Friday, May 13, 2011

Winter is Coming

I'm not sure what happened, but this post disappeared from my blog. I kept getting a Blogger error for a while yesterday, so maybe a glitch made it disappear. The only other thing I can think of is that a studio bot flagged it for linking to a Game of Thrones video, but since the video is still active on YouTube and since I didn't receive any sort of warning email, I have to assume it was the former issue.

I woke up this morning with the main theme to HBO's adaptation of Game of Thrones running through my head and thought that three or four episodes into the series was a good time to talk about it.

As with any rational human being, I have a major love-hate relationship with the works of George R.R. Martin. I originally stumbled on the book Game of Thrones at the Los Angeles air port. I was getting ready to fly home for summer vacation and thought, "After focusing on literature, classic plays and history all year, I want to read a mindless fantasy novel!"

Looking back, it seems like the literary equivalent dating someone you met on the bus. It might be really exciting, but there's bound to be a lot of crazy wrapped right in with it, and chances are, you'll never get that person/book out of your life.

What I discovered was a high-fantasy novel of a type which I had not previously experienced. Whereas magic is front and center in most books of the genre, in Game of Thrones, it is more of a rumor, a hint, a way to explain the unexplainable. While I love me some Balefire hurling sorcerers, this subtler touch was something new and intriguing. I also found myself thoroughly sucked into the characters. Gone was the classic hero arc, and really heroes altogether. While it is less apparent in the first novel, reading the series really made me realize that every one of Martin's characters is capable of being ruthless and bloodthirsty as well as compassionate and caring. While he suggests that the Stark family is his main group of protagonists, he also goads you into rooting for people who are ostensibly their enemies.

I'm not going to go into spoiling details, but finishing that book was the first time I had ever wanted to hurl a book across the room. Not because it was bad, but because my blood was boiling with an unquenchable thirst for vengeance and the second book hadn't been released yet in the U.S. (For those of you who are just watching the series, see what you can look forward to!?) <=== not spoiling, just foreshadowing.

Anyway, I stumbled upon books two and three in a similar fashion to the first. I had just arrived in Oxford for a study abroad program and had a couple days to putter around the city before the program started. I stumbled into a bookstore, again looking for summer fluff and had to restrain my astonished and triumphant "Huzzah!" when I saw books two and three on the shelf (not out in the U.S. at that point, either).

I read through books two and three in about three days. That's probably about 1600 pages of reading, and I am an abysmally slow reader.Unfortunately, as the series drew on, Martin began to commit several of the common sins of fantasy writers:
  • Ever-branching plots that don't come back together
  • Equally branching points of view
  • 50+ page chapters and several chapters before returning to a particular storyline.
  • Years to near decades between books
  • Worst of all, entire books of setup for things looming on the horizon which might not even happen
Yet all the while, his books are impossible to put down because I love his characters and his merciless knack for killing them just as you start to like them.

Okay, this review was supposed to be about the HBO series...

I have to say, HBO's adaptation of Game of Thrones is at least as enjoyable as Jackson's adaptation of Lord of the Rings. I feel like the show was superbly cast, I can't go into some of the details of why I think that, because they might spoil things for the non-reader types, but I particularly like the choices for Ned, Tyrion, Cersei and Jamie. I also think the actress who plays Catelyn does an excellent job of capturing her weathered and composed public face with a lot burning beneath it. Honestly, I could go on to list most of the rest of the cast, but you get the point.

Also, being on HBO, the creators are free from censors who would shy away from a solid half minute of watching a character blow blood bubbles as he slowly dies from a lance through the neck... In most other contexts, I would feel that scene was gratuitous, but I felt it was thoroughly appropriate given the tone of the books. The producers also seem game to include some of the other unusual elements from the story: dreams of 3-eyed crows and a character who can only say his name, Hodor! (Our whole viewing group cheered when Hodor showed up)

I also thoroughly enjoy the way HBO has broken down the storyline. They do an excellent job of ending each episode with a "Holy crap!" moment that leaves you hungry for the next installment... just like Martin, teasing his readers just enough to ensure they will buy the next book when it comes out 10 years later...


  1. The show is very well done. The next book is supposed to be out in october I think.

  2. YAY! Great post! I've also been walking around with the HBO GoT opening theme running through my head pretty much for the last month or so. SO GOOD! The world HBO created on screen matches the world the books inspired in my mind so closely it's really uncanny. Good job HBO! I'm just hoping that the series is so popular they keep renewing & renewing it until it catches up with the books & then GRRM might be forced to release the rest of the series in a timely fashion. (A girl can dream, right?) :)

  3. I had commented yesterday.


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