Game of Thrones

I finished watching Season 1 of Game of Thrones. And yes, I have never read the books, so my opinions of this are solely based off the TV series.

So it’s not bad. I enjoyed myself while watching it, but I may have enjoyed it solely because it’s a dark fantasy world filled with blood, stabbing, and naked women. I think they did a reasonable job at creating all the characters. You really come to like the Stark family and their struggle for justice, while hating all the ruthless, political schemers. There’s a good amount of development for the main characters, and you get to really see them change as time progresses.

The story lines are solid. They are interesting and filled with twists to keep you guessing. I will say the story of the Black Watch was completely pointless, but my guess is that they will play a bigger role in future seasons. Right now, they just seem like a huge waste of time. But otherwise, everything was definitely entertaining and kept me wanting to watch the next episode.

The one thing I did have a problem with is the sheer number of characters and the difficult of keeping track of their long, difficult to pronounce names. I’m still not sure exactly who everyone is and the relations between them, particularly for the non-major characters. I feel like I need to keep the wiki page open while watching so I don’t miss anything.

Establishing The Boundaries of the World
Spoilers by the way

When you create a fantasy world, you need to quickly establish what is valid and what is impossible. While a fantasy world can contain magic, dragons, and super human abilities, it still needs to follow rules. Otherwise, everything quickly loses meaning and it’s impossible to build tension in a scene. For example, everyone understands physics and what is impossible in the real world. If you have a normal man fighting a dragon, you expect the man to get instantly crushed because a real human could not hope to compete with the sheer size and speed of a dragon. So in bad movies (e.g. Transformers) you would have the man impossibly dodge and evade the dragon’s firebreath, claws, and tail. Then somehow they manage to run up without getting blown to smithereens and slice off it’s head (or put some stupid allspark in their chest). Watching something like that is frustrating, stupid, and constantly has you asking “Did that really just happen?”

However, if in the first 10 minutes you show that the man can dodge, jump, and shoot magic bolts, then you’ve established that in this world, the laws of physics do not apply. This world has magic, dragons, super powerful men and that’s just the way it is. You don’t need to explain how anything works or how it came to be. It’s just accepted.

For most of the series, everyone is pretty normal. People fight like real, clumsy humans in heavy armor. They get easily hurt and die to single sword slashes. There is mention of some zombie like people called “white walkers” in the first episode, but they never really reveal them so we don’t know if they are truly zombies or just a bunch of savage people who pretend to be ghosts to scare you. There is no signs of magic or supernatural beings, outside of some legends and superstitions mentioned in passing. You get the feeling that this world generally follows the laws of physics and is realistic enough.

But towards the end of season 1, things start getting weirder and weirder. The white walkers are revealed as being real zombies who rise from the dead. A woman uses “blood magic” to save someone from death. A woman walks into a fire and is unburned. Even dragons show up in the final scene. You have this radical switch where the world goes from the middle ages to Dragon Age the video game.

The problem I have with this is that for the entire season, people have been established as normal humans, struggling with mortal issues in a real world. As soon as you introduce dragons and magic into the mix, it shatters everything you thought you knew and trivializes everything you’ve already seen. Imagine a movie about World War II, where a platoon of soldiers is fighting on the street. They use teamwork, courage, and ingenuity with the tools at their disposal to slowly work their way towards a goal, maybe killing some machine gun nests or tanks along the way and losing some men. Then all of a sudden a Gundam shows up and blows everything to smithereens. That’s how I felt at the ending of Season 1.

Maybe all of this supernatural stuff won’t matter much and the dragons (which are still babies) are just there for symbolism or something. I hope that the series will continue to focus only on men fighting men, and never bring dragons or magic into the picture again. And despite how well done most of the series is, all I can think about is the ending and how stupid it is.


