Monday, April 18, 2011

Arf! My Game of Thrones: Episode One review

It's good. I enjoyed it. And it took me a while to work out that I'm a little disappointed: I was hoping the writers might be bold and improve the book's dialogue and treatment of women as a class.
Last night, immediately after I'd finished watching, I went off on a conversational tear about how I would title my review "Tired of Doggy Style." But Kelley's blink rate shot up, and she laughed that Really? No, really? laugh that means I've said something that needs rethinking.
So, no inflammatory headline. But I'm not happy. I had hoped HBO would take the adolescent fanboy aspects of Martin's books and, for this lavish production, grow them to adulthood but, sadly, they have left the Manly Epic Fantasy (MEF) notion of women-as-sex-toys-for-savages-and-rich-people (mostly men) unchallenged. In episode one, women get naked, men don't. Women are objects, men are subjects. All the sex is doggy style (except for the sex with Tyrion, who is serviced by a gaggle of whores). This is meant to be a multi-cultural milieu, but all the straight people (and, so far, even all the background players are straight) have sex the same way. Failure of imagination.
Eh, let's move on.
I've noted elsewhere that the writers made an interesting choice by beginning with Red Shirts. As the episode progressed I began to wonder if it was, in fact, a choice. I began to wonder if, contractually, the producers are locked into being slavishly faithful to the books. If it's not a contractual obligation, I'd love to know why the writers are taking this approach.
A great big MEF can get away with workmanlike prose and some off-the-shelf components. The point is to create a world where the mind can play, where the reader can dwell on the bits s/he likes and skim the bits s/he doesn't. But a visual medium is much less forgiving. In a novel, I can flick through exposition at lightning speed. On TV, it's much more obvious when characters are standing about telling each other who they are and What Happened Last Season. When Jaime Lannister says, "As your brother I must remind you..." and Cersei replies "When you were seven, you..." it sounds horribly like As You Know, Bob dialogue. (Lena Headey is good enough to just about pull it off. Sadly, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau doesn't come close. I think he should have spent more money on a dialogue coach.)
Other thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Every time I watched Mark Addy (King Robert) I thought: Wow, he's come a long way from The Full Monty. Not the creators' fault, but it kept popping up.
  • Harry Lloyd, who plays Viserys, does a really great job. Which means the writers have written him well. Score!
  • Peter Dinklage, as Tyrion, also does a pretty good job, although because of his 'brother's' Danish accent, the super-arch toff tones seem a little overdone. Plus, you know, the serviced-by-whores thing.
  • Of the Stark kids, the actors playing Arya and Robb are the most believable. I couldn't tell about Sansa--her character's such a cliche to begin with--and poor old Jon Snow staggers about under a mass of exposition that would crush any actor. But this, I'm pretty sure, will improve.
  • What's with the steampunk title sequence? It's pretty, and the maps are an excellent idea, but really, the technologies don't match. It sets up a world-building dissonance. (Sort of like the women-as-chattel but women-are-powerful-queens paradox.)
  • I'm not really a canine fan, but, I admit, I was won over by the direwolf pups. My guess is that as soon as these critters are old enough to be played by adult dogs, we'll be seeing a lot more of them. I'm surprisingly okay with that. There again, I dread the two abuse-the-wolf scenes we'll have to deal with later.
Despite all my caveats, I will be watching the series. It has a lot to recommend it: good actors (mostly) and very high production values. My main problems: the way they portray women, and the exposition-heavy dialogue. The latter will most likely cure itself as the season progresses (and, I hope, strike into bold new non-book territory). The former? That I don't know.
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