After Hours

Game of Thrones: New HBO series is a feast for geeks

The 10-episode HBO series of the Game of Thrones kicks off on April 17. See why it could be a big success, check out our quick guide to the main characters, and watch a 15-minute sneak preview.

When it comes to pop culture and entertainment, science fiction and fantasy have long been traditional favorites in geek circles. For a lot of geeks, that means this weekend is a big weekend because it is the debut of a modern fantasy favorite coming to life on screen. I'm talking about Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martin's series, A Song of Ice and Fire, which debuts Sunday, April 17.

However, one of the unique things about the Game of Thrones adaptation is that it is being produced as a 10 episode series on HBO to tell the story of the first book (and plans are already in the works for another 10 episodes for the second book next year). By comparison, the Lord of the Rings -- which Martin's series is often compared to -- had to be condensed into less than a third of that time and had to make significant plot and character cuts in order to accomplish it.

That's one of the main reasons that a lot of geeks are excited to see if this experiment will work, because there's hope that it could mean a much fuller and more faithful adaptation of the book. Plus, there's also just a lot of interest in seeing Martin's work come to life because his brand of fantasy has its own unique style.

Tom Merritt, co-host of Sword and Laser, said, "The Song of Ice and Fire series is regarded as the modern day Tolkien. It brings realism and fantasy together in ways that most people think are impossible. To see the vision carried out on screen by people who care about the story and are devoted to preserving its feel has us all very excited. Not a week goes by on Sword and Laser where we're not talking about a new trailer, food truck or other promotional piece of brilliance from HBO."

My preview

Thanks to HBO, I got the opportunity to pre-screen the first six episodes of Game of Thrones this week, and I came away dazzled by the series, with just a couple complaints. My immediate feeling after finishing the sixth episode was disappointment that I'm going to have to wait almost two months until the seventh episode airs. I take that as a very good sign that HBO is on the right track here.

First of all, they totally nailed it on the casting. None of the parts are badly casted, and Sean Bean as Eddard Stark and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister are absolutely brilliant. They also cast two difficult parts very well -- Lena Headey as Queen Cerei Lannister and Maisie Williams as Arya Stark.

The screenplay is also a homerun. It does an excellent job of bouncing between the different story lines without making the experience jarring, which was a big risk. I haven't read the book in a couple years, but after reviewing six episodes, I couldn't think of a single important part that was left out of the on-screen adaptation. There also wasn't a single instance where I thought the screenplay interpreted things wrong or butchered the story (that definitely wasn't the case with Lord of the Rings, which was still a great movie trilogy but had some awful cuts and changes). I'm sure a lot of that has to do with the fact that Martin himself was brought in as a consultant and producer on set. Martin even wrote the screenplay for episode eight in this first season.

To top it off, the costuming and cinematography were excellent and helped bring the story to life and give it a very realistic vibe. The special effects were also done well, with the exception of a few gory violence scenes that came off a little bit hokey. That said, these TV series adaptations don't have nearly as large of a special effects budget as a major motion picture, and overall the wide panorama effects shots in Game of Thrones were much better than the comparable Showtime series, The Tudors, for example.

My one other nit to pick with Game of Thrones was the action and fight scenes. It appears that most of the actors did their own stunts and action scenes, and as a result, these were sometimes a little slow and labored. It wasn't that big of a deal in Game of Thrones, because there aren't that many action scenes, but it does worry me when they tackle the second book because it has a lot more action. This is an area that will need some improvement before they take on the second season.

One more thing to keep in mind is that because this is on HBO, you need to be aware that there is some graphic language, violence, and nudity. You'll find all of those elements in the Martin books, but most of them would have been edited out if this was a theatrical movie. In most cases, these things move the story forward or are simply part of the realism of the story. Again, this contrasts with The Tudors, which throws in some gratuitous sex and nudity for no apparent reason in several cases (although it's still an excellent series overall). The bottom line here is that Game of Thrones is not something you'll want to watch with your young kids or teenagers. It is full of mature content and themes.

One last note: If you're totally new to Game of Thrones, I'd recommend trying it for two episodes. After the first episode, you might be a little confused with your interest mildly piqued. By the second episode, I think you'll be hooked.

Three things to watch

As you watch the first season, here are a few themes to look for, without giving away any spoilers.

"Winter is coming" - Notice how this phrase gets used a lot and look at how and why characters say it. As you hear about winter in the Westeros, think about what this phenomenon would actually mean for the physical reality of this world and its people. "The seed is strong" - This phrase is very important for a conspiracy theory in the story. Figure out what it's saying and the full implications of what it's getting at, and what it would mean, if true. The lion vs. the wolf - Look for the symbolism of the animals in the movie. Each of the clans, or houses, has an animal that serves as its sigil. You should especially look for the symbolism involving the stag, the wolf, and the lion.

