We catch up with season one of HBO's amazing high fantasy hit

By Drew McWeeny
Wednesday, Mar 7, 2012 2:40 AM

I can't find a photo that shows all the greatest characters from 'Game Of Thrones' at the same time, so I'll have to settle for one great big slab of Dinklage.
Credit: HBO Home Video

I've read the first book in George R.R. Martin's epic "A Song Of Ice and Fire" series, and I'm a fan of that book. I have heard a wide range of opinions about the rest of the series, and I've done my best to avoid spoilers, since I have the books here in the house and will read them at some point. I did not watch the HBO adaptation of the first book when it aired, so I've waited patiently for the Blu-ray release. I have a preference for powering through a full season of TV when I can, and I can't think of a show better suited for that sort of marathon viewing than this one.

When HBO decides to gamble on a show, they go big, and I respect that. "Game Of Thrones" is gorgeous, and it looks and sounds tremendous on Blu-ray. What makes the Blu-ray the ultimate edition, though, is the way they've taken full advantage of the interactive nature of the format to help viewers if they want help keeping track of the show's complex family politics. I think the show does a great job of explaining it all for you, but I understand that it's a dense bit of text overall, and the extra features here are outstanding. You can turn on a program guide that will work during the episodes, giving you facts and history and interconnections at moments you might need the prompt.

What makes the adaptation, spearheaded by David Benioff and D.B Weiss, such a remarkable accomplishment is the way they've taken the details of the book and the characters and they've remained very faithful while making constant small improvements that add up to what feels like the book Martin meant to publish, if not the one he actually did. It's unusual to see guys like Martin and Robert Kirkman involved so directly with the shows that are being adapted from their work, and it seems like the best formula here is adding some strong voices to the original creator and seeing what sort of alchemy results.

The various directors all do strong, visually powerful work, and they build a world that the actors can fully lose themselves in. I find it amazing that Timothy Van Patten, one of the worst actors of the '80s, roundly and deservedly mocked by MST3K at the height of his horribleness, has become a genuinely gifted director whose work here set a tone that was matched by Alan Taylor, Brian Kirk, David Nutter, Daniel Minahan and David Petarca with aplomb."Game Of Thrones" benefits enormously from the cast that they assembled. Lena Headey, Sean Bean, Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Aidan Gillen, Kit Harington, Mark Addy, Charles Dance, Iain Glen, Harry Lloyd, Jason Momoa, and more… all perfectly cast, as if pulled directly out of Martin's head.

This succeeds where so many fantasy films fail because of the reality that they create. While this is a world where dragons existed at some point, and where there is a suggestion of old magic resurging with a new strength, there's nothing about this that feels unreal. It is very grounded, with a sense of real history. I've written at length about my love of "Lord Of The Rings," but this is after something different. Peter Jackson is not just willing to indulge the fantastic… it's one of the reasons he was drawn to those books. But here, the goal seems to be a reality that holds the fantastic at arm's length, and it is utterly engrossing.

Also, in the best tradition of what TV can do that feature films cannot, this series is wildly canny about the use of the sting or the cliffhanger. Every episode ends at exactly the right place to bait the hook for the next episode, and it is addictive. I would have gone mental at the end of some of those episodes if I hadn't had the next one ready to cue up and play as soon as I was done. The show is built around these amazing emotional crescendos, and while this isn't a show that is built to run forever, thriving on the stagnation that is so often built into the very nature of episodic drama, it is a show that will burn wildly bright during its time on the air.

I used to joke when they were trying to find directors for the "Harry Potter" series, before they started production on the first film, that if they hired Robert Rodriguez for the job, JK Rowling would end up writing novelizations because he would make all seven films in about two and a half years. Knowing the pace at which Martin has been publishing his books so far, I'm curious to see if he manages to get his story on the page and in bookstores before the HBO series laps him and has to start inventing material. This first story arc writes a pretty big check, and I'm curious if (A) Martin can cash it, and if not, (B) if the television show can.

I love it when television breaks the form, tries something new, and has a voice all its own, and "Game Of Thrones" manages to draw important lessons from the best dramatic series of the last fifteen years while also carving out territory that feels new. It is a thrilling box set, rich with extras for fans and built to help even the most casual viewer feel fully informed as they watch, and a great example of when content and packaging work together.

"Game Of Thrones" is on Blu-ray now.