Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The clueless guide to watching GAME OF THRONES

There are some extraordinarily great dramatic series on television these days. It truly is a Golden Age of Scripted Hours (if you throw out HAWAII FIVE-O). The shows have gotten deeper, more complex, more original. But they come with a price. Practically all are serialized. If you hope to fully appreciate the texture and nuance you really need to start at the beginning. So each show is an investment. Most viewers only have time to follow a few. (I’d speculate that if you follow more than eight you’re either a TV critic or have nothing to say to your spouse.)

That means there are always three or four series you hear folks raving about that you’d like to see but you wonder – is it really worth an entire weekend to watch the first two seasons? Is that time better spent attending your own wedding? And is it possible to just jump in and catch up along the way?

That’s what I attempted to do recently with GAME OF THRONES. I had heard so many good things – that it combined Emmy-worthy drama with gratuitous sex – and TEEN MOM wasn’t very good last week so I decided to go to HBO ON DEMAND and check it out.

For writers of these wonderful hour series, who spend countless hours crafting every word and frame of their episodes, seeking absolute perfection – I think I present the typical example of a viewer seeing your show for the very first time, coming in in the middle. And for purposes of this experiment, I watched the episode only once. Have not gone back, have not read anything about the series. So what you’re getting is virgin eyes.

This, I believe, was the first episode of this season.

The show starts with “Previously on GAME OF THRONES.” Good! This will help. There are quick cuts, tiny snatches of dialogue. “You will pay!” “Wait for me!” “I’m the king!” “No, I’m the king!” “Neither of you are king!” I don’t know. It went by too fast. There were also fifty-two main characters. I’d see someone and think, “Oh, shit, where do I know him from?” Then he’s gone. Replaced by some hot blond. I wonder – do we see her naked? At the end of this wrap up I know absolutely nothing.

Cut to opening titles. Eye-popping graphics and stirring theme as the camera sweeps us all around a map. From what I glean, there are different kingdoms here in the land of… wherever this is. Or I’m wrong and the show is about mead salesmen.

The show begins. There’s a jousting tournament. Cool! Very realistic. The loser dies. Lots of blood. We see the tourney is for the pleasure of a king. The king looks like he’s maybe 19. And he’s clearly a brat. He’s the music prodigy in your high school who was so insufferable you spilled hot chocolate on him at every opportunity. By his side was a young waif who I gathered was either the queen or his personal shopper. She didn’t appear happy. Like she was forced to go to the prom with Screech.

Peter Dinklage shows up. Yay! Him I know. And I know he won the Emmy last year. The show picks up immediately when he appears. I don’t know what his relationship to anybody is but his armor must be made of Teflon because he has no problem speaking his mind to everyone without getting an axe in his skull.

In the castle somewhere there is a board meeting held by a medieval MILF who is in some position of power. They’re discussing when the peasants can use drinking fountains or something and the meeting breaks up with Dinklage crashes the party. He and the MILF do not get along. He shows her some paper that says he is allowed to be insouciant and have all the best lines. She is not pleased.

Now (as best as I can remember) we’re moving briskly through the woods, POV style. We stop at a pond and see a reflection of a wolf in the water. So we must’ve been the wolf in that sequence.

A transition I forgot then people are at that creek and the wolf is gone. Did the wolf turn into one of them? Oh wait. That was ONCE UPON A TIME. I don’t know who these people are or why they are there. A red comet is spied in the sky. It means something.

We cut to a hot dusty desert where a tribe of bedraggled people are zombie-walking across the arid landscape. I look for Moses. He doesn’t seem to be there. The leader appears to be an attractive young woman with a small dragon on her shoulder. That threw me. My sense was the show was gritty and realistic. Now they’re saying there are mythical creatures?

A horse dies. Am I watching LUCK? This event prompts the girl to send tribe members off in different directions to look for something. I’m guessing oats.

The red comet transitions us to a snow-covered wilderness where more people are tromping around. We’ve gone from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA to DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. They come to a big house. We learn that the proprietor had all these daughters, married them, then had more daughters by them. So throw in CHINATOWN, BIG LOVE, and any episode of THE MAURY POVICH SHOW. He warns the men not to touch any of his wives/daughters. The scene ends there but you know next week six guys are going to be caught jumping the Chloe Sevigny-lookalike.

