Epic fantasy is not a genre one would typically associate with HBO, but the network has done its best to make the new Game of Thrones, based on the extremely popular A Song of Ice and Fire novel series by George R. R. Martin, fit the HBO brand. It’s methodical and sprawling, with generous helpings of sex, violence and profanity, and it projects such an air of seriousness that it practically screams “prestige.” At times Thrones feels like a Lord of the Rings movie with the fun taken out, but its sometimes tedious political machinations are balanced out with a number of fascinating characters and a penchant for attention-grabbing plot twists.
- Game of Thrones
- Sundays, 9 p.m., HBO
Fans of Martin’s novels are no doubt familiar with all of those twists already, and they will probably have an easier time keeping track of the large number of characters. Thrones is less about swordplay and magic than it is about backroom dealings and shady alliances, and as such it can often seem pretty dry. The intricate relationships among the various dynasties represent both the core of the show and its biggest weakness, but creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss know exactly when to break out a particularly lively sex scene or swordfight when things threaten to get too dull. They play up the sex and violence so much that it sometimes seems a little excessive, like an effort to set Thrones apart from typical fantasy and prove it worthy of HBO.
But it’s also a way to show that Martin’s world actually is different from typical fantasy, more grounded and character-driven and human. Thrones is especially good at presenting strong female characters, and even its villains get frequent moments of sympathy and compassion. The performances tend toward the humorless (only Peter Dinklage, as the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, looks like he’s actually having a good time), but they’re generally solid, and the special effects give a good sense of the scope of the world that Martin created. Regular HBO viewers get the depth and substance they’ve come to expect, and readers of the novels can see them come to life in an exciting and reverent way.