

This all begins with the introduction of the character Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf born into a royal family of non-dwarves. As Tyrion is first introduced as a paying and very much active customer at a whorehouse, it would be fair to assume that he is doomed to the ‘comedy sidekick’ role that dwarven characters so often are. For me, however, Peter Dinklage – who plays Tyrion – is the star of the show in both episodes thus far aired.

This is King Robert. No, really.

Once the character is given room to breathe outside of the actions and attitudes expected in a whorehouse, Tyrion proves to be a fascinating character. Cynical, playfully cruel, callous and intelligent; he proves to be somebody you hate to love. Perhaps it’s because he’s so far the only character to obviously blur the line between good guy and bad guy, or perhaps it’s because the sharp script is delivered with complete perfection by Dinklage. Whatever the reason, Tyrion seems much more real and alive than anybody else in Game of Thrones – and many of the other characters are impressively realised.

By the end of the second episode, Game of Thrones has already dealt very well with issues including (but not limited to) adultery, trust, duty, honour, love, revenge, incest (yes, incest), peer pressure, and shame. In a way, you could say it’s a bit like Eastenders with more horses and bare breasts (but less adultery). Look past the nudity and the gore, and you will find a brilliantly delivered story full of wit and intelligence.

The two acronymtastic games that Cyanide Studio have been working on over the last few years are an RTS and an RPG. While there’s been bloodshed in the first two episodes there have been no battles as such – certainly nothing on a grand scale (though episode two hints that this is set to change). At this early stage of the story, it’s hard to see how an RTS adaptation could work; but it turns out that’s something of a moot point.

A Game of Thrones: Genesis (currently only confirmed for PC) will actually work as a prequel, in part at least. In addition, the singleplayer campaign has been written “under supervision of” Martin himself, which should help set fans’ minds at ease.

Little is known of the RPG – so far as I’m concerned, at any rate. I’m interested to see how closely it will stick to the original story. Filling in background details by stepping into the world myself is an interesting prospect. It wouldn’t hurt to interact with a few of the main characters now and again, though. How about a few side quests involving Tyrion? Please?

If you’ve missed A Game of Thrones but have access to Sky Player, you can catch up there. If you enjoy fantasy stories – and you’re sick of the endless parade of gameshows, yoof dramas, and brainless panel shows that permeate TV – that’s exactly what I suggest you do.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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