Meanwhile, where’s the sex? Where’s the nudity? Even the dead horse had a saddle on it.

Now we’re in another kingdom and meet (I assume) another king. Hard to tell. He’s wearing furs. Would it be so hard to give all the kings crowns? At least through the second season. He’s discussing matters with a woman who looks like a younger Jean Marsh. I have no idea what they’re talking about. They don't sleep together so she might not be his mother. 

From there we go to the woods (or it might be teen king’s castle – by this point I’m lost). Someone is being held in a cage. He engages in a conversation with his captor. I’m sensing the prisoner is a member of some royal family. Either that or he’s one of the old guy’s wives/daughters. He appears very jaunty for a prisoner, especially when the wolf from the pond scene shows up and is in the cage with him. Then the wolf disappears. At this point I’m waiting for the Smoke Monster to arrive.

The show now bounces from place to dizzy place. Finally, we see the brothel. Fifteen seconds of a girl having sex but being coached (so ech!) and then we see the brothel lobby and a few bare breasted girls. The erotic mood is broken somewhat however when men in armor enter and kill a baby.

I found the show’s dialogue to be somewhat inconsistent. Juxtaposed with “Ay, your liege, I will be gone by day’s first light” is “I want to fuck.”

And then the screen cuts to black and the hour is over. I’m baffled. I imagine if you are a fan of the series, every scene I described was ripe with delicious moments and exchanges. There were surprises. High tension. Amusement. (If you were aroused by the brothel scene though, you’re sick.) But to fully enjoy this series I suppose I better go back, watch the entire first season, and maybe read the five novels just to be sure.

What do you guys think of GAME OF THRONES?

48 comments:

Blaze said...

I wish "Thrones" would use fantasy elements or lose them entirely. Right now, they're intrusive and pointless. Like you, it's "a baby dragon??" and, unlike you, I get intrigued and hopeful. But then, it's back to mud, blood, sex and backstabbing.

Without some fantasy bits, I keep wondering why they just didn't make an in-depth account of some real history. Pick just about any chunk of European history and you can find all the blood and double-dealing a script writer could desire. I start to drift about why I should care about this prolonged fight for the Land of Nod. My attention starts to wander and I can only suspect the author didn't want to be bothered with all that tedious fact-checking and research for a real history treatment.

But, I still watch it.

Cat said...

I absolutely love Game of Thrones and I've never read the books. Though I did spend a large amount of time through this episode asking my husband, "Who is that again?" The Lannisters and Starks, I understand--I'm not always as clear on the Baratheons and Greyjoys. :)

I can see your confusion, coming into this with no knowledge. I think it's worth it to watch from the beginning.

Rory W. said...

"Or I’m wrong and the show is about mead salesmen."

Wouldn't that be "Mead Men" on AMC?

Sorry, had to say it, sorry, sorry. Nothing to see here, move along.

Mitchell Hundred said...

They actually did use profanity back in the Middle Ages Apparently, a common compliment for peasants to pay each other was "May your breeches and your very balls be blesseed!" It's just that our perception of history has been bowdlerized, so we don't view it that way.

Unknown said...

Yeah, watching season 1 will help. But season 2 introduces a fair number of new characters. It doesn't get any less complex any time soon. And this is all a watered down (though, still very delicious) version of the books.

The dragons will grow in importance (and size) through the series and are harbingers of the return of magic to the world. So if you are waiting for more sorcery with your swords, it is coming.

TW George said...

That "Unknown" comment above is mine. Sorry. Blogger sign-up to use Google ID didn't "stick" for the name.

404 said...

I love the books, but haven't watched the series (don't have HBO) other than the first ep. However, I felt the need to chime in to say a few things. First, to answer an above commenter, why would the author want to write an in-depth account of real history? That's not what he was going for, and that's completely missing the point. He created a world and wanted to write his own saga. It's like asking why all medical dramas don't just write about the real history of a specific hospital, rather than populate a fictional hospital with fictional people.

