Film and TV

Game Of Thrones: "Winter Is Coming"

Well, that's over with.

HBO's long anticipated adaptation of the first book from George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series debuted last night, and there is much to say. Newcomers to Martin's sprawling (the fifth of seven planned books comes out in July) and atypical (incest and intrigue figure more prominently than elves and wizards) fantasy series may have found themselves with a great deal to digest. The first episode crammed a ton of info into an hour's running time, and stumbled at points, but overall the network did its best to ramp the audience up and acquaint them with the show's major players.

Will it be enough? HBO has proven better than, say, Fox when it comes to nursing series along. But as any fan of Carnivale will tell you, there are only so many seasons the network is willing to cough up (a reported) $60 million to produce when the ratings aren't there. It's been announced that Game of Thrones will be around for two, at least. Which is better than nothing.

For the uninitiated, Game of Thrones concerns itself with the machinations of (for now) three noble houses. You've got the Starks, dour guardians of the North led by Lord Eddard (Sean Bean) and Lady Catelyn (Michelle Fairley). We also meet their five trueborn children (Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon) and Jon, Lord Eddard's bastard.

The sigil of House Stark is the direwolf, and wouldn't you know it, Eddard and sons stumble upon a litter of direwolf pups, one for each of the kids. It's going to be interesting to see how they CGI these babies throughout the series (they can grow to be as large as a small horse).

And then there are the Lannisters. Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) - married to King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) - her twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and their dwarf brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), referred to as "The Imp," as much for his sarcasm as his diminutive stature.

Across the Narrow Sea are the Targarayens, or what's left of them. Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and his sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) are all that's left of the former rulers of Westeros, and were forced to flee when

Robert defeated their father the king with the help of Eddard Stark and others. As the show begins, Viserys is giving Daenerys away as bride to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), leader of a nomadic tribe of horsemen called the Dothraki, so he may use Drogo's army to re-conquer Westeros.

Everybody keeping up so far?

Other, more sinister forces are at work as well. North of The Wall (a 700-foot high barrier of stone and ice, patrolled by an organization known as the Night's Watch and designed to protect the kingdoms from raiders and...other things), rumors have been heard of the return of the undead "white walkers," gone for thousands of years. As the episode begins, the sole survivor of an attack on a Night's Watch patrol by these walkers is captured by Stark's men and informs Eddard of what he's seen, shortly before he's beheaded for desertion.

Eddard has other problems. Jon Arryn, the former Hand of the King, has just died, and King Robert rides north all the way to the Stark holdfast of Winterfell to name Eddard the new Hand. He initially wants nothing to do with the intrigues of court, but news arrives from Catelyn's sister, Jon Arryn's widow, that he was in fact murdered by the Lannisters. The only way for Eddard to determine why, it seems, is to go south with the King and investigate further.

What could possibly have (allegedly) driven the Lannisters to murder the King's Hand? Not much, unless perhaps Jaime and Cersei were trying to prevent the king from finding out they're...a little closer than most siblings. Last night's rather shocking ending came about when Bran, Eddard's youngest and a spirited climber, chanced upon brother and sister having a go in one of Winterfell's abandoned towers. Jaime pitches Bran from the tower, choosing the direct route over, I don't know, trying to scare the 10-year-old into keeping his mouth shut.

For all that, the premiere of Game of Thrones was a bit ponderous in spots. There's an incredible amount of detail to digest for those not familiar with the books, and spoon-feeding the audience everything is going to take some time. Certain narrative liberties have been taken, as would be expected. For example, I'd have avoided hinting at Jaime and Cersei's activities at all until the big reveal of them going at it, but that's a minor complaint.

And as much as everyone talks about how "adult" Martin's fantasy epic is, HBO still had to make some concessions. In the book, Daenerys is all of 13, but she's been aged to at least the North American age of consent so as to allow topless shots and the implied consummation of her marriage to Drogo. Bran and Arya are older as well, probably do avoid the headaches of dealing with single digit aged actors.

Other than that, Game of Thrones is off to a promising start. Coming weeks promise more action and espionage, and lots more doggie style (seriously, they need to send some missionaries to Westeros), and more shocks. Having read the series myself, I'm going to do my best to avoid spoilers. For the uninitiated, you're in for quite a ride.

Next week, the new Hand journeys to Kings Landing while Jon Snow heads to the Wall to join the Night's Watch, accompanied by Tyrion Lannister.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar