Sunday, January 26, 2014

Discovering Game of Thrones

A few weeks ago, with nothing of any particular interest on the 2,845 channels on satellite (okay, a minor exaggeration, even including all the music channels), I tuned in to the first episode of the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Turned out it was just the start of a marathon of the entire first season, which I watched and/or recorded, and promptly got hooked on the characters, premise, intrigue and world-building. Thanks to HBO-on-demand, I was able to record later seasons to get me up to speed on the this twisty turny epic in the space of a few weeks.

Though I'm not much of a Fantasy fan, I could easily justify this one as more of a SF crossover. After all, in this world there are years-long summers followed by years-long winters. We're talking about up to five years long and sometimes longer. That to me said "another planet with unstable orbit." Further, none of the lands or continents are recognizable as anywhere on ancient Earth, so in my SF-inclined mind, I could totally justify GoT as planet-based SF. And there are even a couple of romances--though very untraditional ones--so with a little bit of a stretch it might even qualify as SFR.

GoT is also devoid of the typical Fantasy creatures like faeries, elves or goblins. Okay, granted it does have a dwarf, though his character is one of the more fascinating inhabitants of the land of Westeros. And there is a giant. And dragons...but heck, dragons are common fair in SFR. They've been extinct for centuries with one kingdom, Harranhal, still bearing the scars of ruin from their last attack.

Oh, and Westeros also has direwolves. Gotta love the prehistoric twist.

And throw a formidable army of ice zombies into the mix, as well.

The combination is just enough to feel like an oh-so-familiar medieval Earth setting that's twisted into some very elaborate knots.

What fascinated me most about the complex politics and plethora of gray-area good-turned-bad and bad-turned-good personalities is the Surprises. With a capital S. No character is sacred in this series. Main characters and major players alike lose their heads or various other body parts. Nothing is predictable. The good guys don't always win and the bad guys often get exactly what they wish for--and you know how that saying ends.

Lord Ned Stark is played by Sean Bean
The inhabitants of the seven kingdoms of Westeros have been thrown into chaos by a series of events that began with the death of the Mad King, a Targaryen (Dragon banner). His current successor--not a Targaryen but a Baratheon (Stag banner)--claims the throne and marries the daughter from a powerful and wealthy competing House--the Lannisters (Lion banner)--to maintain the peace. He then enlists the help of a childhood friend and head of the focus House of the series--Eddard "Ned" Stark, Lord of Winterfell of the North (Direwolf banner). Lord Stark becomes his King's Hand, or chief advisor.

Here's a bit more about this development from the author:

Yes, the Houses and alliances are a lot to take in. The intro to the series might give you a better visual of the lay of the land.

But Peace never lasts long in this world. When the new king dies, the scramble to seize the throne sets off a series of beheadings, hostage-taking, uneasy alliances, and marriages-of-convenience. The first to be beheaded is Ned (Eddard) Stark, and the first to be taken hostage are his daughters. This, rightfully so, triggers a war with House Stark and Ned's son, Robb, raises an army and marches south toward the capital of King's Landing after being named King of the North.

One element of the series that rings a very clear chord with me. It's the sense of duty and honor surrounding those brave souls who dedicate themselves to the Night Watch, the elite rangers who take the oath to defend the wild, frozen territory north of The Wall. (By the way, one of these cold-weather rangers is Ned Stark's bastard son, Jon Snow.) The Wall is a seven hundred foot tall barrier of ice and earth that was constructed across the narrowest waist of the continent to keep murderous things in the frozen north contained in the frozen north. These murderous things include semi-wild humans called (appropriately enough) Wildlings, and the dread White Walkers, the unstoppable ice zombie army I mentioned before.

The first three seasons are infused with fear of the coming Winter (which is predicted to last for many long years, plunging the world into a frozen darkness), and the unstoppable army of White Walkers who apparently will not be stopped even by The Wall.

As this force gathers in the North, a new force is reborn in a land across the seas to the South. Dragons. Dragons have come back into existence at the hands of a young woman who is probably the most rightful of the many rightful heirs to the Iron Throne of King's Landing--the sole surviving Targaryen.

The Iron Throne of King's Landing
When the dragons are hatched, so is their omen--a magnificent red comet that can be seen throughout the realm even in daylight.

The subtext is clear. Something very bad is coming, and it may arrive from the North, from the South, or from both directions at once.

Game of Thrones was adapted from the Fantasy series written by George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire. It seems the series title provides a very big hint about the battle that may be gathering in season four and beyond.

I highly recommend this series to fellow writers as a potential playground for the muse and a possible catalyst for many new themes and story ideas. Another great thing about GoT is the array of very strong and competent female characters. Warriors and warriors-in-waiting, strong-willed Ladies, wily Wildlings, rising queens and clever matriarchs, the series offers a welcome abundance of Girl Power and feminine might.

Read more about Game of Thrones here:
Wiki of Ice and Fire: The Seven Kingdoms
Wikipedia: A List of Game of Thrones Episodes


  1. The show barely skims the surface of what all is going on in this series. Entire story arcs have been removed from the show because they won't fit, even in a TV format.

    As good as the show is, the books are better. They're rich and layered and so beyond epic in scope. It's amazing.

  2. That's great to know, Rachel, because the TV format seems so detailed and the various character arcs so artfully intertwined that the books must be incredible. Going to have to take a look at them.

  3. Hi Laurie, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris

  4. I just know I'd LURRRVE Game of Thrones, but I don't get HBO, so I haven't yet made an effort to buy in. George R.R. Martin has always skimmed the boundary between fantasy and SF, so no wonder you see the parallels. He started writing in the time just before the Great Split in the 70's. One day, when I have a few months of leisure, I'll pick up the books!

  5. Thank you for stopping by, neighbor to the North, Chris. I will definitely check out your blog.

    Donna, the GoT seasons are available on DVD through Amazon. I'd highly recommend you try out season one and see if you aren't hooked.

    Be aware this series carries a share of cover-your-eyes extreme violence (as well as some very sexy times and to a lesser scale, a bit of true romance though not all end on an HEA) but I see it more as bald realism in this wild and wooly world than being carried to an extreme.


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