Second, in the series, the mythical/magical elements are more prevalent than they seem to be in the series. I wonder if that was a conscious effort by HBO to try and build a bigger audience? And if so, I wonder how much it backfires when the appearance of a dragon completely throws so many people off.

normadesmond said...

so many season openers:

thrones
mad men
borgias
the big c
nurse jackie


nurse jackie: best premiere

Neil D said...

I can't imagine coming into this series without having read the books, but apparently some people have without problem. I will say that when reading the books I had surprisingly little problem keeping everybody straight -- usually I have trouble with that and there are a staggering number of characters related in various ways. I'm watching the show with a friend and I often have to pause and explain who someone is, or the significance of something or someone.

I think they're doing an excellent job of adapting the show given their time allotment. There just isn't enough time for the usual "...as you know, Petyr, my brother Jamie, who is now being held captive by Robb Stark (the eldest son of Eddard Stark who we [spoiler]), was the leader of old King Aerys' bodyguards..." that we've become used to. Still, it does seem like a lot of characters don't even get any kind of introduction at all, they just show up and start talking.

The Season 1 DVDs come with a wonderful foldout insert that shows a family tree of the various houses and groups (with photos), and a full map of the continent. That would probably help a new viewer immensely.

jwj170104 said...

I've not read the books. I've really enjoyed the series. I did have to watch the first episode of the first season twice to get everything straight in my own mind. It is a lot of characters with a lot of plot to cover.

Johnny Walker said...

Jane Espenson told me to read just the first book before watching Season 1 - as that's what that season was.

It seems that even for fans of the series and books that the Season 2 opener was a bit of a let down, though.

I have yet to fully commit to either (I've read the first few chapters, and seen the first few episodes).

Anonymous said...

To the folks who want more fantasy. This is a low magic world. Dragons haven't been around in centuries. The 3 dragons the blonde girl has means that magic is coming back and not neccessarily in a good way.

Give the show a chance. You won't be disappointed and if you are, you can come to my house and kick my butt, if you think you wasted your time watching the 1st season.

Eric

AlaskaRay said...

I'd heard so many good things about the show (which I had not watched before) that a couple weeks ago I decided to spend a Saturday watching the 1st season. I gave up after 3 shows and decided the series was not for me.

Ray

Jim McClain said...

Stop right now and watch the first season. You won't be disappointed. I did not read the book until after I watched the first season and I'm glad. There's a shock and it's most effective on screen.

Doep said...

Amazing past 2 episodes. If you missed the, I found a site where you can watch them, and they even streamed it live last 2 episodes if you just can't wait. Check it out Watch HBO Shows Online

tb said...

Were people summoned?
I'm really fed up with this whole fad of 'serial'-type shows, it's just greedy to demand I watch every single episode of some stupid show just so I "know what's going on" as if being able to follow an overly-complicated story-line automatically makes it 'good'

Jon said...

Ken, thanks for such a nice blog. I read you everyday. On the subject of serialized shows: Doesn't serialization make it harder to build an audience? Granted some great dramas are or have been serials, but I'm thinking it must be harder to build an audience. Perhaps that is why some of the more successful shows have been on cable channels, FX, HBO, AMC, rather than the networks. What do you think?

Nickolas B. Solish said...

The shows are rich with detail and complexity, but as you've said, Ken, you need to see what came before to understand what is currently happening. Here's my shortest run down of what you witnessed (SPOILERS):

The world these people inhabit is loosely based on medieval England, which George R.R. Martin has studied tirelessly. There are different fiefdoms ruled by royal families (called Houses) that are at peace under a shaky alliance.

For quite awhile, house Targaryen (the Dragons) ruled Westeros (England) and its different kingdoms. Then they had a Mad King who was so brutal that the other Houses (House Stark, House Lannister and House Baratheon) rose up to overthrow the cruel King. Robert Baratheon became King and restored the peace, and all of the Targaryens were killed except for Daenerys and her brother, who escaped to a neighboring continent as children (blond woman in the desert).

