Sunday, June 10, 2012
10 Reasons why Game of Thrones is the best show ever aired.
Game of Thrones has just wrapped up its second season, and is clearly the best ongoing television series ever produced. Don’t believe me? Here are ten reasons why.
1. It’s never been done before.
Take a minute to list all the ongoing fantasy television series you’ve ever seen. It’s okay, I’ll wait. Now take another minute and try to think of some more. Pretty short list, right? Apart from the occasional sitcom with fantastical elements (I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched) or anthology series like The Twilight Zone, there has never been an ongoing fantasy series on the scale of Game of Thrones. Science fiction, of course, has had a long and storied (and sometimes awful) history. Fantasy—with its magic and dragons and swordplay and meticulously detailed alternate worlds—not so much. As in, never.
The Wire was agreat show too, epic in scope, with terrific performances. But it was still a cop show, and cop shows have had decades to get better and learn their craft and engage people. Ditto with Breaking Bad, The Sopranos or whatever other show you care to name. Game of Thrones not only does all that, but it does it right out of the gate, with no ancestry to call upon.
None of this would matter, of course, if this attempt at creating a fantasy world was unsuccessful. But Game of Thrones is far from unsuccessful, which brings us to…
2. The level of detail is stupendous.
There are how many separate kingdoms, continents, noble houses involved in this thing? Each with its own topography, customs, costumes, religions and superstitions, and linguistic turns of phrase (“What is dead can never die!” in the Iron Isles; “It is known” among the Dothraki, “Winter is coming” for the Starks). The cinematgraphy reinforces this, as different kingdoms and regions are filmed using differing color palettes to set the tone. (It helps that the series is filmed in Northern Ireland, in Croatia, and in Iceland, which again testifies to the level of commitment that has gone into this.) An establishing shot of just a moment or two is enough to convey whether we are in Winterfell or Harrenhall, Qarth or the Eyrie. And by the way, the architecture of all those grand castles, keeps and holdfasts is never short of stunning.
3. The casting is perfect.
One could argue a lot of things about this show, but it’s tough to argue that Peter Dinklage is anything other than magnificent in his role as Tyrion Lannister, or that Lena headley isn’t perfect as his sister, or that Maisie Williams doesn’t steal every scene she’s in, except maybe the ones with Charles Dance, and they they’re all trying to keep up with Michelle Fairley's Catelyn Stark. Sean Bean and Mark Addy, of course, absolutely knock it out of the park as Ned Stark and Robert Barathian, while across the Narrow Sea, Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke keep things lively as Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targarian, an odd couple if there ever was one. Special mention, though, must go to the aforementioned Maisie Williams as well as Isaac Hempstead Wright, who play Arya and Bran Stark. Which bring us to…
4. The child actors are fantastic.
When was the last time you said that about a TV show? Not that that the kids were cute, or cheeky, or whatever, but that they were really good actors? Bran and Arya are a couple of the most compelling characters in the show—no small feat there—and they never play their scenes the cloying cuteness or loudmouthed brattiness that passes for charm in kids these days. They are terrific characters, wonderfully acted, who happen to be ten or twelve years old.
In a related note, Arya the girl is every bit as important to the story as Bran the boy. To some degree, Game of Thrones tries to make its female characters as active and self-determining as its men—although to be honest, the men still are the ones, more often than not, who are making decisions and going around conquering the world and so on. Daenerys is an exception to this, though, and there are plenty of coniving, Lady Macbeth-type men as well.
5. There are dire wolves and dragons.
Not much more need be said. But just in case: the dragons are terrific, fiesty little critters who breathe fire and spit like pissed-off cats, while the dire wolves are big loping lugs with hearts of gold. Sometimes these beasts charge in to save the day, ometimes not. Oh and there are other things too, zombies and white walkers and rumors, at least, of spiders the size of houses. Can’t wait!
6. The characters’ morality is endlessly fluid.
A character who appears awful in one scene does something unexpectedly thoughtful in another. Someone who appears one-dimensionally bad (or good) turns out to have complicated reasons for acting as they do. Kings and queens, noblemen and soldiers, witches and whores all turn out to have backstories that make their actions, if not acceptable, then at least comprehensible. With very few exceptions (and yeah, there are exceptions, at least so far), characters are not portrayed as being solely noble or solely villainous. Everybody has a chance to tell his or her story.
7. There is a surprising amount of thematic resonance.
We’re used to seeing themes illustrated in a good novel or in a movie. In a TV show, not so much. But Game of Thrones offers plenty. Here’s just one example: in the first two seasons, we see three characters executed in the same way (by being beheaded). In the first episode, Ned Stark does so, explaining to his son that “The man who passes sentence should wield the sword.” Later in the season, someone else is executed—wrongly—and it’s significant that in that case, the man who demanded the execution did not wield the sword. Midway through Season 2, another man is executed, this time by a character who makes a complete botch of it, hacking repeatedly at the man’s neck and finally kicking the head off. It was gut-wrenching, but more importantly, it shows this person trying to be a noble character but revealing through his ineptitude that he is anything but.
Another show would have simply hit these deaths as climactic moments of plot, but Game of Thrones uses them as something more—as a means of demonstrating important elements of character. It shows an attention to detail that is rare indeed in a TV show (or in many movies or books, sad to say).
8. It’s funny.
Sure, it’s grim as shit, and people do tend to get their heads chopped off. But it’s also really funny, especially any scene involving Peter Dinklage, but also some of the stuff up at Castle Black and the Wall. There are any number of characters who get a pithy one-liner now and then (Jamie Lannister, Petyr Baelish, Robert Barathian, Bronn) and even a character or two who just make you laugh out loud because you hate them so much you want to wring their scrawny little necks (Joffery, I'm lookin' at you). Nobody will ever confuse Game of Thrones for a sitcom, and that’s just fine, but the writers are smart enough to know that even in this muddy medieval world, there need to be a few laughs now and then to break up the tension.
9. The opening title sequence rules.
How can you not love it? The drums pound, the marching music fires up, and the map unrolls to get you into the right frame of mind. Each episode’s intro shows you where the action is going to take place, and new castles and cities are introduced as they enter the stream of events. It’s a fiendishly clever way of priming the viewer for a new locale, and on tgp of it all there’s the cool clockwork-style castles that come twisting up out of the ground. You may think I’m superficial to put such stock in a non-storytelling part of the show, but these sequences are part of the story, and part of the television-watching experience as well.