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Game of Thrones: Season One Review

By on June 20, 2011

Game of Thrones’ first season came to an end this week after just ten episodes.  Season two (consisting of a further ten episodes set to air in Spring 2012) is already underway, so fans of the show have good reason to be pleased.

The first season was heavily promoted, with comparisons made to The Sopranos, Rome and just about any other show featuring large casts, warring families or stark depictions of violence and sex.  HBO seemed shy at the outset to paint the show with the ‘high-fantasy’ brush, preferring instead to describe it as ‘The Sopranos in middle earth”  or ‘fantasy for people who don’t like fantasy.”  However, those who tuned into the finale on Sunday night can be in no doubt as to Game of Thrones’ unabashed fantasy elements, including witches, curses, shared visions and dragons.

But as the curtain closes on episode ten we ask, did it live up to its hype?  And more importantly, can the show survive the key character slayings of  the first season?

Sean Bean as Ned Stark

The sheer scale of Game of Thrones’ first season was epic, from the opening credits, to the movie-like production quality to the breathtaking sets (featuring dramatic locations in both Northern Ireland and Malta).  The opening scenes of episode one ‘Winter is Coming’ were beautiful, stark and horrible, setting both tone and audience expectations for the remainder of the season.

Following on from the initial set-piece grandeur of The Wall, Winterfell and King’s Landing, later episodes began to offer a more intimate close-up of its diverse cast of characters.  Acting was generally strong, with weaker actors supported admirably by stalwarts such as Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage, Charles Dance and and almost unrecognizable Mark Addy. In fact, I found myself drawn in week after week, not so much for the gruesome deaths, sizzling sex and epic action but for the characters themselves.

What Game of Thrones first season did best was to create a series of intricately drawn and completely engaging characters.  Love them or hate them, we tuned in each week to watch them struggle with their ambitions, their desires and their morality.

However the first ten episodes have seen five major character deaths, namely those of Eddart Stark, King Robert, Viserys, Drogo and his unborn child Rhaego. On any other show this might be a signal that the writing team has lost the plot, but this isn’t any other show.  This is Game of Thrones, and we are told, character deaths are crucial to the experience of the story.

“Clearly there’s a huge number of characters and Ned and Drogo have been vital parts of the story. But it’s crucial for us we create a world where you’re constantly in fear for these characters – that was our experience reading the books. It creates a huge amount of suspense. You kind of cling to the characters when you know you can lose them at any moment,” executive producer David Benioff told EW recently.

Weiss commented: “Ned dying is telling a hard truth about the price of honor and the price of morality in a world where not everybody has the same values as you do. It’s not a simplistic redemptive message, where you sacrifice yourself and it saves the day. At lot of times sacrifice ends up being futile.”

But how will fans react to the loss of a much loved character like Ned Stark?  It cannot be denied that Sean Bean infused the character of Lord Eddart Stark with a sense of gravitas and world-weary nobility.   It touched every scene he was in.  Now that he is gone, will season two come with a Ned-shaped hole that cannot be filled by the younger cast?  Some may see the loss of such a stalwart as a loss to the show as a whole.  However, the opposite may prove equally true.  Now that the decks have been cleared (so to speak) heretofore minor characters may gain their chance to shine in season two.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow

Season one did a solid job of rounding out the fates of most major characters in preparation for events to come.  In many ways the finale was more of a set up for the upcoming season and not the typical cliffhanger episode we have come to expect from most shows these days.  Characters like Sansa, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Robb Stark and Daenerys all saw major plot lines resolved.

Sansa realizes Joffrey for the monster he is, and though outwardly placid, we witness her burgeoning desire for revenge.  After a failed attempt to rejoin his half-brother Robb, Jon finally understands his duty is to the Night’s Watch.  Robb, meanwhile has been declared King of the North, while across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys loses her baby and gains a following of her own, complete with three baby dragons.  Perhaps the most surprising development for me was seeing Tywin Lannister finally coming to appreciate the true worth of his son Tyrion.  Characters and events are neatly lined up for Spring 2011.

Whatever the show brings, its bound to be surprising.