King Robert marries Cersi Lannister, e.g. the blond woman who is pissed off at Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), he dwarf brother. Cersi had an incestuous relationship with her other brother, Jamie Lannister (the blond captive).

There is much more to the series, but the essential drama comes from the battle of the different Houses to control the kingdom. Tension in the capitol (King's Landing) leads to fighting between the Houses and all out war breaks out, after which multiple people declare themselves King.

Hopefully that clears up some of what's happening for you, but watching the first series will help a lot and is worth the investment. I liked it so much I went and read the books, which clear up a lot of what's happening. Loved reading your description of the first episode of the second season, though. It was hilarious.

Larry said...

I watched the first fifteen minutes of the first seasons then gave up, until I heard so many good things that I gave it another chance. I'm glad I did, since after a couple episodes season I was up to speed. In fact, before the second season started, I watched the first season again and enjoyed it even more, since I got the point of everything even more clearly. I only wish today's action movies had dialogue this good.

Rich Norton said...

I started watching mid-season last year, and was lost but intrigued, so I went to the HBO site and watched the episodes from the beginning, and was totally hooked. Try this one, it's definitely worth the time you'll invest in catching up.

D. McEwan said...

"I found the show’s dialogue to be somewhat inconsistent. Juxtaposed with 'Ay, your liege, I will be gone by day’s first light' is 'I want to fuck'."

That was the sort of thing that got me to stop watching Spartacus about 5 or 6 episodes in: the mixture of psudeo-archaic formal speech with gross obscenites (along the lines of "These Romans are fucking cunts!" screamed at the top of their lungs every few minutes or so) Just bloody dreadful writing.

"404 said...
to answer an above commenter, why would the author want to write an in-depth account of real history?"


Ah, for the same reason historians do: because history is interesting. People write in-depth accounts of real history all the time. They have the advantage over fantasy "histories" of not being trivial.

I have not read any of these books, but I read a number of George R.R. Martin's early short stories and his terrific vampire novel Fevre Dream which I liked very much, but not enough to follow him into this genre. I'm sure the series is a very good version of this sort of thing, but I'm not likely to ever become someone who likes this sort of thing. It will remain on the "Never-to-be-read-by-me" bookshelf along with The Hungar Games.

BigTed said...

I've only watched a few episodes of "Game of Thrones" here and there (basically on free HBO weekends), and while I didn't know the continuing story, it was easy to figure out the general context and enjoy the individual scenes for what they were.

The show that would be virtually impossible to jump into at this point is "Fringe." What with the same characters who are different in alternate universes, the time shifts, the time travelers and the hero who never existed, it's pretty darn hard to imagine someone knowing what to make of it all.

Kevin Jq said...

I was debating whether to watch this, I instead went with Spartacus on Starz. It sounded a lot simpler and Lucy Lawless gets naked fairly often. It's mindless entertainment, easy to watch and it's not shy about depicting gratuitous sex and violence.
As far as period pieces involving a lot of swords you can't go wrong with HBO's Rome, I recently rewatched it for the first time, it is still so f*cking good.

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, there was a guy who used to comment on this blog, calling himself 'A Buck (too) (?) Short'.

Unfortuately, D. McEwan is beginning to sound just like him. Too long, too boring, too much me, me, me...

He had some good stories, and now he is in danger of becoming merely a bore.

....Cheers

..Braveheart who does not leave his name.

Sebastian said...

I have no real interest in watching the show. The first episode of season one was such a load of fanservice, e.g. tits, blood and foul language (and a hint at dragons) that I just sat there thinking "This is porn for LARPers, especially the female ones".

I know a couple of those types who dress up as elves and rangers and run through the woods.

So of course I immeadiately bought the first Season when it came out. You know. Just in case *smirk*

Anonymous said...

One of those "few bare breasted girls" has written a blog about her experiences, and even being there she reckons The freaky doll they had though was HORRIBLE!.

Note that her profile reads "As a porn star I get to do ....." so you might come across some naughty stuff that could displease your boss.

