Young Star

In this game, television is the big winner

DEFINITELY MAYBE - Carl Francis M. Ramirez -

I’ve been saying for a long time that television is catching up with film in all its artistic aspects. The writing the last few years with shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad are all top-notch. Fine actors and actresses have entertained us all with characters like Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy,(30 Rock) Bryan Cranston’s Walter White (Breaking Bad) and Sofia Vergara’s Gloria Pritchett (Modern Family). In terms of production value, where TV used to be the wasteland of the cheap and improvised, both the money and the talent have now started flowing, as can be seen with recent gems like Boardwalk Empire and The Pacific.

There are many other examples of this positive convergence of art, talent and money for this medium, but the most recent, and certainly one of the best is HBO’s new series A Game of Thrones, based on the multi-volume fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (in which A Game of Thrones is the title of the first book). This show, which is extremely faithful to the source material, showcases the deft hand of Martin in crafting drama and intrigue, as well the now-unrivaled production cachet of HBO in creating top-notch modern TV dramas.

The easiest and most accessible comparison (but by no means the best, nor the most accurate) to the world of A Game of Thrones is The Lord of Rings film trilogy – elements of magic and magical creatures, dark forces and rivaling factions. The world of Westeros is similar to that of Middle-Earth, an old world of fantasy where men wielded sword and shield to combat things they could not fully understand. But where LOTR excelled in its breadth and grandeur, Game of Thrones is all about depth and nuance. Thrones tackles nowhere near the scale of LOTR, but instead focuses on the humanity (or lack thereof) of its characters, the politics involved in a nation divided, and the struggles of men torn between duty and ambition.

The best part about this television production is the best part about Martin’s novels, and that is a plot filled with drama, intrigue, politics and the beauty and ugliness of human nature. Unlike other works of fantasy (LOTR), Game of Thrones almost exclusively revolves around humankind, and oftentimes becomes more poignant because of it.

Center to the troubles that shake Westeros and A Game of Thrones is Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark (played by LOTR alum Sean Bean). Ned Stark is a man of honor and tradition, and has proudly served his duty as protector of the North all his life. When the King, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) asks him to be the Hand of the King, the second-most powerful man in the land, a number of conflicts arise. Everybody in this story has some kind of stake in the Iron Throne of the King. From the eunuchs to merchants to knights and even to the Queen herself, motives are always suspicious. Ned’s family is put in danger; the crown is threatened by forces within and outside the kingdom; and all this while a deathly winter looms and threatens to bring dark times to land of Westeros.

What makes Game of Thrones a television success is that, though it is a story in a world of fantasy, it is not about flash and fireworks of magic and dragons. It plays to the strengths of the small screen. It takes its time to develop plotlines, establish relationships and tell fleshed-out stories without having to worry about the 120-minute allotment of most feature films. It can draw out conflicts over several episodes, paying more attention to developing characters.

For example, we see Ned stark at the beginning of this series as an unshakeable man of justice and tradition. Upon beheading a man guilty of desertion, Lord Stark says to his young son Bran, “We hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence swings the sword.” Stark believes that he who condemns a man to death must be willing to take that life himself, in keeping with tradition. Throughout the series though, Stark finds himself less and less a man of authority who renders justice, and more and more a victim of a conspiracy for the Iron Throne, failing to receive justice for acts against him and his kin and losing friends, family and allies along the way.

This atmosphere is beautifully set by its producers, and props to HBO for shelling out the cash to re-create George R. R. Martin’s world of ice and fire. It is reported that pilot episode of Game of Thrones alone had a budget of between $5-$10 million. The end result is a beautiful world filled with castles and dragon skulls and endless sword fights. More importantly the big budget netted A Game of Thrones a top-notch cast, headlined by Sean Bean but highlighted by Peter Dinklage (the little man in Elf), who plays Tyrion Lannister, the midget younger brother of Queen Cersei Lannister, nicknamed “The Imp.” Dinklage is a scene-stealer, even when everyone on this show literally towers over him. His performance alone in this series is worth the watching. He’s that good.

There are many more characters worthy of note, but it is a testament to the well-rounded cast that they are too numerous to mention here. The same for the many different plots and subplots that the show throws at us week after week. With this solid cast, the beautifully reimagined world of Westeros and a plot that twists and turns to every alley of politics, sex and bloodshed, A Game of Thrones is a dazzling showcase of how far television has become.

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For comments, you may email me at carlfrancisramirez@gmail.com

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