A Review of the Game of Thrones TV Series Premiere, As Written by Someone Not Starting from a Position of A Priori Contempt For the Fantasy Genre

(LJ won’t let me have a post title that long.)

I thought it was pretty good. The three of us watching who had read the books thought it was a faithful and effective adaptation of the source material; the fourth member of the audience, who had not read the books, said it succeeded at getting her interested, which is what you want from a premiere. Lots of good casting choices, and because it’s a series, it can take the time it needs to build up the characters and the world by methods more gradual than Ye Olde Info-Dumpe.

It being HBO, of course, they were not shy about showing you the nekkid, and things that were faintly disturbing on the page become moreso when you actually see them happening. (In particular, it’s hard to miss how problematic the Dothraki are.) But I didn’t feel they were gratuitously amping the R-rated stuff up just for the sake of spectacle, which is my usual HBO complaint.

I definitely want to see more. Though we’ll probably go the route of recording several eps and then watching them in one go, rather than doling it out an hour each week.

And that, New York Times, is how you do it. You get a reviewer who actually likes the genre to give you an opinion. Not somebody who is convinced of the worthlessness of fantasy before they ever sit down to watch the show. Please remedy this error in the future.


  1. rhinemouse

    Personally, I thought the Dothraki were screamingly problematic in the book (along with everyone else). But then, I am one of the readers that wilted away from all of the violence in Book One and could read no further.

  2. silme

    Thank you for your review. It starts tonight on Sky One in Britain. They’ve been advertising like mad for it — so much advertising that it made me wonder about the show’s quality. 🙂

    It’s actually on against another American import on E4, Glee. But E4 has a plus one channel, so I can watch Glee an hour later. (Yes, I admit to liking Glee. 🙂

  3. kateelliott

    We don’t have HBO so won’t be watching it this go round regardless. Dunno about later. Martin’s a very good writer. I’m not sure I want to watch the 3 volumes I did read on screen, and not least because I found the Dothraki quite problematic from the get go and I find my tolerance for that kind of thing has vanished, and it wasn’t that expansive to begin with.

    But thanks for the useful review!

    • Marie Brennan

      I encountered the series in high school, before I had an eye for that sort of thing.

      But yeah, a friend of mine was wondering which one actually sucked: the show or its reviewers, so I thought I should chip in with my own thoughts.

      • Anonymous

        Given what the NYT has done in reviewing written speculative fiction over the years (hint: the current occasional reviewer is worse, but not much worse, than his longtime predecessor, who had the opposite problem — hadn’t read enough that wasn’t fantasy/SF), I’m just waiting to see if they drop Paul Krugman as a columnist due to his own enthusiasm for science fiction… and this article from his misspent youth (which actually dates from the beginning of his academic career, despite the “first published online” date stated on the webpage).

      • kateelliott

        Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t have noticed when I was in high school either.

  4. yuuo

    I heard the NYT got a fantasy-hating reviewer in there on that, and was curious what was said, exactly. I’m also now intrigued by this series. I can never get the tv away from my mother, who does nothing but sleep in front of it (god forbid you change the channel though), so I doubt I will get to see it.

  5. mariness

    The two people watching with me, who have not read the books (and at least one of them won’t; as it turns out when he said he’d seen fantasy movies he meant he’d seen one of the Harry Potter movies, and that’s about the extent of his fantasy interest) were hooked by the first and last scenes and moderately puzzled by the middle (but we had sound issues) but said they’ll be watching again next week, which I think is a good sign for the show.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, discussing it afterward, we were curious how it will come across to people not widely familiar with the fantasy genre. It’s a very low-magic series overall, so for long stretches of time it will play more like invented historical fantasy than Harry Potter or LotR, which may be confusing to a non-genre audience.

      • mariness

        They definitely found the middle confusing but, as I said, we had major sound problems, which turned out to be a Brighthouse cable issue. (And it didn’t help that they both speak English as a second language.)

