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'Game of Thrones' premiere recap: Direwolf plush toys for everyone!


For weeks, the advance press for "Game of Thrones" -- HBO's new show based on George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series of fantasy novels -- has been pouring in, with passionate partisans on every side. A couple of days ago, there was even a sub-kerfuffle about whether "Game of Thrones" is only for dudes or only for chicks.

Now we've finally gotten to see the first episode (of 10 this season), and the answer is clear: It's only for people who can keep a flabbergasting number of characters, relationships and settings straight in their heads. (Our cheat sheet should help in that department.)

HBO's site features photographs of 19 principal characters, most of whom were introduced in this single hour (along with a handful of others). That would be a pretty significant storytelling challenge on its own, but "Game of Thrones" also spends a sizable chunk of its first hour on high-grade spectacle, including a gigantic royal wedding/battle scene with about a billion extras in costume and makeup. Then there's the gory, supernatural opening sequence, featuring the terrifying White Walkers (who are, of course, allegorical stand-ins for George R.R. Martin's impatient fans). And, naturally, there's plenty of bared skin and spurting ichor: This is not the "family-friendly-fun" kind of fantasy story.

On top of all that, HBO's touting the fact that a whole invented language has been constructed for the scenes with the Dothraki. It has a significant omission, though: As one of this episode's punch lines tells us, "There is no word for 'thank you' in Dothraki." Oh, those wacky, nobly savage indigenous peoples. The Dothraki do, however, have words for "leather vest," "stallion-like" and "did you know?" as you can see on the site devoted to the language.

One clever gesture of the TV version of "Game of Thrones" is its credit sequence: a rapid pan over a model map of the continent of Westeros. The map is both a symbol of military scheming (boy, is there ever a lot of military scheming going on in this episode) and a viewer's guide to what's going on. The credits themselves, though, flash by in teeny type -- and the closing credits are even smaller. The show's creators don't even pretend that a standard-sized television can do justice to it; its preponderance of character-crammed long shots and subtle visual detail means that it's supposed to take up most of its viewers' visual field. That means, basically, a giant screen or an iPad.

Again, Martin's readers -- and the show's viewers -- already have a reputation for having very strong opinions. So here are some questions to which I'd love to hear your answers:

-- Is " 'The Sopranos' in Middle-earth," as showrunner David Benioff described it, really the best elevator pitch for this series? Should it be something else, like " 'Eight Is Enough' on Pern" or " 'General Hospital' in Skartaris"?

-- Martin's "Ice and Fire" novels are known for not having a central sympathetic character and, in fact, for pulling the rug from under readers whenever we start identifying too closely with a particular character. Do you think there's going to be a POV character in the "Game of Thrones" TV show? What's the last really satisfying TV show you can think of that didn't have a consistently sympathetic major character?

-- Is the chemistry between Emilia Clarke's Daenerys Targaryen and Harry Lloyd's Viserys Targaryen creepy in a great way or what? Is the exaggerated visual contrast between the lily-pale, Euro-hairstyled Daenerys and the "savage," bronze-complexioned, queue-sporting, unsanitary-food-eating Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo creepy in a considerably less great way or what?

-- When Roger Allam (as Illyrio Mopatis) butters up Viserys with his "I take you for a king" routine, does anyone else think he's secretly pretending to be playing Polonius from "Hamlet"?

-- Most of the cast of "Game of Thrones" is British, of course -- the major exceptions being the American Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) and the Danish Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Ser Jaime Lannister). But why do we take it for granted that quasi-medieval fantasy epics make more sense with British accents than with American accents? Has everyone just internalized the sound of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" for anything involving castles and horses? ("I nevah seen a fing li' this, no' evah in my loif!")

-- For that matter, why does sweeping orchestral music pop up during the opening credits and at dramatic peaks of the story? How did that sound become the default accompaniment for quasi-medieval fantasy? Wouldn't, say, 10cc's "The Things We Do for Love," be at least as formally appropriate for this show?

-- Do the final few scenes of this episode imply that displaying your affections doggy-style means you're a bad person?

-- Speaking of doggies, will there be direwolf plush toys available this holiday season?

The sex and violence tally:

Beheadings: 2, plus a slit throat or two. (This is not counting the heads that are already severed when we first see them.)

Bare breasts: 11. (A dancing Dothraki only bares one.) 


Full Show Tracker coverage of 'Game of Thrones'

'Game of Thrones' cheat sheet

Everything you need to know about 'Game of Thrones'

-- Douglas Wolk

Photo: Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) prepare for their honeymoon. Credit: HBO

Comments () | Archives (21)

I am really getting confused- NOT by Game of Thrones itself, but by how reviewers seem to be SO overwhelmed at the concept of a story with a complex PLOT and actual CHARACTERS that they have to keep track off.

Seriously, I don't get it. What is the limit on how many characters a show can introduce for you to follow and NOT be 'too much'? Can you understand a show with 3 characters? How about five? Do you know and interact regularly with more than 19 people in your life? Can you remember all their names, etc?