Derryl Murphy said...

tb is right. It also bugs me when I walk into a movie 20 minutes after it started and don't understand everything that's going on. Very rude of the director, and I wish there were something, somewhere, that would allow me to quickly and painlessly research so I could get up to speed on what I was watching. Or, barring that, something else that was interesting so I could watch it instead and not get all fussy about other people enjoying it at my expense.

Ref said...

"A horse dies. Am I watching Luck?" Damn, Ken, warn me when you're going to do that.

You had insufferable music prodigies? Ours were okay, but the Drama Club gang were completely annoying.

D. McEwan said...

My brother and I were discussing the "jumping in" problem only yesterday. He noticed the entire set of Lost DVDs on a shelf in my living room, and said how he could never get into it despite hearing how great it was because whenever he tried watching a pretty-much randomly-selected episode, he didn't know what the hell was going on. I said: "Well, if someone picks up A Tale of Two Cities and begins reading in Chapter 27, they're not going to really get it either."

"Anonymous said...
Unfortuately, D. McEwan is beginning to sound just like him. Too long, too boring, too much me, me, me...
He had some good stories, and now he is in danger of becoming merely a bore.
....Cheers
..Braveheart who does not leave his name."


When, by which I mean "if," you ever get the balls to sign your comments, maybe your opinions will begin to have merit, but until then, comments from Anonymous Cowards are of no more value than the hooting of owls in the dark. "Braveheart"? Hardly. More like "Chicken-Livered."

Watts said...

I really do enjoy "Game of Thrones"; it's (not surprisingly, I suppose) structured more like a novel stretched across a season than a series of episodic teleplays. This has its downsides, but it's worth it in this case.

However, I have noticed over the last few years that it seems it's become impossible to write a drama series without throwing in an arc story, usually involving an ever-widening conspiracy. Maybe it's just me, but wasn't "Will Beckett and Castle get together and will the show collapse as fast as 'Moonlighting' if they do" enough of a hook? Couldn't Wo Fat have been just a recurring villain? If you build a Huge Thing The Characters Must Resolve into your premise, then your series ends when the Huge Thing is resolved, and--at least it seems to me--the only way you can keep it from being resolved is to make it progressively more convoluted. And ludicrous.

Props to "Hawaii Five-0" for dispensing with the buildup and charging out of the gate at full-on Dan Brown level, I suppose, but even so.

404 said...

D. McEwan--to clarify, I understand why someone would want to write real history about real facts and people, etc. However, my point was that George Martin didn't sit down to write a real history, so why would he? He wanted to write his own characters in his own setting, and it seems you just dismissed it out of hand as an automatically inferior idea. By that logic,then, nothing fictional would ever be created or as good. That was my point.

xjill said...

Maybe this will help:
http://www.vulture.com/2012/03/game-of-thrones-refresher-course-hbo.html#photo=1x00006

I watched S1 in two weeks. It's only ten eps so very easily done!

Anonymous said...

D.McEwan: I'm sorry. It was a dumb, unnecessary comment. I need to work more on impulse control.

My apologies also to Ken, and all the people who read these comments, for creating an unnecessary diversion.

The blog is great, and so are many of the comments. My stupidity brought it down a notch.

_ Braveheart who... etc a.k.a Chicken Liver.

daz said...

i watched S1 episodes 1-3, or maybe 4 and gave up.

Too many characters who each get far too little story time, so the whole thing move at a glacial pace, and there's no reason to care about most of them.

And I felt very bait-and-switched. The prolog to Ep1 had freaky mysterious monsters and if you're going to open with monsters I expect to see some sign of them again by hour three.

Peter Dinklage though, boy, does he make he screen light up or what?

d

Christopher said...

Ken as someone who's not really into fantasy (D & D , Warcraft etc.) all I can say is read the books. G.R.R. Martin used to write for television (Beauty and the Beast). The Game of Throne books always reminded me as if they were written for the screen. Each chapter is labeled with a characters name and dwells on their point of view. I love them so much it really didn't seem like ten years since the last book with the Imp in it came out, not really ten years more like only nine.

Paul Duca said...

