All right, I got sucked in; one of 4.4 million Americans, apparently, who watched the Season 3 premiere of Game of Thrones (200,000 more than tuned into last year’s finale – I’m in that group.)
Right after New Year’s, I started hearing about this awesome new HBO show, a 21st century version of Sex and the City, told from a 20 something’s perspective as she drifted from friends to beaus, slathered in irony, poverty, and excess education. Girls. So when my TV provider offered HBO for six months at a bargain price, I thought I might snap it for the six months available half off. I could find out what all the fuss over Lena Dunham was about; I could re-watch Deadwood with Cheryl; I could use my iPad to view anything at all from HBO’s library while on labor watch.
I waited until mid-March to sign up, figuring I’d have the content all through spring and summer, prime vacation and time wasting season for me. Two days in, after figuring out how to stream it all through my Roku to the TV, Cheryl and I started in on Deadwood and Girls, just as planned. I took a peek at Bill Maher, just to see if he was still as snotty as ever. And I clicked by Game of Thrones, which of course I’d heard reference to, just to make sure it needn’t be on my radar screen.
I am NOT a fantasy fan. Dragons, warlocks, white walkers, endless intrigue among pretenders to a pretend kingdom on some planet in another universe … uh, no. I like my unreal narrative more in line with Thomas Pynchon’s psychoses, or Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy – historical fiction with a twist of modernity. But, but…I did manage to finish The Hobbit, and even though I could not stomach the cycling prose of Tolkien’s trilogy, I did get a BIG kick out of the three movies. Seeing the elves and dwarves and Ents, and giant flaming eyeballs on the widescreen made it all somehow more palatable, even enjoyable and – dare I say – entertaining.
So I should have known that, after watching what I though was the first episode of GoT (actually, the second) for about ten minutes, I realized – hey, this is really LUSH. A real Peter Jackson experience. Oddities everywhere: crippled boy, medieval courtyards, mud and snow, blazing sun and driving sands, platinum blonde brother and sister duos – even a Dwarf!
Since I was starting part way in, I was TOTALLY confused, and thus paid a bit more attention than I might otherwise have. Once I corrected my mistake, and found the actual premiere episode, I couldn’t stop. At first, I was just watching one episode every day or three. But when I realized the season 3 premiere was March 31st, and there were a total of 20 episodes to get me caught up, I knew I needed to do some binge viewing, my first ever such effort. I finished the first year in two weeks, then started in daily on the second. At that rate, I’d be a week behind at the start of the third year, and I wanted to be Up to Date with all the online commentators, so I just swallowed my pride, and finished the final 7 episodes over the weekend.
Meaning, I could see S3.1 tonight.
So what makes this fantasy spectacle so enthralling? First off, it’s not junk. The producers have gone to the effort of filming in Ireland, Croatia, Iceland, and Morocco. So the settings – the heat, the snow, the rain – are all real. No sound stages for the outside scenes. Second, this is HBO, so you get all the nudity, sex, blood, and swearing you can stomach. And for me, it’s sometimes over the edge. Third, the cast is sprawling, At any given moment, there may be two dozen or more significant characters to keep track of, intertwining with each other and bouncing off the plot like an overloaded billiard table. Fourth, they all speak with an accent. Mostly British Isles, but some folks are foreigners to the main land of Westeros, and so they get either their own language (check out the TED talk on Dothraki), or some exotic twist on English (is she from Croatia, you think? Maybe Finland? No, that’s gotta be Irish.) Fifth, the complexities of monarchic succession in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros are Byzantine enough to enthrall the most hierarchical among us.
But finally, the people and their concerns are at the heart of any story, and what ultimately makes or breaks an entertainment. So what to do we have? For starters, no one is an angel, and no one is purely a bad guy. Everyone does have a specific role to play, but except for the nominal king (a 17 year old product of incestuous twins) who is simply a sadistic teenager who’s had no limits set on his behavior, the bad guys have enough good in them to be attractive, and the good guys have enough flaws to keep us from hero worship. And sometimes people get to actually GROW in their characters.
Peter Dinklage, the much-honored diminutive actor who plays Tyrion Lannister, starts out as a simple pint-size Falstaff, whoring and joking and using his roles as the son of the richest man in the land and brother of the Queen to abuse everyone he meets. But when his uncle the King dies, and Joffrey, the teen-age sadist ascends to the throne, Tyrion gets placed in a position of power as his Hand (read: Regent). While keeping his old drinking and womanizing and joking, he persists in planning for the defense of the crown against usurpers who deny Joffrey’s royal birth. Ultimately, using his wits and ability to buy excellent help, as well as play the various Council members with and against each other smartly, he saves the city and the throne, buts gets tossed aside anyway. For this he gets a well-deserved Emmy.
Besides this shrewd and tragic imp, there are almost uncountable other small stories to follow and be awed by. Next post, I’ll start in on the two who seem able, if not destined, to bring order to the chaos. Each has been cast out, but is determined to return, one from the far north, the other from the sands of the SouthEast.
Oh, and did I mention there are Zombies in this show?