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 Winter-is-Coming.net 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.