It is hard for me to review the premier, being so invested in the Song of Ice and Fire world. Following and cheering the series since it was announced. Thinking back to a phone conversation with GRRM back in 2006 where I went on how I thought HBO doing the show would be so great, not knowing he was already probably in secret negotiations. And of course, financially, we stand to benefit from any increase in popularity of the book universe.

As a reader, when I first read the books years ago, I remember struggling at first, I remember the books starting slow and having a problem getting hooked the first few chapters. I was also worried how it started with a Bran POV and I thought it might end up being a book series for kids because of that (hah).

I thought the series started slow as well. It was very loyal to the books, but because I thought the books started slow as well, that made sense. It does make me worry for viewership next week, of course the hook at the end of the episode I’m hoping will take care of that, and that, as I recall, in the books, is the point where things pick up. Then once they all get down to King’s Landing things really start to roll. I’ve heard from some of those lucky people who have seen the first 6 episodes that the later ones are also faster moving and they have different directors. I kinda think that this episode had some editing and directing problems, it could have used snappier cuts, and more dynamic camera shots. I’m no professional of course, but I do consider myself a discerning film viewer. All told it felt a lot like a pilot, which it was. I’m confident those issues will get better based on what reviewers have said. Just, little things, for instance when the direwolves are found, it takes 10 seconds of staring for Ned to identify the beast, which obviously, being so large, it should have been easier for him to do. I’m not nitpicking, but longer shots like that, over an hour, add up and make it seem slower. Then of course, in that scene, the camera never really moved, we only had one angle of the dead direwolf. Maybe they shot other views, but the direwolf looked bad, so they cut them. Or they didn’t even shoot other angles, but that scene, like many, seemed to have far too static cinematography.

I also worry about people understanding everything fully. My wife, who has the benefit of living with a superfan like me, didn’t quite grasp it all. She did like it, she said, but she was confused on a few parts. I explained to her who Jon Arryn was during the episode, almost sure she wouldn’t have picked that up. Later I find out though she doesn’t understand who the King is. She is confused, I think, thinking Pentos is Kings Landing. I told her Robert Baratheon was the King, and she asked me why is he letting Viserys (the platinum blonde guy in her words) do all this army raising. So I have to explain he is on a different continent, that he is in exile. I know these things were of course explained in the show, but with so much new information to absorb they can be missed, I guess. She also didn’t get the time of when Robert ascended to the throne, which I think was not explained well. That it was, what, 17 years ago in the series chronology?

Then gives us this review by a fan who also had not read the book, and while the review is glowing, he also was confused. He thought Jon Arryn was king, and was Robert’s father, he didn’t get any of the backstory right, more or less. He loved it though. He was right that Jaime & Cersei had killed the previous King, but he thought that that was Jon Arryn. He also, like my wife, didn’t realize Pentos was a different continent.

Even though it isn’t in the books, I kinda think the series could have benefited from a LOTR style summary at the beginning. Maybe that well used plot device of a child asking their parent about something. Bran comes to Eddard in the godswood and asks who Jon Arryn was, he gets a little history lesson. It is a often used plot device, but it is often used for a reason, because it is effective.

The title sequence, I don’t know, I didn’t like it. I thought it was very old fashioned, very 1981 Clash of the Titans. On my TV it seemed fuzzy too, not HD, which also made it seem old fashioned. When you compare the crispness of the actual series, to the fuzziness of the title sequence, it doesn’t seem to match. I do like the concept of showing the locations relevant to the current episode (which I’m told it does, so it changes every week) but I just didn’t like the style of it. With the gears and whatnot. It made it seem very industrial to me, when the series of course is not. I think too that the time spent allowing the cities to build themselves, if that was removed, would provide room for better explanations. Such as time to zoom back out and establish that Pentos is way over to the right, instead of zooming close in on land to the right to show Pentos, which doesn’t give a sense of position as well. I know some people have raved about the title sequence, but I’m not a fan. I kinda hope it gets changed. HBO did it with Big Love afterall.

The best performance goes to Mark Addy in my mind. His bit in the crypt about Lyanna was some stellar acting, and my favorite scene I think. I wasn’t sure about Mark Addy at first, knowing him only for his comedic roles (Full Monty, Still Standing, A Knight’s Tale). But he was very good as Robert.

My favorite line from the premier is “There is no Dothraki word for “Thank You.””, and I can tell Iain Glen is going to do excellently as Mormont.

