HBO have achieved something truly impressive with their excellent first season of Game of Thrones, faithfully adapting it from the first entry in George R. R. Martin’s ongoing fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice. Consistently compelling throughout its ten-episode run, it has successfully brought medieval-style fantasy to a mainstream audience – arguably for the first time since Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit cinemas over a decade ago.
Isolating any one aspect of the exquisite production values can easily turn from simple appreciation, to a mess of overbearing, infatuated gushing. From the icy climes at the Wall in the far North, to the decadent throne room in King’s Landing, each meticulously crafted set lends immeasurable credibility to the events and performances within them. The beautiful score punctuates, but never suffocates. Costume design is outstanding. Hell, even the opening credits are fantastic. The map it displays will subtly change before each episode, highlighting the areas of the vast world in focus for that episode.
Ultimately though, the real victory here lies with how successfully the complicated relationships, entanglements, loyalties and ambitions of the characters have been juggled. Admittedly, the first few episodes suffered a little, as the inherent difficulties of establishing the large cast can occasionally overwhelm. Though connected by the narrative thread of competing for the Iron Throne, there are numerous stories playing out in each warring faction, so as we’re introduced to, (and familiarised with) each group, the frequent switches in location and perspective were a little jarring. Before too long though, the seemingly separate stories were well fleshed-out and engaging, making their eventual collision toward the season’s end all the more satisfying.
Looking to the upcoming second season, the primary challenge for the creative team lies with keeping the story from being crushed under the weight of its own scope, and growing ambition. The story may be that of an ensemble cast, but for most of the first season, viewers were anchored to it by Ned Stark (the always reliable Sean Bean). With his head severed in one of the more shocking character deaths in recent television, the idea that any one character is the ‘lead’ has died with him. Thankfully, the remaining cast easily have the potential to hold that missing focus, and season two will need to capitalise on that. The post-Ned era should be approached with confidence, and the writers have more than earned the expectation that it will be.
Ned may have fallen, but in death he’s instigated a conflict that assures at least one thing: the war has just begun, and the race for the throne continues.
Game of Thrones premieres its second season Tuesday April 10, on Showcase.