‘Game of Thrones’ premiere recap: Direwolf plush toys for everyone!


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For weeks, the advance press for ‘Game of Thrones’ -- HBO’s new show based on George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series of fantasy novels -- has been pouring in, with passionate partisans on every side. A couple of days ago, there was even a sub-kerfuffle about whether ‘Game of Thrones’ is only for dudes or only for chicks.

Now we’ve finally gotten to see the first episode (of 10 this season), and the answer is clear: It’s only for people who can keep a flabbergasting number of characters, relationships and settings straight in their heads. (Our cheat sheet should help in that department.)


HBO’s site features photographs of 19 principal characters, most of whom were introduced in this single hour (along with a handful of others). That would be a pretty significant storytelling challenge on its own, but ‘Game of Thrones’ also spends a sizable chunk of its first hour on high-grade spectacle, including a gigantic royal wedding/battle scene with about a billion extras in costume and makeup. Then there’s the gory, supernatural opening sequence, featuring the terrifying White Walkers (who are, of course, allegorical stand-ins for George R.R. Martin’s impatient fans). And, naturally, there’s plenty of bared skin and spurting ichor: This is not the ‘family-friendly-fun’ kind of fantasy story.

On top of all that, HBO’s touting the fact that a whole invented language has been constructed for the scenes with the Dothraki. It has a significant omission, though: As one of this episode’s punch lines tells us, ‘There is no word for ‘thank you’ in Dothraki.’ Oh, those wacky, nobly savage indigenous peoples. The Dothraki do, however, have words for ‘leather vest,’ ‘stallion-like’ and ‘did you know?’ as you can see on the site devoted to the language.

One clever gesture of the TV version of ‘Game of Thrones’ is its credit sequence: a rapid pan over a model map of the continent of Westeros. The map is both a symbol of military scheming (boy, is there ever a lot of military scheming going on in this episode) and a viewer’s guide to what’s going on. The credits themselves, though, flash by in teeny type -- and the closing credits are even smaller. The show’s creators don’t even pretend that a standard-sized television can do justice to it; its preponderance of character-crammed long shots and subtle visual detail means that it’s supposed to take up most of its viewers’ visual field. That means, basically, a giant screen or an iPad. Again, Martin’s readers -- and the show’s viewers -- already have a reputation for having very strong opinions. So here are some questions to which I’d love to hear your answers:

-- Is ’ ‘The Sopranos’ in Middle-earth,’ as showrunner David Benioff described it, really the best elevator pitch for this series? Should it be something else, like ‘ ‘Eight Is Enough’ on Pern’ or ‘ ‘General Hospital’ in Skartaris’?

-- Martin’s ‘Ice and Fire’ novels are known for not having a central sympathetic character and, in fact, for pulling the rug from under readers whenever we start identifying too closely with a particular character. Do you think there’s going to be a POV character in the ‘Game of Thrones’ TV show? What’s the last really satisfying TV show you can think of that didn’t have a consistently sympathetic major character?

-- Is the chemistry between Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen and Harry Lloyd’s Viserys Targaryen creepy in a great way or what? Is the exaggerated visual contrast between the lily-pale, Euro-hairstyled Daenerys and the ‘savage,’ bronze-complexioned, queue-sporting, unsanitary-food-eating Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo creepy in a considerably less great way or what?

-- When Roger Allam (as Illyrio Mopatis) butters up Viserys with his ‘I take you for a king’ routine, does anyone else think he’s secretly pretending to be playing Polonius from ‘Hamlet’?

-- Most of the cast of ‘Game of Thrones’ is British, of course -- the major exceptions being the American Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) and the Danish Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Ser Jaime Lannister). But why do we take it for granted that quasi-medieval fantasy epics make more sense with British accents than with American accents? Has everyone just internalized the sound of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ for anything involving castles and horses? (‘I nevah seen a fing li’ this, no’ evah in my loif!’)

-- For that matter, why does sweeping orchestral music pop up during the opening credits and at dramatic peaks of the story? How did that sound become the default accompaniment for quasi-medieval fantasy? Wouldn’t, say, 10cc’s ‘The Things We Do for Love,’ be at least as formally appropriate for this show?

-- Do the final few scenes of this episode imply that displaying your affections doggy-style means you’re a bad person?

-- Speaking of doggies, will there be direwolf plush toys available this holiday season?

The sex and violence tally:

Beheadings: 2, plus a slit throat or two. (This is not counting the heads that are already severed when we first see them.)

Bare breasts: 11. (A dancing Dothraki only bares one.)

RELATED: Full Show Tracker coverage of ‘Game of Thrones’

‘Game of Thrones’ cheat sheet

Everything you need to know about ‘Game of Thrones’

-- Douglas Wolk