  1. Robin

    February 6, 2012

    Well, in the book, the concept of dragons is introduced early on, and in the TV series you do see their skulls in the basement of the castle (Arya discovers them). Throughout the season there’s hints at a magic that has lain dormant for so long that people have forgotten about it. The most prominent reminder of this is the Stark saying, “Winter is coming,” and the explanation that in the past, winters were abnormally long (several years or decades), which shows that it’s not a normal world they live in. So it’s unfair to say that dragons/magic suddenly popped up in the end after a whole season of normal mortal struggles.

  2. Robin

    February 6, 2012

    Actually, we don’t even need to go to the episode where Arya finds skulls to know that magic exists. The whole series starts off with the Starks discovering dire wolf pups. From the way they talk about it, the discovery is EXTREMELY unusual. One of the characters says, “Dire wolves haven’t been seen south of the Wall for a thousand years.” And then you see the Wall. It’s humongous. Then the characters explain how impenetrable it is – imbued with old spells, 100 feet thick at the base, impossible to tunnel through because it’s so thick and imbued with spells and because men patrol it all the time and keep the base clear… Animals, even ones as strong and scary as the dire wolf, couldn’t possibly cross it, unless they were supernatural in some way.

    And, of course, the part at the beginning where the White Walker scares the bajeesus out of the three patrolling men and kills the arrogant one.

  3. Jack author

    February 6, 2012

    All of the stuff you mention I never even noticed, because the TV show doesn’t really put any emphasis on it whatsoever. Finding dire wolves was just a weird coincidence. The wall seemed like it was naturally there and they built the elevator around it. Dragon skulls are “sort of” shown but are more like voodoo fossils that people worship as mythical beasts. The White Walkers seemed a little unusual, but it seemed more like just a bunch of barbarians that turned into zombie like people after living in the cold for so long. Not really magic in the traditional sense.

    In the book, I’m sure they go into the details and history of different things, making it much more clear. In the TV show, they show something to you and you just assume it’s supposed to be there and never question whether it’s unusual. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention to the subtle details of what everyone said, but as a person who never read the books, I was totally unprepared when that woman used “blood magic” to save Drogo. When the dragons popped out of the eggs, I just lost it and said this show makes no sense.

  4. Robin

    February 6, 2012

    I read the books twice before watching the series, so I definitely viewed the series from a different perspective. I don’t know if the lack of emphasis on the magical nature of the world could be avoided – like I said, there were hints from the beginning, but like you said, they were easy to write off. You seem to have paid careful attention too; the casual viewer would probably have remembered even less about the randomly mentioned myths/dragons/magical Wall. I think it’s easy for TV watchers to just overlook small details because most people watch TV to relax, not to analyze.

    That said, you really didn’t suspect that Dany’s wedding gifts would hatch?

    • Jack author

      February 7, 2012

      No, not even remotely. Allison had read some wiki article that spoiled it for her so when they built the fire and put the dragon eggs in it she said something like “Oh, I know what is going to happen.” They had previously showed that she was able to pick up the hot dragon eggs and not get burned, so I replied with “Is she going to walk into the fire and not get burnt and everyone will follow her because they think she’s some sort of god?” When she eventually did walk into the fire, I assumed I was right. They they showed her with the dragon babies and I was totally caught by surprise, but not the good kind of surprise.

      Up till about episode 9, the world could have easily been normal Europe in the middle ages. People had superstitions and beliefs in the gods and the mystical, but no real magic happened. I didn’t see magical beasts, people casting spells, or acts of god. The only two events that seems unnatural were the girl not being burned and the white walkers. But even the white walkers are just pale humans and don’t carry an aura of magic with them.

      Anyway, it’s just something I think they did poorly in the TV series. There was a huge shift in how I viewed the world before and after I saw the ending.

  5. Xiao Jing

    February 11, 2012

    The books have a lot more exposition, which a ten-episode season had to cut out or skim over. I thought they did a decent job with summarizing the families and alliances and history/mythology of the world, but since the first book is something like 600 pages, you can see how the show can be confusing to people new to the series. If you want to truly enjoy the show, it helps to read the books, for all the background information that is left out.

    I’m kind of worried that the second season might not be as good, since they will blow their entire special effects budget on the dragons.

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