I liked it of course, I’m ecstatic about the season 2 pickup. I love ship battles, love them, I’m reading the Master and Commander series right now, and I can’t wait for the Battle on the Blackwater, but that is going to be expensive, so I hope HBO doesn’t skimp on it, but I fear they may. Of course we’ve got some pedigree from the movie Troy working on this, and while they did not have any ship battles, they had a lot of shots of many ships in that movie, so maybe that will help. Maybe they’ll know a cheaper way to do it. If they really put the budget into that battle though, that is going to be some stellar TV. The problem is that they won’t just need faraway shots of ships, they’ll need sets, on water, of multiple hulls. With Rome HBO largely did not show battles, only aftermath, to save money likely. Hopefully, with advances in CGI since then, they’re able to show us the full Blackwater fight.

On the same token, I wonder if they’re ever going to show us the Dothraki hoard. All we have right now is Viserys comment about what he would allow be done to his sister to identify their size. A picture though can speak a thousand words, and no shots in the premier, nor in any footage shown thus far to the public, has shown how large a group they are. I think a single aerial shot of tents and campfires would go a long way towards establishing that.

In summary, I thought the acting was great, the faithfulness to the books was great. the sets and costumes were great. The editing, cinematography, and directing were so/so (but will change in future episodes) and the title sequence I did not like.

The series also seems to be a success, which is great. Season 2 pickup, good ratings here in the US, outstanding record ratings overseas, and as well, it is supposedly HBOs more lucrative series overseas ever, beating even the Sopranos. The head of HBO said that they fully expect it to be a grower of a series, like TrueBlood was/is, which is also good, because I agree, and it means they’re expecting and willing to give it time. I think once the season is over, and people here how awesome the plot and the finale was, people will start to watch it, on DVD, on demand, on rerun, etc. During the dog days of summer with nothing new is on, that is how I originally got hooked on TrueBlood, and then, when the Season 2 premier comes, hopefully more people will watch it, having been hooked, and that will truly be a sign of a successful series. If you can grow viewership year over year.

13 Thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Premier

  1. Laura on April 20, 2011 at 8:58 am said:

    Hmm, sounds like maybe you need a refresher on something that is revealed later in the series.

  2. Maybe, if you think so, email me, but I’ve read the books 4 times so I’m not sure what I would be missing. My review touched so lightly on the overall plot as well I’m unsure what you picked up on, so please, email me your thoughts.

  3. Good review. And I agree with most of your points. I like that the map intro changes, but, yeah — it’s just a bit odd. Maybe it will grow on me? Overall, minus a few criticisms, I’m happy with the premiere. I just wish that they had spent more time on the opening sequence in Winterfell (with Bran in the courtyard, cutting randomly to Sansa / Arya, then back to Bran) with almost ZERO dialogue other than Eddard’s forced, borderline “cheesy” comment about “which of you were a marksman at 10?” — that entire thing was pretty horrible~

    Good thing it picked up from there :)

  4. I think Laura was referring to when you said that the Lannisters killed Jon Arryn. I agree that parts were slow. I thought that Catelyn and Tyrion were excellently cast, but Magister Illyrio was weak. Overall I kept thinking that if someone hasn’t read the book they would be totally lost. Thnx for your opinion.

  5. Oh, you’re right, I totally forgot about that.

  6. You hit it on the head. I watched it on premier night, of course, and then again last night, and the real momentum killer was the static shots. It felt very much like a pilot. The Starks were all well-done, I felt, but many of the characters don’t yet feel “lived-in”. Also, Sean Bean’s hair seemed darker and/or very wet sometimes with no explanatio (like the crypt).

    There’s also lots of editing that doesn’t make sense. The entire crypt scene should have been one; we don’t need a shot of Tyrion enjoying a Northern brothel in between the two most important moments between Ned and King Robert in the entire series, being offered the job of Hand while also reminiscing about Ned’s deceased sister.

    The abundance of still shots, pauses where nothing is said, and rushed dialogue when a pause would have done wonders, show how green the show is, and the reshot nature of many components of the pilot came through some, I think. I have high hopes for the show, and the hook at the end was of course fantastic, but you’re right. It was a bit uneven, and hamstrung a bit by the book’s early pacing.

  7. payne12 on April 21, 2011 at 6:54 am said:

    My husband had only the background that I had given him and so about a week before the premiere he started to listen to the first book on audio. That made a huge difference for him. Although he only got to about Chapter 12 or so, he had heard enough of the names and gotten involved enough in the story to have a basic grasp of what was happening in the first episode.
    I am thrilled to hear that the next few episodes will get better because it was good, but I too could see room for some improvements. I watched the direwolf scene in one of the previews on the HBO website and was quite disappointed in that particular part, because that was largely what kept me reading through the relatively slow beginning of the book!
    Can’t wait for Sunday, because Winter is Coming!

