Monday, April 04, 2011

Winter, It Came

Spoiler-free—for readers of the books and non-readers alike

So, as I mentioned in my “why I am returning to blogging” post last week, one reason is to have a space to try out the kind of episode-by-episode television review blogging I never really did during Tosy and Cosh’s first incarnation. And with the imminent arrival of HBO’s new fantasy series A Game of Thrones, the time seemed right.

When I was in high school I read a bit of epic fantasy. A bit—not a lot. I read pretty much all of Terry Brooks, but never got into his obvious antecedent (and to one degree or another, all of epic fantasy’s antecedent), The Lord of the Rings. Then in college, I bounced off of Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time series (after being taken by a roommate’s passion for the books), not once, but twice. Yes, I read a good 90% of the first book’s 800 or so pages twice before admitting that this just wasn’t my cuppa.

This was where I stood when, about two years ago, news of a forthcoming HBO series spurred me to give my first epic fantasy in years a try. Two years later, I have read the first three books in the series twice, and the fourth once. It has been years since I’ve re-read fiction like that—probably not since I got hooked on Stephen King as a teen.

So, yes, it is with some excitement that I came to last night’s preview of the first 15 minutes of the pilot. And afterwards? I remain very convinced that this is a series that will get most things right. It’s not just the overall fidelity to the plot that was hinted at in these first few minutes. It’s the fidelity to the world. The massive scale of The Wall. The look of the characters’ clothes in the North, all furs and leather and bundling. The scale of Ned Stark’s sword, a massive slab of iron near as tall as the man itself. The look of the landscape, green, but barely so, with the hint of winter in the air palpable.

Yes, there are, as there always are with book-to-screen translations, liberties being taken. No, the children are not quite as young as they are in Martin’s books. And no, we will not be privy to all of the details Martin has crammed into these novels. But how could we be?

As long as the tone, overall plot components and structure, and, most of all, sense of character are maintained I will be happy. And on that last point, all signs are very encouraging. Nearly all the main character we met last night radiated a sense of who we know them to be from the book. Bran’s fear at not measuring up; Arya’s impatience and impertinence; Stark’s quiet, troubled dignity; John Snow’s uneasy connection to his stepmother and easy bonds with his siblings. After all, it is these characters that made the books come alive—and it looks as if they will do the same for the series.

For readers of the books only

One thing I found surprising was how, even after those aforementioned two reads, I was discovering things I hadn’t noticed before. For example, the clear foreshadowing that the execution scene contains never really was clear to me (because I am dumb) until now. Ned tells Bran that “he who passes the sentence should carry it out,” and it is precisely the abandonment of this rule and the principles it embodies that will kill Ned down the line. After all, Joffrey would never have killed Ned himself; it is only because he has a headsman at his disposal that he does so. And looking further down the line, the principle of the ruler being so intimately involved with his decisions and their import is further perverted by Joffrey’s eventual reign, and the disastrous consequences seen when the ruler is a mere figurehead. Hell, even the role of the Hand itself is a perversion of Ned’s ethos, and we can see him perhaps sealing his doom by accepting a position that clashes so soundly with the beliefs he shares with his son in these first 15 minutes.

Last thought? Two weeks out was maybe too soon for this teaser. A week? Sure. But two weeks? That's just cruel.

Until Whenever

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