A Game of Thrones Finale Review: OMGWTFCoK!

Posted by Gia Manry on Jun 20, 2011 in Fandom, Television |

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HBO aired the last episode of its adaptation of Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, last night, and by and large the response is: OMGWTFCoK! CoK, of course, referring to A Clash of Kings— the second book in the series, which HBO will also adapt. And which everyone who watched all of Game of Thrones is now salivating for (even if they already read the novels).

But before we get too excited for the second season, which hasn’t even been slated for broadcast yet, let’s talk about what HBO did right (and wrong) with the series so far. (Spoilers: they did almost everything right.)

A Quick Summary

For those who haven’t read or watched any Game of Thrones, here’s a spoiler-free explanation, as quick as I can make it. The main plot of the first novel is the struggle of two families, the honor-bound and somewhat dour Starks and the wealthy and ambitious Lannisters, each more or less wrestling for control of the seven united kingdoms on the continent of Westeros— and control of the kingdoms’ ruler, King Robert Baratheon. Meanwhile, two scions of the house that previously ruled the Seven Kingdoms— Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen —plot to retake their throne from a continent east of Westeros.

What HBO Did Right

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The Casting

Leading up to the first episode’s airing, HBO revealed a number of the cast members, from Sean Bean (an old hand at fantasy, between Lord of the Rings, Percy Jackson, and a few others besides) as the honorable patriarch Eddard Stark to Sarah Connor Chronicles star Lena Headey as the less-honorable Cersei, a woman determined to prove herself the equal of the men in charge around her. But it wasn’t until about ten minutes into the first episode where I first realized the casting genius— namely, the first appearance of Cersei’s eldest son Joffrey, heir to Robert’s throne. Without spoiling too much, permit me to note that Joffrey is a dick, and the poor boy tasked with playing him (Jack Gleeson) gets it spot-on from the first moment he’s on screen. Pictured above. Don’t you just want to punch him?

And that’s just one example of oh my god awesome casting. There others— characters who never appear on screen together but are related who actually look as though they could be, for example —but in the interest of keeping spoiler-free, I won’t list them all.

The Visuals

From start to finish, Game of Thrones looks amazing. The costumes are consistently both engaging and fairly believable, whether the characters are at court, in battle, or in a prison. There are noticeable but believable differences between the attire worn at the chilly northern castle of Winterfell, where the Stark family lives, and that at the court of King Robert— and even more differences with the cultures seen across the ocean, where Daenerys and Viserys meet with the Dothraki, a horse-riding warrior tribe.

But it’s more than just costumes: the settings each look different. After the first episode or two you know exactly where you are without any subtitles. The settings also match what’s in the book, and often build on Martin’s descriptions. It’s an incredibly attractive show…and not just because of the opening sequence (see above), which is awesome (and is slightly different in each episode depending on what places are visited in that particular hour).

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The Script

I can’t imagine how many people were involved in this process, but the writers of HBO’s Game of Thrones series successfully managed to pluck the most important happenings— from big events to seemingly minor interactions that change a character’s mind or gives them an idea —from the novels, which is no small feat for a 720-page book. (And these are no Harry Potter novels; they’re not exactly “difficult” reading but they’re pretty involved!)

And yet, they managed somehow to develop the most important characters throughout the series as well. The original novel (and its follow-ups) all tell the overall story from the point of view of numerous characters. So a great deal of the development takes place via inner monologue. But the dialogue of Game of Thrones is always sharp, never feels dithering or highly explicative, but still manages to give you the information that the viewer needs…although enough is left out that those who have read the novels can flail about trying to get their friends who haven’t to pick them up.

What HBO Did Wrong

Adding Scenes

It’s not that adding scenes in and of itself is wrong— sometimes the newly-created scenes gave characters (such as the inscrutable and unscrupled advisor to the king, Peter “Littlefinger” Baelish) the opportunity to develop more thoroughly without all the inner monologues that appear in the original novel series.

But…some of the added scenes felt added in for more to be silly or shocking or something, such as a chest-shaving scene between the (canon) gay couple of Renly, the king’s younger brother, and Ser Loras Tyrell, the “Knight of Flowers.” Or, to use a more current example: the finale includes a scene in which an elderly advisor talks about the three kings he’s served in his lifetime…which is fine, and even the light mocking that the prostitute he turns out to have been talking to is okay. But really, why are we treated to another full minute of the old guy stretching? Did they really just need to fill a time gap?

Daenerys’ Wedding Scene

One of the most common complaints I’ve seen from readers of the novels who watched the show— particularly from fellow females —is about a scene in the second episode, in which Daenerys is wed to Khal Drogo, the leader of a vaguely barbarian tribe who has agreed to provide Daenerys’ brother Viserys with cavalry to take back the throne of the Seven Kingdoms. In the book, their wedding night is…if not entirely tender, it’s sort of charming, for the period. In the television series, Drogo is decidedly more forceful, and requires a certain amount of “taming” by Dany, which weakens his otherwise strong character somewhat.


Mostly characters in the series are as they appeared in the novels…but for some reason Sansa, who is something of a “Septa’s pet” in the novel (septas being more or less nuns, and in this case they occasionally serve as a nanny/governess for wealthy children like Sansa and Arya), is a really obnoxious and whiny teenager in the television series. What happened there?

All in all, fans are inclined to thank HBO for creating a wonderful adaptation of a great fantasy novel…and perhaps saving it from getting some crappy one-movie-per-book adaptation. (Let’s face it, they pulled off the most important stuff in 10 hours…cutting it down to even three would have failed miserably.) But there’s room for improvement, and Clash of Kings should give them that opportunity!

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