        And I think a couple of scenes – primarily the finding of the direwolf pups – didn’t come across at all well to people who hadn’t read the books. The bit with the dragon eggs did, however; they’re both hoping that the dragons will hatch and kill Viserys 🙂

        So I’ll be curious about how next week will go, when we will (in theory) be able to hear the show or at least have subtitles.

        • Marie Brennan

          That would certainly make it more difficult to understand, yes!

          The dire wolf pups are kind of an odd touch anyway. In most fantasy novels, that would have a particular narrative role, but it clearly doesn’t in this series.

          (Personally, I have to say I prefer the end Viserys does get. He doesn’t merit death-by-dragon.)

  6. lowellboyslash

    Amen, brother! I cannot believe that NYT reviewer. I think the last “fantasy” movie she’d seen was Braveheart. WHICH ISN’T A FANTASY MOVIE,* NEW YORK TIMES, I CANNOT YELL THAT LOUD ENOUGH.

    I wonder how much of the book they’re going to get through this season. They’re moving fast!

    *Gross historical inaccuracies aside… but then, what’s a Mel Gibson movie without gross historical inaccuracies? They don’t call The Patriot a fantasy movie, do they?

  7. alchymyst

    I thought it was pretty good too. I actually started rereading the books last week for the series and for the next installment in July. The series is indeed quite faithful to what’s on the page. I think they are doing a good job at explaining who’s who and what’s going on via some extra dialogue, because it could get pretty confusing.

    • Marie Brennan

      I admit, it’s testing my resolve on the decision I made a while ago, which is that I’m not going to re-read the series until it’s closer to being done. (Otherwise I’ll end up waiting another three or four years for the book after the next one, and forget the whole plot again.)

      The only major change I managed to pick up on was the brief scene in King’s Landing with Cersei and Jaime, and I thought that one was a good call in terms of clarifying the whole business with Jon Arryn.

    • sarcastibich

      I’m watching it with friends who haven’t read the books, and they were left confused with some of the “Who’s Who” and the underlying world/culture. They asked “so what is up with the wall of ice?” for example, and are looking to me for context of interpersonal relationships sometimes. I could see how some would be confused while trying to figure out the layers without having read the book.

      • Marie Brennan

        The newcomer in our group had looked at the HBO website, which explains all the Houses and such, so yeah — I can see how not all the details come through right away.

        • alchymyst

          You have to remember, though, that in the books you don’t get a lot of information up front either. Most of the exposition is done through dialogue, and it takes a few chapters to figure out how Robert got the throne, who killed whom, and why X hates Y. I think it feels more confusing on screen because of time constraints and the need to switch between scenes fairly quickly so as to really keep things moving.

      • starryniteynite

        Here’s the website I used to fight the urge to hit pause every five seconds :
        …be warned, though. it’s HIGHLY addictive

  8. sarcastibich

    I thought they underplayed Khal Drogo’s tenderness with Danaerys during their sex-scene, but was unsurprised that they removed Viserys titty-twisting and physical abuse of her. Even HBO has their limits it seems(thankfully twincest isn’t one!)

    I agree: casting is spot on so far. No major complaints, and I love the last scene of the premiere, very visceral.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’m most curious to see how Daenerys’ part of the story comes across, given that early on, a lot of it is very much inside her head. She and Drogo have such a communication barrier at first, and it’s difficult to convey the non-verbal aspects on screen.

      And yeah, the last scene was played just right.

  9. Anonymous

    I thought it was pretty good, and fairly accurate from what I remember, though it’s been several years since I last read the books. I do have to say, though, the main things that popped out, as it were, were “BOOBIES!” and “DOGGIE STYLE!” As wonderful as a shirtless Jason Momoa is, we sure as hell better gets some goddamn man-ass (though sadly, that’s all we’ll get, because god forbid we see a penis in America) somewhere along the way!

    You know, I don’t remember the Dothraki being so… problematic in the book. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

    • Marie Brennan

      It’s HBO. Boobies and doggie-style are pretty much par for the course. (But yes, I do hope we get some more eye candy for the straight women and gay men in the audience.)

