HBO just concluded the first season of its new fantasy series, A Game of Thrones (adapted from George R.R. Martin’s mega-bestselling books). Like many viewers, I had read the books first and initially I was leery of this series. HBO generally does a fantastic job with its productions, but I always approach book adaptations with a healthy dose of skepticism. After all, novels offer so much more depth and verisimilitude. That being said, I’ve really enjoyed this first season. Here are a few reasons why:
Setting: HBO nailed it. The Twins, the Vale, the Wall, King’s Landing, and the Dothraki plains—they were just like I pictured while reading the books. It’s evident that HBO put a lot of time and money into set design, including the costumes. My wife commented early in the series how the people wore such shabby clothing compared to other fantasy shows and movies, and that jives completely with Martin’s world. It’s not pretty all the time, and the show got it right.
Characters: The casting is fantastic. My favorites so far have been Peter Dinklage (who just became a father – congrats, sir!) as Tyrion Lannister and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as his more-knightly brother Jaime. These two make being bad look fun. Peter portrays Tyrion’s keen wit with just the right amount of bitterness. Nikolaj somehow remains noble (-ish) while being a prick all the time. I’m eager to see how both—and all the characters—change as the series continues.
Story: Whenever a book is converted into film or TV, some sacrifices must be made. A Game of Thrones has done intelligent cuts, but even more impressive have been the addition of small scenes where characters can discuss issues, such as the books’ grand history or Tyrion’s sad experiences with prostitutes, rather than rely on a dreary voice-over narration. So overall, I give the series high marks for holding to the story that the readers already love. I liked how it included the story of Daenerys without breaking the flow of the other plots. I would have liked to have seen more of Ayra Stark, but as I said, some things had to be sacrificed.
Atmosphere: This is probably the most difficult aspect of a novel to convey on-screen because of its intangibility. The choice of words, their texture and rhythm, the details described—these are all difficult things to show on TV, but I give A Game of Thrones credit for its excellent pacing, which mimics the style of G.R.R. Martin’s prose.
As you can no doubt tell, I’m a big fan of the first season. It goes to show what quality television production can do with a great fantasy story, staying true to the genre while also making it enticing to a general audience. I hope it’s a trend that continues, perhaps someday with a little book called Shadow’s Son . . .
Jon Sprunk is the author of Shadow's Son, a nominee for the David Gemmell Award, and the newly-released Shadow's Lure. He lives with his family in central Pennsylvania where he is devising further tortures for his characters.