Perhaps I will be in the minority here, but I actually like watching something that makes me stretch my intellect slightly and can still be fun. I enjoyed GOT on a lot of levels- a complicated political story, a detailed world, beautifully realized with costumes and settings, and a lot of actors whose work I've enjoyed in other things. So for me, it was a thumbs up.

For some of your ending questions:

Calling something 'Sopranos Middle Earth is just a marketing catch phrase. It isn't really like anything else IMO, except maybe a historical program about some other place's history.

As George RR Martin is involved in the project, I doubt if there will be a single POV character for people to latch on to. I read the books a while ago, and although I found many characters to identify with, I learned quickly not to get too attached to them. But as I don't think that is the point of GOT, I got over that and still enjoyed the books, which were very well written.

All the scenes with the Targaryans were suitably creepy, yes. Poor Danaerys! There's a sympathetic character for you!

Doing it doggie-style is only bad when you're a married queen and you get caught doing it with your brother.

Aww, direwolf plushies!What a cute idea! ;)

Not sure I agree with your comment about the absence of any sympathetic POV characters. There are--and will be in the series, I suspect--several of these. Viewer/readers are meant (obviously ) to sympathize with the Stark family, though characters from other families, even the Lannisters, emerge as sympathetic characters audiences will cheer for. It's just that none of the characters in the story are your classic flawless hero and sometimes your favorite characters fight/work against each other.

I hate the Soprano comparison, but it works on some levels. (Example: Can tell me one character in the Sopranos who was completely sympathetic.) But I think you'll find GRRM's characters more multi-dimensional than Tony and the gang.

Granted I've only seen one episode, but so far my only real complaint was the music. It was campy and too closely resembled Starz's "The Pillars of the Earth," which was an atrocious adaptation of a masterpiece novel.

Side notes:
-We too had several laughs about all the doggy-style action.
-Mark Addy was better than expected as Robert.
-Not sure how I fear about the Others moving like the super-fast zombie-like creatures in horror flicks (ala 28 Days later).
-Arya still rocks, but Sansa seems overly bitchy.
-Dany was less petite than I'd expect.
-Cersei less beautiful (she always looked disheveled, which I don't understand.)

I was rather perplexed with checking my wall clock every 14 minutes to view yet another sex or exposed nudity scene. I laugh at newspaper articles that quote the sex and violence is critical to the story line. I found it a cheap Director or HBO tactic that risks eliminating any interest I have in any plot in the future. If it really was fundamental to the story, then I could be excepting of it; but it didn't really add anything vital to the opening episode. I will give one or two more episodes to see if anything jells but otherwise, first episode scenes were rather de-motivating for this continual viewer. Books may be great, but these non-critical scenes detracts from the quality of the production.

I am so going to love Thrones! Yes you will have to pay attention

I haven't decided if I am going to add HBO to my cable yet to watch this series. I just read the book. The plot pacing is excellent for such a long novel. There is some sex in the book, but I am sure HBO is going to glamourize it a lot more than the book does. The suffering of Danearys is quite evident in the novel, however the HBO previews I have seen don't seem to show it. Martin titles each chapter with a character, so it is really easy to follow and get to know all the characters if you read the book.

"-- Do the final few scenes of this episode imply that displaying your affections doggy-style means you're a bad person?"

Did you not realize who it was that was displaying those affections? Kind of missed the point there...

As a long time, somewhat crazed fan of GRRM's books, I was really very happy with the job that HBO did in presenting the storyline in the first episode. The characters were pretty spot on (although, as stated below, I did expect Cersei to be more beautiful, but I think in the long run, Lena Headley will prove perfectly manipulating in the role). I love the authentic feel of the show, from sets and costumes to hair (greasy and awkwardly done, rather than perfectly polished). I could go on and on, but all in all, I have no complaints.

In regards to your question about the chemistry between Danerys and Khal Drogo, I thought that, too, was authentic. An arranged marriage to a terrifying guy... I don't anticipate much chemistry, there. As for Viserys... that dude is one creepy lunatic, and I love what they did with him! I can't wait to see more.

As far as sex and violence goes, that is exactly how the books were, and I would've been truly disappointed if they had changed that gritty, harsh aspect of the story. And for the record... I am a chick. It didn't bother me in the least.

I don't see this as 'The Sopranos meets Middle Earth,' at all... comparisons like that are ridiculous and small minded. This is a fresh, new, unlike anything you've ever seen before story. That's what makes it so exciting.

And, for my two cents, I'd LOVE a direwolf stuffie! White with red eyes, please.

Actually, it's "The Worm Ouroboros" meets "GoodFellas". ;-)

Perplexed, much of the sex that was had between characters was actually in the book and necessary. None of it was gratuitous, except maybe the one with Tyrion, but he IS a whoremonger so it fits in with his character later on.