Character guide

Game of Thrones: A quick character guide

Preview

Here is a 15-minute preview of the first episode, released by HBO:

How to watch it

The first episode of the Game of Thrones debuts on Sunday, April 17 at 9:00PM on HBO, and a new episode will air weekly on Sundays in the same time slot. Since it's cable, there will be lots of re-runs in case you miss it or you forget to set your DVR.

I also asked HBO if it will be selling the episodes individually on iTunes and/or Amazon Video on a time-delayed basis. Unfortunately, the company said, "No," but that it would likely release the episodes electronically around the same time the DVDs come out. So, the only way to get Game of Thrones right away will be to sign up for HBO, which typically costs about $15/month.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

22 comments
Get-Smart
Get-Smart

...but I'm skeptical that people gushing about what a great job HBO does would know it. HBO has a reputation for making movies with terrific potential, but mostly they do a bang-up job of unraveling the stories at the end. If they were an airline, many of their movies would be considered "controlled flight into terrain" - i.e. crash due to pilot error. From the comments about the TV version of Dune, I'll have to find it somewhere, as I never watched it. The movie, "Dune", horribly butchered the stories and characters to the point where I refused to watch anything else afterward. Thanks for giving me some hope for redemption. I am a fantasy fan and I will definitely watch Game of Thrones at some point in the future, but I can't be too excited about this thing being made by HBO.

Everq
Everq

Sounds like this is some more trash full of sex, because for some odd reason sex still sells on TV - come back when you can write good stories without padding it with that rubbish.

leew2
leew2

I was always a SciFi fan rather than Fantasy fan until sister turned me onto the Game of Thrones, et.al. With such rich characters, I have been anxiously awaiting to see how this translates to the flat-screen. I have been watching the snipppets that HBO has been posting from the show and the show's background. Several of the roles are (joyfully) played by outstanding actors who easily convey the complexity of their characters. Some have not had a 'snippet' in which they would have the opportunity to display their talents. With so much to look forward to, I shall be parked in front of the tube with a mug of mead and bowl of biscuits - let the games begin!

terry.floyd
terry.floyd

It is most interesting to analyze how screenwriters choose to adapt dense and complicated literary works for a new medium. Ralph Bakshi attempted to film Lord of the Rings as two animated films back in the 1970s, but that effort failed rather spectacularly. It was decades before Peter Jackson managed to pull it off. Game of Thrones is going to be interesting, as the series has a devoted fan base that might be difficult to please. I'm seeing similar issues with the new filmed adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, a massive 1,200 page book far more controversial than most fanatasy epics, but with a very vocal following of loyal fans who have waited decades to see what Hollywood might do to their favorite novel. Having seen Atlas Shrugged Part 1 at a preview last week, I'm optimistic that most Rand fans will be pleasantly surprised at how skillfully the filmmakers managed to condense the story into a tight, fast-paced thriller with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger ending. Some pivotal events from the novel are inserted out of order, but this may be the only way they could have done it and set the stage for Part 2.

jkaras
jkaras

I'm a huge fan. I've read all the books and in fact I'm re-reading Feast for Crows to refresh myself when the new book comes out in July. HBO always does things right however I have no idea how they are going to introduce soooo many charcters to the overall plot? There are many Kingdoms and of course the Wall! The guy who plays Littlefinger has his work cut out for him. Between him my other favorites are Tyrion and the hound! George's books are borderline porno at times so I'm really curious how far of the envelope they are going to push while trying to appease the masses. I dont want porn but there are so many sexual encounters. So far the casting that I've seen visually are impressive, now we will see if they can deliver. Has anyone seen the war that George and Carlton Cuse have been waging? George ran his mouth about Lost having a bad finale and "not wanting to pull a Lost" that sparked quite the ire of Cuse. MArtin is now on the hook to make this everrything it should and could be. I with theguy my seat is booked, the beer will be cold, and the pizza will be piping hot as my home theater rocks in the world of Westoros! ps. If I created any spoilers, my apologies.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

The number of shows and movies I'd consider watching don't add up to enough savings over movies I go to in the theaters; or movies that I'd like to watch, but don't consider worth paying even a theater matinee price for. However, I'll probably pick up the DVDs of this when it comes out. By the way, the made for TV version of Dune was far superior to the theater version; and adhered much more closely to the book. Game of Thrones promises to likewise. In my opinion, Peter Jackson's version of the Lord of the Rings is the best so far. But it does lack the full richness of the books, and misses, or worse, distorts, much of the background and actual story lines. Most of the casting was right on; although I'm not sure the selections for the hobbits were quite what I'd have made, although that may be a factor of how they were told to portray the hobbits rather than their native acting ability.

