There was a crazy story out of Florida not too long ago. Apparently, two young men who were watching Game of Thrones got in a fight over who was going to “win” on this show. The fight escalated quickly, and one of the men ended up arrested. Ok, fair enough, we at Enchantment Under The Sea can certainly understand getting invested in pop culture. But a fight over who’s going to “win?” What does that even mean? It’s not like this is American Idol; this is a narrative fantasy epic.
But then again, it might be fair question: can there really be a winner on this show? So far, we’ve been shown the machinations of a few different power-hungry individuals. And we’ve also seen hints that there is not enough power to go around. So there obviously DO have to be some losers. And the stage is being set for a really interesting ride to finding out just who wins and who loses in this world.
To get oriented: picture a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy epic, but made by HBO, and you’ll know exactly what’s on offer in Game of Thrones. Like any serial HBO drama, there’s family tension, dramatic conversation, detailed sets and costumes, and a lot of sex and violence. And sexual violence, actually.
But in addition to HBO’s hallmarks, it’s also got the hallmarks of any great fantasy epic: we’ve got a noble family man (with the unlikely name of Ned) destined for righteous power, pitted against scheming courtesans (like the expertly snarly queen) and slighted dynasties (the almost-albino wraiths across the Narrow Sea). The third episode even starts to paint some specifics on the standard fantasy-narrative impending apocalypse overtones. It’s all essentially what you’d expect from a capable fantasy epic given the HBO treatment.
I do have to say that there are some things that stand out as better than standard after these first three episodes. First of all, the countryside is absolutely beautiful. The show opens with a really eerie, really beautiful sequence in a snowy wood. In fact, all of the scenes that take place in the snowy country near The Wall are starkly beautiful. And the atmospherics are all dead-on, from the snowy gloom of The Wall to the glittering streets of the capital. There’s some really beautiful, really cinematic stuff happening in this show.
But the acting is probably what elevates this show the most. Peter Dinklage’s worldly, bawdy dwarf, for instance, is a joy to watch. The chemistry between Sean Bean’s Ned and his wife Catelyn (played by Michelle Fairley) is understated and believable. Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys is pitch perfect, slowly transitioning from being the broken pawn of her brother’s power games to the empowered queen with a glint of scheming behind her eyes. And Arya, Ned’s youngest daughter, is the center of a fascinating story about power and gender, anchored by a really solid performance by Maisie Williams.
In fact, Arya’s story is probably my favorite so far in the series. For a traditional fantasy epic in which the female roles are usually populated by either dim sex-objects or shrill wenches, there are some pretty interesting and complex roles for women in this show. And Arya’s story is proving to be a very good example, a story demonstrating the gendered symbols of power and how supremely satisfying it can be to see those symbols shift across gender lines.
Arya’s only one example among many of strong acting and interestingly-drawn characters. All told, this cast is filled with totally capable performers.
That’s the thing, though. Three episodes in, and that’s all I can really say: aside from some standout highlights, Game of Thrones is essentially imminently capable. I can’t say it’s groundbreaking or it’s the best example of its kind. But it is totally competent, certainly as good as any of its fantasy peers.
Maybe taking fantasy seriously and being capable is enough. In some ways, Game of Thrones is, after all, traditional epic fantasy’s first big television break. It’s taking this genre really seriously, and that’s already a step up from the goofy children’s story this could be.
Maybe I shouldn’t get too hung up on how revolutionary this show could be. In the final thrilling moments of the third episode, Ned sees the power welling up within his daughter Arya, and we can see his terror at what this power brings. Moments like this already make Game of Thrones really fascinating to watch, and it’s got swords and direwolves and just a hint of magic. That’s all I really need for now.