  8. Jason on April 21, 2011 at 8:53 am said:

    I had to pause the episode a few times to bring my wife up to speed on who certain people were and some background. She liked it, but found it confusing at times. The next morning she said that she felt it was a little too dark, and she actually felt “hatred” for Jaime after the last scene. I told her that is exactly what GRRM does in his writing, and I’m excited that it came across that way in the show to someone who knew nothing about the story. She finally understands why I would throw his books across the room, every now and then, in the middle of reading them.

    On the confusion: I was worried about this happening and wondered how the writers would involve so many rich characters, so quickly, without totally losing the audience.

    I’m very excited about it getting picked up for a second season. I just hope the viewership continues to grow and doesn’t fall off. As much as I’d like to think we, the fans of the books and GRRM, could keep it afloat, its going to take many, many more new viewers to keep it on the air.

  9. Best review I’ve read of the series yet. You nailed it.

  10. Chris on April 21, 2011 at 7:46 pm said:

    The major obstacle I see if the HBO series takes off, is the speed of Martin’s writing. It has taken 6 years for Dance of Dragons to supposedly be completed, and if it takes as long again for the next book to be finished, the TV series will have passed where the book will be up to.

    So what will happen? Will HBO hire their own screenwriters to finish the series how they want it? Or will Martin finish it the way he wants it? And if he feels pressure to finish the series quickly will it affect the quality of the writing?

    I know this may seem a little long sighted, but hey Im hoping this series takes off and gets the viewership it deserves. By the way, great review, pretty much summed up how I felt about it.

    And if it fails, HBO need to bring back Rome!

  11. I have high hopes the disc release of season 1 will include longer directors cuts of each episode (assuming the rest are a bit overcut)

    I enjoyed it but it felt too long to start and then at the end I was like “surely I have another 15 or 20 minutes”

  12. Jordan on April 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm said:

    Good review Valyrian (I actually liked the opening sequence but “to each his own”). I agree with most of the comments on here that this series is going to be a slow starter. That’s exactly how the books were; I can’t tell you how many of my friends of whom I’ve gotten to read the books were complaining that they were bored through the first quarter of GoT. And even thinking way back to my first read of it, it took awhile to really get who everyone is, where they stand, what happened during Robert’s rebellion, etc..

    As we all know, it picks up, wayyy up. I’m hoping the non-reading community can hold on that long, and reap the rewards as we have.

    That all being said. I liked it, it wasn’t perfect, but I liked it. I had to do a lot of explaining throughout the episode to my girlfriend who has not read the books. Hopefully all the confusion will work itself out, as it does in the book. I think we all need to think back to our first read through and how much we truly understood at that point as opposed to our third or fourth.

    Just a side note, but…did anyone not like Lena Headley as Cersei? I’ve thought she was good in other shows, and when I heard she was going to play Cersei I thought she’d be alright; yet for some reason I didn’t think she was any good.

  13. Luna Glorian on April 25, 2011 at 11:06 pm said:

    I loved the Premiere. I dont agree with everything you have written in your review, but I understand your opinions. I felt that the opening sequence was ingenious. All the cogs and mechanical stuff is not supposed to represent an “industrial” theme. It is supposed to be a metaphor for all the games being played, the machinations of the political intrigue of the series, the GAME OF THRONES, so to speak.
    I liked the editing, I thought that the pauses and “still scenes” were warrented. When editing you have to tell a story with pictures. In the first few episodes, especially if you are introducing a character for the first time, you have to let the camera linger on the character so that the audience can visually become acquainted with them. You have to think of it as if you had never imagined these people before. We know them, have imagined them. Now imagine someone who has never met Daenerys or Tyrion. Character Development is a big deal.
    The scene with Tyrion had to be sexy. This is TV. Think Like a TV person. You need some sexy scenes, because up until then the audience (whom we will assume had never read the books)were stuck in the crypts and at the wall or in the castles. All dark scenes as compared to the sexy scene which was bright and also established one side of Tyrion and his relationship with Jaime in one scene. One needed to establish the character of Tyrion in a few frames, since he had so few scenes in the premiere episode.
    There is more to editing than one might think. and also you must think of the screenplay, and how it was written.

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