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Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2: Game of Thrones

24 Nov

To say I’ve become obsessed with Game of Thrones recently wouldn’t be that much of an understatement (it would really just be an accurate statement I suppose). Long ago, my friend sang the praises of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin; they were among his favorite books, but aside from Tolkien, I knew just about nothing about fantasy and stayed away. Maybe a year and a half ago, I saw the news that there were talks to make a  fantasy series for HBO, and put together that it was based on the Martin books and told my friend, and then forgot about it for a while. Later, as the air date for the series neared, he warned me that I should get the books ahead of time, but I again put it off. It even took me a couple of weeks to watch the pilot and the first couple of episodes. When I finally did, though, I was blown away, and after a couple more episodes the TV series wasn’t enough for me, so I began reading the books. I was on to the second by the time the first season ended and since I’ve finished all five.

Of course, this article is about the TV show and not the books, but the show is incredibly faithful to the book, more so than almost any other adaptation I can recall and enjoying the books so much only makes me look more forward to seeing my favorite scenes and characters come to life during the series.  Let’s stick to what makes the first season in and of itself great. The first touchstone for many people in regard to Game of Thrones is Lord of the Rings, but that’s really only because they’re the two biggest fantasy series to cross into the mainstream over the last decade or so. Other than both being fantastic fantasy series, they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Lord of the Rings is an epic battle on the biggest scale imaginable between good and evil. Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy universe, but it’s really a political thriller hiding underneath the medieval facade. Set in the fictional continent of Westeros, Game of Thrones is an all out battle for power amongst aristocratic famlies attempting to outmaneuver each other to place their chosen king on the throne. The beauty of Game of Thrones is that nearly every character has understandable motivations; once you see their side of things their actions make a lot more sense. There’s very little absolute good and evil in this world; with the exception of one or two truly psychotic characters, every character has a reasonable motivation even if you can’t stand them.

The cast of characters is large and will continue to grow and grow as the series goes forward. This creates an intricate web which can be hard to keep track of but which creates a complex universe for the show, allowing characters to change in importance without feeling like they came out of nowhere.  There are so many wonderful concepts within the Game of Thrones universe that it would take pages to explain all of them.  One major one is the The Wall, a giant ice wall which separates the land of Westeros from the wilderness of the frigid north. The wall is guarded by an organization called The Night’s Watch composed of members who are sworn to protect the wall; they are forbidden wives or inheritances.  Behind the wall are wildlings sworn to no king, but also a mysterious group of “others” who can reanimate the dead and are a threat to the entire kingdom.  This sounds ridiculous but it all works and leads to many interesting conflicts – the benefits and detriments of the monarchy inside the wall and the lack of it outside, the desire and importance of remaining loyal to the watch weighed against avenging your family, and the political system’s inability to focus its resources on a shared problem while fighting against itself.

The beauty of the Game of Thrones is that it incorporates major fantasy elements like dragons and magic, but in fairly limited and pointed uses. Its focus is squarely on the humans, with use of these fantasy elements to supplement the human story rather than to replace it. The series uses these concepts to explore human emotions and social and political concepts.

Why it’s so high: No show, with the possible exception of the show above this, had me so excited to watch each week and so excited to talk about what I saw immediately after I watched

What it’s not higher: One season against four seasons of the one ahead – they’re both best, it’s so hard to make choices here


Best episode of the most recent season:  “Baelor” – The biggest single moment in the entire first season shows everything this show is about – the execution of Eddard Stark, which is handled so well visually.  Game of Thrones is setting us up for the long run and letting us know that nothing is sacred by killing the main character less than a season into the series.  From killing Stark, there can be no other option but all out war for the iron throne.  It may be frustrating to many that the show takes essentially a full season to even get to the point where the central conflict for the throne begins in earnest (it starts after King Robert dies but it isn’t in full motion until Stark dies) but for me the journey was enjoyable in and of itself and I see nothing but long term possibilities in terms of where the story can go (obviously having read the books I know a lot of that and am excited more by the fact that there’s a plan in place unlike some shows (cough, cough, Lost).