Let’s get this out of the way right now: there are snow zombies in Game of Thrones. If this does not make you want to watch this TV show, then please put your paper down or close your browser window and send me an email with your name so I know never to become friends with you.
Snow zombies or no, HBO’s Game of Thrones is still an incredible piece of television. It represents the first time that cable has gone full-on fantasy, and the final result is absolutely stunning. It’s Middle-earth on steroids. Imagine if Peter Jackson had decided The Lord of the Rings would have worked better as a television series, then cranked the human grittiness and debauchery up to 11.
Game of Thrones is the first show in a long time that feels legitimately huge. Television is undoubtedly as good or better than it’s ever been, but for some reason it’s also become home to smaller, more insular stories.
HBO first flirted with opening up the scale of scripted drama last year with Boardwalk Empire, the story of Prohibition-era crime spread out over three American cities and dozens of characters. But even that seems like 12 Angry Men next to the impossibly grand Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones exists in the world of Westeros, created by George R. R. Martin, the writer whose fantasy works serve as the source material for Thrones. Westeros is an Olde Briton-type world where winter can last a lifetime. Seven kingdoms of men all serve the Iron Throne in King’s Landing, currently held by King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy).
When a close adviser to the king dies, the king and his company ride north to Winterfell to visit old friend Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean, out-Boromir-ing everyone onscreen) to ask him to be his Hand.
Stark, and his family of a wife, five children and a bastard son, are perhaps the closest thing Thrones has to main characters. But the narrative also follows the power machinations of the House Lannister (one of whom is married to the king) and the exiled House Targaryen, with the potential to cover as many as five more families from Martin’s source material.
Like I said: huge.
The pilot episode (which early reviewers have claimed to be the weakest) takes its time to heavy-handedly introduce the characters and their basic motives and personalities. It’s technically poor storytelling, but in this particular case, appreciated.
Everything else is brilliant. The sets are The Lord of the Rings quality. The actors are superb (including what appear to be some of the better child actors on TV). Most importantly, there is a unique sense of depravity and darkness that gives real credence to the series’ original pitch of “The Sopranos in Middle-earth.”
If you’re a fantasy nerd, watch Game of Thrones. If you’re not a fantasy nerd, you’d better become one because missing Game of Thrones simply isn’t an option.
Alec Bojalad is a junior studying journalism. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.