The Land Of Fantastic Hair
Enough with the gratuitous breast exams & incest: Game of Thrones needs morefighting action
If you were surfing your television channels last weekend and found you magically acquired HBO, you might thank Game of Thrones, a monster of a fantasy series the cable giant has been promoting for months. Many cable and satellite companies across the country, including many in Houston, were offering a free weekend, perhaps not-so-coincidently the weekend Thrones premiered.
Game of Thrones is based on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, and while the tomes have a devoted following the question is: Will a television series be intimidating for those unfamiliar to the books and their cast of thousands?
(So far the early returns are good, 2.2 million viewers turned into the first episode Sunday night and HBO immediately ordered a second season).
I have never read the books but I do have fan-girl credentials. I can tell you what a Buffy, TARDIS, and Louisiana Sookie are, though I know nothing of the New Jersey breed of Snookies. So I should be HBO’s ideal novice watcher. Let’s see how much I comprehended.
The first episode begins with three men on horseback entering a long, dark tunnel, lit only by the torches they carry. Don’t bother to worry about their names because they won’t last very long. After ages of tunnel wandering, they reach a large, medieval garage door that opens to allow them out onto the snowy light. As they exit, we get an amazing “We’re going to need a bigger TV” shot of an enormous ice wall.
The three riders travel into the woods to a find a slaughtered nomadic tribe, the Wildings, whose bodies have been artfully arranged into (I’m guessing) some mystical symbol. Just a few minutes later the riders encounter a dark, giant figure with glowing blue eyes — and their own decapitation.
That took care of the awesome first nine minutes of the episode. The remaining 52 minutes became magical medieval soap opera.
Game of Thrones throws a huge amount of genealogy and geography at the viewer this first episode. Those unfamiliar with the books will probably need the HBO website, which provides family trees, character back stories, and fantasy realm Google maps. I wish they’d also include a meteorological report as well as a GPS tracker for all the characters.
One of the many things I struggled to keep up with is the weather that changed dramatically from scene to scene, made worse by characters seeming to travel quickly from one extreme climate to the next.
After viewing the episode a few times and immersing myself in the online guide I’ve deciphered this much: There are many family houses holding power in Westeros and the first episode introduced viewers to four. House Stark is led by Eddard “Ned” Stark, who is played by Sean “I’ve never meet a sword-wielding costume drama I didn’t signup for” Bean. Ned Stark has a lot of kids and, as of the first episode, none of them appear to be evil, and two of them, bastard Jon Snow and athletic Arya, quickly became my favorites.
Ned helped put Robert Baratheon of House Baratheon on the throne of Westeros after the Targaryen king went mad and his heir kidnapped Ned Stark’s sister, Baratheon’s fiancee. That last bit I only learned after studying the HBO Game of Thronesfamily tree for an hour.
Baratheon is married to Cersei of House Lannister. These are the things I discovered about Queen Cersei after one episode. She has pretty blond hair, and she is screwing her twin brother Jaime. Jaime also has pretty hair. They have another brother, Tyrion, played by Peter Dinklage. He too has nice blond hair but does not appear to be having sex with a sibling, though he is having sex with many whores.
Meanwhile on the coast of a nearby landmass (island? continent?), the last of the Targaryen heirs are plotting to take back the Westeros throne. Well, one of the heirs, Viserys, is plotting to take back his kingdom. His sister, Daenerys, is staring worriedly, yet vacantly, into the distance, no doubt contemplating her imminent arranged marriage to a barbarian warlord, who has promised to provide the suitable raging hordes Viserys will need to conquer Westeros.
I should at this point mention that these siblings have quite lovely blond hair as well, and though they do not appear to be having sex, Viserys does helpfully give Daenerys a pre-marriage breast exam.
By the end of the episode Daenerys will marry her barbarian horselord, Khal Drogo. Though they come from distinctly different cultures, this might be a good match since by the looks of him Drogo takes considerable me-time out from raping and pillaging to groom his own long, dark locks and get regular chest waxings.
So besides a mass introduction to all these characters, what actually happened in episode one? Daenerys got married. Ned Stark got a political appointment to the capitol. All the legitimate and illegitimate Stark offspring got dire wolf puppies, and that’s about it.
What do these warring clans, political machinations and puppies have to do with the glowing-eyed White Walker people running around decapitating people in the snow at the beginning of the episode? Unless they’re invading Westeros for the land’s superior hair-care products, I have absolutely no idea.
Ginia Bellafante’s New York Times review of Thrones accuses the series of being “boy fiction” that’s tossed in illicit sex and soap opera plots for the girls. While I do love the description “quasi-medieval somewhereland” I think I’m going to have to turn in my lady credentials because most of the arranged and forced marriages, kidnapped fiancees and conniving, incestuous siblings left me longing to go back to the giant ice wall and scary White Walkers.
Yet, me and my lady brain plan on turning in next week, mostly for Dinklage’s Tyrion and the Stark children. A short scene between a drunken Tyrion and angry Jon Snow where they discussed the socioeconomic and familial placement of bastards vs. dwarfs in Westeros society was the best non-decapitation scene of the hour.
I’ll be back for them, the puppies and, hopefully, some hair-care tips.