Major spoilers for the entire series follow
Imagine a series of fantasy books. A series which dedicated thousands of pages to hundreds of characters, dozens of locations, interweaving plots that extended across seven kingdoms. There are wars on a gigantic scale, where thousands die as armies clash over whom will sit upon the Iron Throne. There are executions, black magic, sadistic torture, rape, human sacrifices; a brutal vision of a world at war.
Among this chaos lies a political battlefield within the cities, reminiscent of Imperial Rome, in which one unguarded word can bring death, where loyalty is foolish, betrayal is prosperous and marriage is merely an alliance for advancement. A world where characters commit multiple regicides, infanticide, suicide and even incest. Then finally added to this absurd melting pot is a horde of frozen zombies, pyromaniac witches, shapeshifters, giants and three fire-breathing dragons. Now imagine trying to mould this madness into a television series. What you would have as your final product is Game of Thrones, the international phenomenon that has taken television by storm.
As an avid reader of George R. R. Martin’s novels, the source material for the show, I would have felt this feat was impossible. Where could you begin when considering the immense scale and outrageous content of Martin’s novels? Nevertheless, I can inform you that the show is a triumph. It is the most expensive television series ever broadcasted. However that money has been well spent on all aspects of the show’s production, making it a rare breed of TV adaption, one which satisfies the devoted reader and the uninitiated but captivated viewer.
Game of Thrones is indebted to its superb cast of actors for bringing its iconic characters to life. Peter Dinklage as the dwarf Tyrion Lannister is a prime example. Dinklage captures perfectly the mischievous wit and humour of ‘The Imp’, which makes him a fan favourite. His character is a paradox. You cannot help warming to him, despite his assistance of the Lannister tyranny. He combats the disgust of his family towards him for what he is, with wry remarks and dry humour that raises him above the rest.
Charles Dance’s thespian gravitas is ideal in his portrayal of Tywin Lannister, one of many villains featured in the series. His appearance is as cold and cutting as his delivery of his terrifying commands to his inferiors and his family. Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister is the ultimate lady of the back-stabbing court; false smiles, venomous one liners, to mass histrionics of rage. As for Jack Gleeson in his portrayal of the sadistic King Joffrey, the outpouring of joy on Twitter following the demise of his character recently, vindicates his great performance.
The Lannisters are hugely entertaining and hateful, yet at the same time other families share the limelight, most notably the Starks. Michelle Fairley as Cateyln Stark is a strong female character that endures, despite the continuous waves of misery that batter her. Each Stark child faces their own adversity, lost from their parents, which is conveyed capably by all of the young actors. Whether it’s the depression and hopelessness of Sansa, trapped in the parasitical court at King’s Landing, the strength of Arya on the run, or the confusion of the youngest boys, Bran and Rickon, about their destiny, the brooding John Snow with the Night’s Watch, or Robb Stark, leading the rebel army. These noble characters may not have the glamour of the villains and may seem boring in comparison, but the young actors completely become the characters Martin created.
Yet none can match the importance of the main heroine, the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen. Within the books and consequently the TV show, misogyny is rife. Women have to endure a wide variety of hellish situations, whether it be prostitution, beatings, forced marriages, or worse. Daenerys is the ultimate exception and stands as a beacon for female empowerment, a role the story desperately needed, for the books and the show. Otherwise the story would conform to type for the fantasy genre, in which women are merely objects of beauty.
Emilia Clarke plays the progression of Daenerys beautifully throughout the TV series, developing from scared teenager into a woman of stature and authority, before becoming the moral and rightful claimant to the Iron Throne. A Feminist heroine in a world where the concept does not exist. The list of characters goes on and it pains me to leave out some cult favourites but the overall message is clear from a reader’s perspective; the actors bring these characters to life as we the reader envisage them from the books, which is why this show excels.
Yet what makes Game of Thrones captivating for the non-reader is its relentless drama. When reading a book, words can paint a vivid picture of a scene. In the chaotic world of George R. R. Martin, these moments are too numerous to count. When reading a key scene, a reader is guaranteed to conjure up their own cinematic vision of these events in their minds.
However for many of us that have now watched the show, the excellence production of scenes entails that it is the television series which provides us with those definitive images. We sat in shock as we heard the murderous baying mob cheer for the head of Ned Stark. We watched the sky filled with flaming arrows and the sinking of doomed ships, as men fell by the sword in battle in the Battle of Blackwater.
We marvelled at the monstrous fire breathing dragons and recoiled in fear at the emaciated, tattered walking dead beyond the Wall. And as for the Red Wedding, for many, that would be the most traumatic event they had ever witnessed on a television screen. No show would permit heroes to be so brutally massacred yet Game of Thrones boldly does the unthinkable, true to the books. I knew exactly what was coming, yet the shock still hit me like a train.
The small details gleaned from sentences we have read are preserved painstakingly within these scenes. The sensory qualities that television adds, through the visual element, through sound, acts as a huge enhancement. Yes, some scenes may be disgusting or shocking, even for modern sensibilities. However this was how Martin wrote them. The lack of sanitisation of these scenes means the purity of the books remain.
As a reader, knowing of the many shocking events to come, it is clear that Game of Thrones has longevity, providing the same attention to detail is preserved. I am not a purist for the novel in the debate over book and film. Nevertheless, we are indebted to these books for providing the material to produce such a spectacular show. For me, I’m happy to enjoy both.
Game of Thrones Series 4 is currently airing on Sky Atlantic