This might be a help to you, Ken:

www.ew.com/sweeps

It's for a sweepstakes where the grand prize is a trip to this year's Comic-Con, featuring a GAME OF THRONES Panel. Maybe they can explain things for you.


Also, isn't one of the kings there Mark Addy, from THE FULL MONTY and STILL STANDING?

D. McEwan said...

"404 said...
D. McEwan--to clarify, I understand why someone would want to write real history about real facts and people, etc. However, my point was that George Martin didn't sit down to write a real history, so why would he? He wanted to write his own characters in his own setting, and it seems you just dismissed it out of hand as an automatically inferior idea. By that logic,then, nothing fictional would ever be created or as good."


I'm a published novelist myself, with two more novels coming out this year. I said History is important and fiction "trivial". This is true. Yet I write fiction. Why? Because Life requires trivialities.

You write: "By that logic,then, nothing fictional would ever be created or as good." As good as what? You have confused "importance" with "quality." Obviously it is possible to write history poorly. Look at most any high school history textbook and you can see lots of insuffereably bad writing. Certainly a well-written novel can be superior in quality to a badly-written non-fiction book.

But history is important. Fiction is for fun; it is, by nature trivial.

And lastly: YOU asked the question: "Why would the author want to write an in-depth account of real history?" I answered it. That you meant to ask something else and wasn't clear in your question doesn't make my answer to what you DID ask wrong. In fact, it's still right.

"Christopher said...
Ken as someone who's not really into fantasy (D & D , Warcraft etc.) all I can say is read the books. G.R.R. Martin used to write for television (Beauty and the Beast). The Game of Throne books always reminded me as if they were written for the screen."


Ah, so your point is: don't be afraid of reading his big old books in a genre you may find boring because he's a good writer because he used to write television!

So did Dickens only become worth reading when they began adapting him for TV?

Christopher said...

D. McEwan said... Ah, so your point is: don't be afraid of reading his big old books in a genre you may find boring because he's a good writer because he used to write television!

So did Dickens only become worth reading when they began adapting him for TV? A bridge is missing it's troll:'(

Dale said...

Having read Gregory of Tours some years ago, I found GOT rather dull. And the fantasy stuff ludicrous.

RevChris01 said...

I love it, but I will admit... I am COMPLETELY LOST! Apparently while in Afghanistan last year, I missed a few of shows of the first season. I'm hoping to find time to re-watch it all.

Anonymous said...

You, Sir, are an idiot. "I'm tired of storylines! Blah. I just want quick takes of people getting hit in the balls with motorcycles!"

Are you fucking serious?!? MORON!

D. McEwan said...

"Christopher said...
D. McEwan said... Ah, so your point is: don't be afraid of reading his big old books in a genre you may find boring because he's a good writer because he used to write television!

So did Dickens only become worth reading when they began adapting him for TV? A bridge is missing it's troll:'("


Ow. I'm stung to the quick by that witty retort. Oh snap. How many hours did you spend coming up with those six words? If I were only seven years old, I would be devastated.

jjheller said...

I just recently began watching Game of Thrones, and all I can say is "wow." I'm a huge fan of fantasy settings in film and television, and Game of Thrones really satisfies the lack of any good fantasy as of late. I'm only on the 5th episode of the first season, but I'm hooked; although I have to admit, it certainly is a bit confusing at times.

Christopher said...

In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. Please, don't feed the trolls.

cityslkrz said...

thank you, that's exactly what I thought! The Tudors was much better.

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

Watch the pilot for season one first, and then decide if you want to make the committment. If you're not hooked by the end of the pilot, and I think you will be, then it's not for you.

Full disclosure: I enjoy neither fantasy nor swordplay. I'm not into medieval times. I haven't read the books. I gave Thrones a try based on Alan Sepinwall's high praise, expecting to dislike it immensely. I freaking love it.

There *are* a lot of characters, and there seems to be a big pile-on of more in season two.

PALGOLAK said...

DO NOT MOCK THE SMOKE MONSTER

Pesquisas Mormonas said...

I love how smug the people who read the books are. Do you realize that you read the Game of Thrones books? We're not talking Faulkner here, so get off your high horses!