shandleman
shandleman

I wonder why rigid faithfulness to the original material is so longed for when a strict following of the original can often bog down a movie. Books and movies are very different media with different dramatic needs. What works on the page doesn't always work on the screen and vice versa. Jason, you said yourself that Lord of the Rings was a great movie trilogy and I think the vast majority of people who saw it would agree with you. Part of what made it so good was the willingness to tell the story in a way that really worked in a visual and aural medium like a movie, cutting away characters and scenes because they would have interfered with the flow of the story, while retaining faithfulness to the general themes and ideas of the books. In other words: be true to the original, but don't be a slave to it. Otherwise you end up with the 1st 2 Harry Potter movies. (Probably not a totally fair example because Lord of the Rings had so many things going for it big time like great writing, cinematography, directing, terrific casting & acting, but you get the idea.) I'm really looking forward to watching the series.

richardbruce10
richardbruce10

should be fantastic, even better for me as most of it was shot in Northern Ireland and I work for the boody who helped to get it here by part funding it and providing the Paint Hall studio facility (biggest in Europe)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Seat booked, beer and pop corn on tap. Interupt at your peril. If they make a bollocks of it, I'll be really unhappy...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

There is some sex in it, but one of the parts of good fantasy is getting as much real in it as you can, and horrifying as this might be, in real life people do have sex, and quite often who they have sex with does have an impact on their daily life.... Now whether this adaption will be littered with bared breasts and lift music instead of powerful characterisation, faithfulness to the book, and good acting is something those of us who've read the book await with baited breath. Oh and it wasn't me who downvoted you, life seems to be picking on you enough as it is.... What is rubbish sex by the way, can't say I've com across it.

2rs
2rs

Thanks for that - I didn't know a movie is coming out! I'll have to re-read.

2rs
2rs

Read it maybe 4 times & watch EVERY time its on TV [even though I have the VCR tape]. I agree the TV version is superb. Saw the original release at Winchester 21 in SJ, CA with my SO & another couple. Us girls had read it and had to explain a few parts to the guys. Now, my SO is a Dune movie fan, but still hasn't read the book & yet gets every nuance. We are really looking forward to Game of Thrones - we haven't read the books. Anything HBO produces is top-notch 99% of the time. Quite a write up about it in SJ Mercury News [www.mercurynews.com]. Happy Friday - have a great weekend!

seanferd
seanferd

Too many movies which claim to be based on a book have absolutely nothing to do with the original story, or radically alter core elements. In such cases, disappointment could be lowered by saying the movie is loosely inspired by the book, and not using the book's title. Finer details don't always matter, excepting in cases where, say, the dialogue is more important to a book/movie than the actual storyline or even the plot.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

It's definitely not "bollocks." I got to screen the first few episodes and I think it's a faithful adaptation of the book. I'll be interested to see if you agree.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

If you are posting in the comments about Game of Thrones, please remember that there will be a lot of people who have never read the books that will be watching the movies. Let's be respectful of that and not post any spoilers about characters and plot lines. Thank you!

seanferd
seanferd

I'd rather doubt Martin is big on gratuitous sex wrapped in a sci-fi or fantasy facade, from the works I've read. And he wouldn't have gotten as far as he has in these genres if that were the sort of writer he is. He'd be writing vampire stories. :^0 And I'll take your positive estimation of Game of Thrones as a recommendation, as I've never read these. Thanks.

blarman
blarman

The only book adaptation from Michael Crichton's works which stayed true to the main plot elements in the book was Sphere. Though Jurassic Park was a good movie, they strayed significantly from the story in the book where things go from good to bad, back to good, then to worse instead of from good to bad to worse. As a result, the second movie had to create whole scenes in order to connect from the first movie, and they were bad. The Andromeda Strain (original) was also very faithful, but drawn out for a screen adaptation. The 13th Warrior was a decent adaptation taken from the Beowulf/Grendal story, but not great. Haven't seen Timeline so don't know there. Worst ever adaptation: Congo. Between complete remakes of all the major characters and the animatronic apes, this one rates on my list of worst films of all time list. It really deserves a remake with modern technology, but most of all has to maintain the characterization given in the novels.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

A damn good start. Saw nothing to complain of, aside from they could have been more scantily clad women. :D The guy playing Viserys was excellent, I wanted to punch him out almost immediately. Can't wait for episode two.

seanferd
seanferd

Yup, no need for spoilers. If people I respect like something, I'm willing to give it a read. I have some experience with Martin and I already know I like his general style, so I'm probably an easy sale here. ;)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

But it's definitely one of the best sword and sorcery efforts I've ever read. Thye've done a reprint for the tv launch as well, so it shouldnlt be difficult to get hold of.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

in terms of both Viserys and the desire to get to episode two as soon as episode one was finished. :-)

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