      The Dothraki are still problematic in the books: very much Exotic Barbarians etc. It’s more eye-catchingly obvious in the show because your attention can’t skim past them acting like animals, nor can it fail to be reminded that they’re the only non-white characters you’ve seen so far. On the page, it’s easier to forget those details as you follow the plot.

  10. saladinahmed

    As an epic fantasy fanatic who has a very low tolerance for ‘savage hordes,’ etc., I found the Dothraki over-the-top in the books, sure.

    But they were 1,000 times worse in the show. Umm, why are there ‘ZOMG naked-boobied Black women!’ in what’s essentially a hard-R-rated cartoon *Mongol* analogue!? For me it was less that it became more problematic when depicted visually, and more that the cheesy costume design, dancing, casting, etc., made the caricature 1,000 times more preposterous.

    Also, Dany was totally stripped of even the problematic nascent agency she has in the wedding/consumation scenes in the books. This fact exacerbated both the episode’s T&A problems and the racist Drogo problem.

    Sorry, but the book is more nuanced than ‘Quivering white girl raped by savage.’

    All that said, DINKLAGE! And Arya! And direwolf puppies! And…yeah, I had a blast and will def be watching each week.

    • Marie Brennan

      It’s been long enough since I read the books that I wasn’t going to make any assumptions about how much that had been amped up. I seem to remember guys killing each other over a woman at the wedding, but on any level more detailed than that, I have no idea what changes were made, and will gladly defer to people who remember the text better.

      Dany was . . . interesting. I felt she came across as weak, but the friend who hasn’t read the books had a much more charitable interpretation; she said Dany came across as trapped by her circumstances but not bowing to them, and felt the character had strength that was going to become more apparent with time. So for that audience member at least, some of the nuance managed to come through — though, of course, mileage varies depending on who’s watching, and I don’t expect that everybody got the same things out of that scene. It’s why I’m curious to see how Dany proceeds, because I remember a lot of her strength and nuance being internal (at least at first), and that doesn’t translate very well to the screen.

      As for the direwolves — heh. We were mocking the NYT review with its “they totally shoehorned in some sex because otherwise women would never watch this” b.s. It’s really all about the FUZZY PUPPIES GO RAR. Direwolves bring all the ladies to the yard, yo.

      • saladinahmed

        Also, I hope they move Catelyn from “Oh, Ned, don’t go! Oh, Bran, stop climbing!” Wife/Mommy to the hard-politickin’ woman of the novels. There seems to be some promise of that with the investigation of Bran’s attempted murder…

        • Marie Brennan

          I’m willing to give them more time on that one. The premiere being only an hour long, there wasn’t a lot of time to delve into anything, and I don’t feel they mis-represented Catelyn as I saw her in those early chapters. (Later on, of course, she shows more sides, and ultimately changes . . . shall we say, quite a lot.)

    • sarcastibich

      “…and more that the cheesy costume design, dancing, casting, etc., made the caricature 1,000 times more preposterous.”

      This. As I was watching the women dance during the wedding scene all I could think was “its like BET channel music videos with a fantasy theme. Look, its a classic hip hop booty shake!” as they popped their ass up and down.

      • saladinahmed

        Yeah. “Khal Drogo don’t see nothin wrong with a lil’ bump n’ grind…” Groan.

      • Marie Brennan

        That’s a good description. It did indeed feel very hip-hop.

        (Which is a pity, because in anthro classes I saw videos of the kind of dancing they could have been going for instead, and that would have been more interesting.)

  11. marumae

    I enjoyed it for the most part, I thought the costumes were wonderful and the casting was all right. Though I did get tired of Dany’s slow motion walking, and wide eyed deer in headlights look, combined with the opening of “Our Lady of Wailing Woe” soundtrack music. I know she’s supposed to be delicate and innocent and ethereal, but she really wasn’t one of my favorite characters. I’m still interested in whats’ going on beyond the wall and part of me wishes Martin would spin off with that.

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