Review: Game of Thrones, Episode 1.1, “Winter Is Coming”

HBO Series: Game of Thrones

I’ll preface my review by noting that I haven’t read the novels this show is based on, so my review is based solely on this episode and not on how accurate it is to the source material.

Based on the novel of the same name (the first of the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels) by George R. R. Martin, the television version was developed by novelists turned screenwriters David Benioff (novel/screenplay: The 25th Hour; screenplays: Troy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and D. B. Weiss (novel: Lucky Wander Boy; unproduced screenplays for Halo and Ender’s Game), who serve as showrunners. The writing staff also includes Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica), Bryan Cogman (My Own Worst Enemy), and Martin himself.

The most succinct way to describe the plot is to say it concerns the rivalry of several noble houses as they vie for the Iron Throne of Westeros, or “The Sopranos in Middle-earth” as Benioff jokingly described it. Four novels have been published so far, and the plan is for each season of the television version to adapt one novel. If the first season is a success in the ratings, the show has the potential to become the most complex piece of fantasy fiction to be produced on television so far.

The first episode, written by Benioff and Weiss, and directed by Sopranos veteran Tim Van Patten, is an above average piece of fantasy drama, good enough to make me want to watch further episodes, but still with some room for improvement. It often feels a bit familiar to a fan of fantasy fiction like myself. It’s certainly a well-mounted production, and its early watchability will hopefully buy it time to find its stride.

The series is shot on high definition video at a studio in Belfast in the North of Ireland, with location shooting elsewhere in the North of Ireland, Scotland (Doune Castle was also used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail), Malta, and Morocco. Production designer Gemma Jackson (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Finding Neverland) and costume designer Michele Clapton (Casanova, The Diary of Anne Frank) create distinctive yet believable sets and costumes for the different noble houses and cultures.

The cast is uniformly solid, but I hope the actors can step up and really grab hold of their characters in future episodes. This is not an unusual problem for a first episode, though, where actors are still feeling their way around the characters and story. I expect the mostly veteran (and experienced in genre films and television) cast to improve as the season goes along.

That cast includes Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Black Death) as Lord Ned Stark, Michelle Fairley (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) as Ned’s wife Catelyn, Mark Addy (A Knight’s Tale, Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood) as King Robert Baratheon, Lena Headey (300, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) as the King’s wife Cersei, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (New Amsterdam, Virtuality) as Cersei’s twin brother Ser Jaime, Peter Dinklage (Threshold, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) as Cersei and Jaime’s other brother Tyrion, Harry Lloyd (the BBC’s Robin Hood, two episodes of Doctor Who) as Viserys Targaryen, Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, and Jason Momoa (Stargate Atlantis, Conan the Barbarian) as Khal Drogo.

Overall, a solid debut for Game of Thrones, and I look forward to future episodes.

One thought on “Review: Game of Thrones, Episode 1.1, “Winter Is Coming”

  1. I can honestly say I was almost screaming with frustration when I missed the pilot but I have been the biggest fan of the novels since my friend palmed off his own USED copy of the first in the series as my birthday present(Hey! Haven’t I seen before… propping up your coffee table!). If you decide to start reading the books now could not be a better time. Now G.R.R Martin is no longer consulting (until the next season at least) he will be putting his arse in gear to finish the series. Ahhh Winter is Coming! How long I have waited to hear those words spoke with purpose again!

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