Monday, June 20, 2011

Stubborn Kings, Baby Dragons, and a Dwarf with Attitude

A week ago I jumped on the turnip cart bandwagon, and forced myself to watch the first episode of Game of Thrones.  I've never been much a fantasy/war epic type when it came to my entertainment. Was never much of a Lord of the Rings nerd. Never got into movies about vampires or wizards, and certainly never got invested in a show with the words "Stargate" or "Battlestar" in the title.  Just wasn't my thing.  I do, however, have a weakness for smart, innovative, irresistible TV shows and films that keep me entertained week after week. I resisted Game of Thones for weeks because of my aforementioned dislike for its genre, but eventually the blazing hot reviews drew me in, especially the celebrity endorsements being Tweeted on a weekly basis.  The first episode had my interest dragging along, simply being roped to a trotting horse. But in the premiere's final seconds, Bran Stark caught Jaime Lannister giving Cersei Lannister his, erm, sword, and Jaime responded by pushing the poor kid out the window. I was hooked.  

Learning the names of a few dozen characters, all introduced within a few episodes, can be pretty frustrating, for even the sharpest TV viewers, but once I got down the names of the important players down, I got the "I need more" feeling. This is my tell tale sign of when I've found a show I love.  It happened with the early seasons of The Office. It's happened with Mad Men, Community, Parks and Rec, and Modern Family, to name a few.  It's that feeling you get when the episode is over, and instantly, you want more. If you're catching up on episodes, you immediately begin watching then next one, without hesitation. If you're watching them as they premiere each week, you wait impatiently for seven agonizing days until the next episode premieres.  LOST was my biggest "I want more" show ever. Couldn't get enough of it. I even debated putting off watching the season finales, because I knew it would be months before I could get new LOST. Never actually put it off though. Had to watch the new episode. HAD to. 

I hit full on "I want more" mode for Game of Thrones at the end of episode 2, when Bran woke up from his coma. I immediately knew it meant trouble for the Lannister/Stark relationship, and ultimately knew that it meant war.  But that doesn't spoil anything. This show was about the adventure, about the journey, about the small plot lines turning into major talking points.  Also, and not secondarily so, it's about deceit and honor, about power and weakness, about nude whores and incest, gluttony and wine, swords and badass armor. 

Of any show I've ever loved, there have been a few constants.  First, there need to be characters I care about. I need to be interested in their lives, their well being, what they have to say, and what will happen to them in the future. The Starks fit in here perfectly.  A mother and father who care deeply about the kids, who all care about each other. It's easy to see why they're interesting, and even the absurdly annoying Sansa Stark eventually shows compassion for her father.  I'm intrigued by Daenerys, Tyrion Lannister, Littlefinger and King Joffrey. Speaking of, it's been a while since I've been more irritated with a character than Joffrey. I don't want him removed from the show. No, I want him to stay as long as possible, because he makes the Lannister/Baratheon family all that more hate-able. He makes the war seem worth it. His demise will be epic, for sure.

Second, I enjoy excellent writing and dialogue. Writing that doesn't sound whipped up by a bunch of 16 year olds. Some intelligence, humor, and creativity will do the trick.  There's excellent dialogue in abundance here. Some of my favorite scenes don't involve heads being chopped off, guts being scourged by swords, or whores being, well, whores. Scenes with Ned Stark, Littlefinger, or Tyrion Lannister offer far more interesting insight than other certain shows offer in their entire existence (I'm looking at you CBS).  

Lastly, the show isn't afraid to take chances. The Office perfected the art of awkward, uncomfortable comedy at a time when Friends-style comedy was the preferred sit-com method. LOST convinced millions to watch a show about people stuck on an island, who got off, but went back, then went through time and finally ended up in....(still not sure where?) but they still made it captivating. Community has had paintball episodes, claymation, space expedition, zombies, and more pop culture references than a Bill Simmons article. Game of Thrones taken chances in droves. They cut off heads, gashed throats, and pulled out intestines, they attempted making incest seem acceptable (still not sold on it), they mixed medieval culture with horror and sci-fi (still fascinated to see where the John Snow vs. the White Walkers story line is headed), and they even threw in an ultimate twist that no one saw coming.  The single, most memorable moment of television I've seen this year was the end of episode 9 when that insufferable King Joffery ordered the beheading of Ned Stark.  Or more specifcally, the moment after the order, when Arya attempted rushing the stage, Sansa began screaming, the executioner pulled out his sword, and the camera focused in on Ned's face, right before the head came off. My heart was pounding, and my breathing stopped.  Then, my jaw actually dropped. Not metaphorically. It dropped for real. In a show with such a large cast, sometimes it's hard to pick one main character, but it was pretty obvious Ned Stark was it.  He played a central role throughout the show, had a strong moral compass, and continually gave the audience a reason to care about him.  Then, next thing we know, his head is on a stake. Unreal. And there was still more to come.  

With multiple armies all converging on each other, the finale showed some serious promise. And although, it didn't quite deliver with some epic battle scenes, it did offer a few more twists, cliff hangers and developments to keep us satisfied and begging for season 2. It's pretty safe to say the level of sci-fi will be upped a notch or two next season, just like LOST did with each season's progression.  Jon Snow and Knight's Watch are headed into White Walkers Zombieland, Daenerys hatched three baby dragons, and I'm sure both will result in a few epic battle scenes.  Also, I won't rule out an Obi-Wan type scenario with Ned Stark. He just seemed too important to lose. I've never read the books this show is based on (nor do I intend to), so I can't say how closely they followed the novels the first season or how they will in future seasons.  I can say, however, I WANT MORE.

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