DVD Review: ‘Game of Thrones: Season 1’

Following in the footsteps of The Sopranos, The Wire and most recently Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s latest hit series is another sprawling epic featuring an enormous cast of diverse characters. However, rather than the drug-ravaged streets of Boston or booze-drenched promenades of Atlantic City, Game of Thrones’ fantastical setting is, in itself, its USP. Based on the novels by George R.R. Martin, the 10-part first season follows the plights of numerous prestigious ‘houses’ as they vie for control of Westeros’ Iron Throne.

Central to the struggle for Westeros is Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark (Sean Bean), head of the Stark house and charged with safekeeping the northern territories from his seat in the castle of Winterfell. However, after a surprise visit from the rotund Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), King of the Seven Kingdoms, Ned is forced to attend to his Lord’s business in the capital city of King’s Landing.

Playing out simultaneously alongside these events, two prestigious households, the flaxen-haired Lannisters and dragon-blooded Targaryens (backed by the nomadic, horse-mounted Dothraki horde), both plot to claim the Iron Throne for themselves through various nefarious means. And in the North, beyond the colossal, 800ft tall/300 mile long Wall built to protect Westeros from the wildling threat, an ancient evil stirs from its slumber to threaten all living life throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

Despite two engaging, well-executed opening episodes, Game of Thrones begins to become markedly stretched and unevenly paced over the first season’s ten-hour running time. Rather than further exploring the key members of each house (particularly the honourable Starks), a series of new, significantly less-interesting characters are thrown into the fray at each possible opportunity, diluting the political drama.

A few cast members separate themselves out from the crowd. Peter Dinklage’s Machiavellian ‘imp’ Tyronian Lannister is far-and-away the most complex, watchable individual, instilling some much-needed wit and humour to proceedings as he worms his way out of all manner of sticky situations. Bean is typically stoic as Ned, a likeable knight of the old-school devoted to Robert, his friend and King, and protecting his kins – even his bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). Less impressive is Addy as the drunken, womanising King Robert – whilst his pantomime portrayal of the Henry VIII-esque regent is at times amusing, it’s hard to ever imagine him as the youthful warrior that once brought the Seven Kingdoms to its knees.

Game of Thrones’ production design is similarly inconsistent. Winterfell and the northern reaches have a wonderfully icy, medieval aesthetics, complete with muddy streets, burning torches and stony keeps. In contrast, the Mediterranean-style climes of King’s Landing looks relatively tacky and underdeveloped. It’s telling that the whole series starts to flounder once the majority of action relocates South.

As a first foray into Martin’s fantastical universe, HBO have clearly managed to capture the imagination of many with the first season of Game of Thrones, despite a number of frustrating flaws and inconsistencies. We can only hope that the production team are able to reign themselves in and settle on a more focused vision of Westoros’ warring houses in time for season 2.

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Daniel Green