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Winter is coming: Game of Thrones episode 1 review

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“Winter is coming” and it has arrived on HBO with the grand ambitions of the novel and the visceral promise of television. The first episode of the new HBO series, Game of Thrones, dispelled a lot of my ambivalent feelings about having my all-time favorite series from the fantasy genre being adapted into television format.

Being stoked by the pre-show hype for the past two weeks, I convinced a friend familiar with neither the genre nor the series to record the early HBO show so we could watch it together. A few pauses and some brief exposition was required to help him keep up with the two dozens of characters, so I realize that the show may be too taxing for the newcomer, but this should be less of a problem as the season rolls on and each character gets more facetime to themselves.

Within the first 10 minutes there are two beheadings, and throughout the show there’s plenty of rutting and screwing. Zod bless HBO, and bless George Martin for grounding his fantasy world with realism in a medieval era. The episode is basically expository, where two houses meet together in one giant feast and the King of the 7 kingdoms Baratheon offers Lord Stark the role of the Hand of the King, and on another continent, across the Narrow Seas, the deposed royal family Targaryens scheme to retake the throne by having the sister Daenerys married off to a warlord.

Sean Bean successfully plays against type as the noble Lord Stark. But Peter Dinkleage has the juiciest role as Tyrion Lannister, thanks to some of the sauciest lines this side of Lord Henry. I was also struck by Emilia Clarke’s performance as the terrified bride Daenerys, and I hope she has the required inner strength the role will require.

The story doesn’t really pick up until the last ten minutes, so it might not have been enough to recruit new viewers, weaned on far less challenging fare like Spartacus or Tudors, where they could afford to miss a few lines here and there. Game of Thrones will punish you for missing anything because every line and scene is full of allusion and foreshadowing.

I’ve finally found a new TV show to follow, and now 2011 won’t be a total loss without Mad Men.

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I caught this when I was on vacation with my family recently. Really good.

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