As far as having difficulty following all the characters, well, you need to read more then is all I'm going to say. There are many books out there that have a great number of characters - it's normal. Complaining about characters is probably the daftest complaint I've heard yet about the show, second only to the feminist politico's spouting off about how male centric the show is. It's a medieval show, of course it's going to be slightly male centric! I really don't understand people's desires to have current political agenda's manifested in every piece of media around them, even when it doesn't make lick of sense.

'Has everyone just internalized the sound of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" for anything involving castles and horses'

Yes, to an extent. the Holy Grail represented the high water mark of postmodernism in film. we are in the waning years of postmodernism, so certainly quasimedieval settings on the screen are going to recall it.

Introducing 19 characters in 60 minutes is a bit excessive, but as the series develops I'm sure we'll be able to figure out who's who and track their story-lines. In the beginning I just think of them as party-goers - girl with the hair, gay living as straight, guy with the really big sword (hi there), etc.

FYI it's a steadfast rule of the Sprawling, Gritty, Universal-Medieval-(British)-Accented genre that it include doggy-style sex. I don't know why this is, but it has always been so. Why change now?


So you clearly haven't read the books and you have no idea where the series goes from here, you are not smart enough to keep more than three characters in your head at once yet you feel you understand the series after one show. Perhas 2 1/2 men is more your speed.

I didn't watch, but agree about Danerys looking too old to match my image. Wish they'd chosen a REALLY hot tall and built Asian guy for Khal Drogo. Are they sure there were no actual Mongols available? It would have brought soem authentic "otherness" to the film. All I see is a white guy with lots of Goth make-up on. ditto Cersei- I hopedshe'd be stunning to beter contrast her cruelty/immorality. Not just a classic looking blonde. The guy playing Jaime has the right attitude, but not quite the looks either. They're supposed to be GORGEOUS and YOUNG. not just good looking and youngish. Oh well.

I think a good director can easily convey some lech is a whoremonger or two people are incestuous just through well written scripts or dialogue. They should have piped in some "boom chicka wow wooowwwwww" soundtrack through the episode like a cheap early 70's porn flick. 1 or two scenes of nudity or sex could have been plenty in the 59 minutes...4 or five justed cheapened the tv production quality. I mean really, were'nt most of you creeped out in Gladiator by just the incestuous tension acted between the emporer and his sister without actually having seen him mount her from the back?

My wife and I are both readers and fans of the books, so we were looking foward to the series. And REALLY hoping it didn't disapoint like the lame version they did of "The Sword of Truth".

Overall we were very happy with it. As others have stated the sex and violence are pretty intricate to the story. This is not a childrens tale. I think they did a pertty good job of introuducing the cast, and keeping the story moving.

Probably the only nitpick was the sex scene with Daenerys and her husband. I believe he's supposed to be very tender to her, which results in her eventual love of him (plus a whole lot more stuff)

Anyway, at this point, two enthusastic thumbs up. A great start to a great story.

i'm surprised that no one who has read the book has mentioned that all the children in the series are two to three years older than those those in the book. it is extremely disconcerting to me to have a ten year old acting like a seven year old ( bran ).

I'm a long time Martin reader, and fan. While I have no desire to go through each and every question and give an answer, I would like to weigh in on a few of them.

- The Music: Ever see the movie 'A Knight's Tale' ? That's why they stick to classical. Anything else and your whole theme gets shot down in a flaming ball of cheese.

- The Accents: I have no idea, but it actually annoys me beyond belief. It's an established thing though, and I'll gladly suffer through it to see this story unfolded on film.

- The Pitch: I don't think the LoTR reference does it justice, but I cannot think of a better way to describe it. How would you describe a medieval themed, ridiculously Adult Soap-Opera with the addictive properties of Crack-Cocaine on Nuclear Powered Steroids?

- The Sex, Violence, and Creepy Interactions: There is a line from a song that I think just about covers this topic... "B-B-B-Baby You Just Aint Seen Nothin' Yet!"

It looks like Ronin from Atlantis in the screen shot?

I guess it would be OK to have a show in a medieval setting use a medieval American accent. I'm just not sure how well the show would go down in Cherokee with English subtitles. Might work though. :-P

I think the producers missed some opportunity to at least not be completely captive of the English accent trope. The people across the Narrow Sea should have been ethnically distinct from the people of Westeros. So that should have been represented at least in accent of not also in skin tone (thinking either Medditerranian, Middle Eastern, or even South Asian). So I think Illaryo (Viserys and Danaery's gracious host) should should have been a different actor. Yes it would have been good to have people of colour who were not either a culture of barbarians or servants. There are a lot of other cultures to introduce in the series yet (especially given Season 2 is a go now). Lets hope there's some more thought put into cultural diversity as the scope of the world gets further revealed. Who knows perhaps at least one of the free cities can even be populated by people with a modern day North American accent.

Think of Full House meets the Brothers Grimm. It would be the opposite of that in almost every way.

also, am I alone in enjoying breasts on TV?

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