When I first set foot in the lands of iron and the castles of gold, Westeros was but another landscape epic of sword and sorcery that stretched in fascination to the ages of my youth, long ago. I knew only that it was beyond the reach of my limited cable television package, and that it was awash in praise and the clamor of the masses – the latter of which tends to mean I’ll likely hate it. But the first rental proved a welcome respite from all my trespasses, as sacrosanct as the most recent just last night. So off we went to gather more, to carry as many as arms would afford, then back to the comfort and safety of our humble abode to get lost all over again. Since we have moved burningly by torch and dale through every episode, only to learn of the limited years ahead of us, we decided to savor them the closer we got to catching up, the series that spared us from so many other drab offerings. If a film or series can provide such a thing as to get away from time to time, who wouldn’t jump at the chance and under such gallant banners and flags of pageantry?
I thought myself at once among familiars, having grown up enamored with broad swords and long bows, magic and Elves before Tolkien took to the big screen, rightfully so. I recall the first sword I forged of my own, having no mastery of the ore or magic, I nevertheless felt the sheer weight of the thing during or after screenings of “Conan“, “The Beastmaster” and “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad“, time and time again. Given a hearty proclivity for the bards’ tales of medieval tromps and the sordid pillow talk of wayward trollops, our own art and guises in the heart and armor of the grand ol days of fairs and role-play, I knew it like me own hand that it would suit us like the glory and the legend of the table round. Naturally I had in mind to write at some point about the glorious HBO series “Game of Thrones“, pondering on how I might approach each episode designed as a feature film. Then I realized it would be foolhardy to dig so deep a well, better to begin as we had from afar, give just the particulars to prepare for the long winters ahead. Now as we approach the mid of season 2, we have all but haste to guide us through. Sadly any writing was to be stacked up tall with all the other things I’ve gotten behind in going on about, until this morn had me thinking I should take the time as the time I have today to recommend it one and all.
I must say that my first exploration of reviews and reactions set me more than gnashing teeth and quick to pen in biting defense. The unmitigated gall of the unlearned and befuddled – why would you write about a medieval show if you’ve never liked the genre, much less HBO? The greatest insult is to suggest that common folk look elsewhere unless, as one lazy-eyed reviewer wrote, “you’re ‘Dungeons & Dragons types’. I remind myself of the fools and fodder of our over-sodium’d and cola-fied pop culture lord and lady reviewers, appetites worn smooth and breath drunk on their own success, how hung up on more is more better, however dulled by excess. But they are only telling many what they want to hear, our own everyday appetites used to the same, produced by those who haven’t had their wits about them since I can’t remember. Maybe it is their diet of super heroes and crime scene procedurals. One can take this for what it’s worth, let your own gut be ye guide.
Prepare yourself for smart and articulate tones, a broad and artful universe taken masterfully from an adaptation that respectfully brings the source material to the screen. Faithful to followers and enticing to regular theater goers, the producers aptly marry art with history for a particular kind of pop eccentricity, blurring ‘what might have happened’ with ‘what could have’, the best kind of speculative realism that enjoys hearty fiction almost equally. Think of the thin veneer of Tarantino‘s Django (my review here) and how it looked but failed to convince history, too much stylized nonsense and not enough common sense – his drunk pastiche and heavy-handed Xerox syndrome unleashed again – oh no! ‘Thrones‘ never sets out to educate us as it entertains us, nor is it particularly interested in such maneuverings, but that is what makes it so effective, giving us plenty to ponder days and hours later. Not that I would go so far as to compare the apple cores of the aging auteurs feature flim-flammery to the ripe and peachy oranges of ‘Thrones’, but to put a spin on the efforts of storytelling where one succeeds by not trying so hard and the other fails for trying too hard, the product is something you revisit again and again, the other once if (like me) even that.
‘Thrones’ is a tightly woven tapestry of themes and flavors, bridges and tunnels that connect an expansive world of deadly parlor games and battle sieges. What makes it so enticing and relative is how much the characters carry similarly the personal baggage of indiscretion and obsession that mires so well the social hindrances of today. The greatest stories are those that transcend the ages, that mirror today as readily as yesterday, embracing what has changed and what remains tried and true – our cutthroat solutions to impossible situations poised between immediate calm and lasting catastrophe. That is the true beauty of the artful and the refined, to engage our need for instant and relational pleasantries of the flesh and tongue while resounding in the mind, piquing the soul. In an era of changing kings and queens, a time when presidents are afforded less and less courtesy and respect, reflecting on the ages with long days of knights and fable-fueled blood sports, the history books seem the perfect destination for what ails us.
‘Thrones’ exceeds most all expectations, surely genre and cable series alike, the writing so masterful and exciting it is hard to compare but most certainly among the best out there. Every film or series is only as successful as the sum of its parts, here it exudes such wit and lasting charm one is taken away before you know it, hooked whether you’re prepared to invest in another series or not. Even the casual period drama viewer will find something to like, though it does fancy quite a bit of sex and death, second only to the cast and the set designs of such minutiae you would swear they operate on a feature film budget. Real world locations and exhaustive details, a story that begins and ends with mounting fervor, I’d argue with anyone who hasn’t been drawn in. I can hardly pause between the boxes, savoring each episode though there are only two per disc. Detractors might have you believe it shows no restraint, but true to the era in almost every way, and how would you suggest they portray the passion of sex and the violence of death? From the muted minds of the MPAA, bastardized sensibilities their PG13, how they replace every second of flesh with action and violence as if to suggest they are interchangeable, more readily digestible.
I feel as though a part of me has found a much-needed retreat from my everyday drudgery, to get lost in a roustabout in raucous regalia fit for a king. Thy only warning at my behest, count thy own mind master of infinite jest. If ye has waited this long there is much time to recount in wine and song, strap on your tassels and pointy hats, welcome thee traveler to ages past. Off now and make heed for the world of master George R.R. Martin is here at last, his source “A Song of Ice and Fire” is readily available for many have read, the mighty spectacle of Westeros – now off we ye head!