Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Review

(Minor spoilers ahead)

HBO's new series Game of Thrones, based on the bestselling series by George R.R. Martin, opens in the fantasy kingdom of Westeros where the hand of the king has just died. The king of Westeros Robert Barratheon (Mark Addy) is feeling the pressure of the throne weighing on him, and he does not expect any of his advisors to be anything more than over-privileged yes-men. He travels north to Winterfell to ask his most trusted friend Ned Stark (Sean Bean) to take over as the new hand of the king. Meanwhile across the sea in Pentos, the last two living heirs of the Targaryen family, the former royalty of Westeros, are coming out of hiding and gathering forces to reclaim the throne. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is married off to the powerful war lord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) understanding that her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) is gaining an army. Unbeknownst to all of them, an ancient evil is stirring in the north which cannot be swayed by money or power. It brings with it eternal winter and death to all it encounters.

Looking back at season 1 of Game of Thrones, I thought that summing up what this show is, why it is loved, and why I personally love it would be an impossible task. In one year, it has become a cultural phenomenon with the books topping the bestseller charts, the season nabbing 13 Emmy nominations and 2 wins, and YouTube users flooding us with covers of the show's theme (not to mention a ten-minute video of Tyrion slapping Joffrey). Everything I love about HBO's fantasy/political drama Game of Thrones can be summed up very easily in the show's theme song. The show's main theme brilliantly embodies the show's themes and story. The percussion and lower instruments are reminiscent of the drums of war, representing a world that is harsh and unrelenting, while the violin's melody represents the flashes of humanity in the characters of the show. They can be strong and good, but their human weakness can ultimately be their undoing. The melody is bittersweet and minor in tone, and while it fades out at the end, the war-like drumbeat still marches on.

Season 1 of Game of Thrones introduces the audience to a large cast of characters. Some of them act nobly while others are solely looking out for themselves, but all of them are human. They defy simple classifications of “hero” and “villain,” and absent of these black-and-white terms, the characters are defined by how they cope and survive (or not survive) in this unforgiving world. They are either people who have learned to play the game, those who refuse to play the game and lose, or innocents who, as Jane Austen once put it, are not yet acquainted with the ways of the world. As it so happens, the three MVPs of Game of Thrones' cast happen to fall into these three categories.

Tyrion Lannister (Emmy-winner Peter Dinklage) was born an imp in a society that values beauty and physical strength, but he learned to survive by understanding what advantages he had and how to use them. Tyrion is highly intelligent and very well-read, and his family has so much money that he can easily buy any friends he might need. What Dinklage brings to the character is humor and likability that keeps him alive in the most dire situations. What I love about Tyrion is that he knows the game. He doesn't waste time crying over his physical limitations. Instead, he thanks his lucky stars that he was born an imp into a high-born family because if he been born to a peasant family, he probably wouldn't have had the chance to live at all.

Robert Barratheon might seem like he is playing the game and doing what he needs to do to stay in power, but in his own way, he is refusing to play the game almost as much as Ned. He knows that the Lannisters gain more power the more that the kingdom borrows from them, but he keeps throwing lavish parties and tournaments anyways. Since he never wanted the throne in the first place, he is uninterested in keeping or attaining more power. All he wants to do is eat, drink, and sleep with as many women as possible until he dies, and ultimately, his complacency kills him as much as the boar.

Finally, the innocents of Game of Thrones are the younger Stark children Sansa, Arya, and Bran. They put their faith and trust in laws, social norms, and the class structure. The perfect example is Sansa. Sansa was not worried that Prince Joffrey would mistreat her or her family because he was highborn, and she believed him to be honorable. She did not understand that people like the Lannisters do not have to follow the same laws as everyone else. I would even include Joffrey Baratheon as an innocent in a sense because while Joffrey's cruelty knows no bounds, his behavior can be traced back to blissful ignorance. He has been raised as royalty, a child of privilege. The Targaryen family lost their throne before he was born, so he can't ever imagine losing his power and position. He acts like a spoiled little tyrant because he doesn't know how fleeting power can be.

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” For me, this quote perfectly sums up the brilliance of Game of Thrones and why I adore it. I might have first tuned in for the fantasy, the political intrigue, or the fact that it is HBO, but I am sticking around for the game. I want to see who will play the game of thrones and, to a darker extent, what weakness will be each character's downfall. I am anxiously awaiting the second season's premiere in a few weeks, but until the game resumes April 1st, Game of Thrones Season 1 on Blu-ray will keep me happily occupied.

SPECIAL FEATURES

My goodness, where do I begin? HBO has packed the Blu-ray release with hours and hours of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with the cast and crew, character profiles, features on adapting the books for television and creating the Dothraki language, and enough details and tidbits for the most devoted fans. One featurette focuses on the Emmy award-winning opening credits, and I loved getting a closer look at how they created this visually stunning sequence. Of course, the main reason to get the Blu-ray is re-watching the show in high-definition, and the picture and audio are impeccable. Overall, I couldn't ask for anything more. This set is a must-own for any television fan.

"Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season" is on sale March 6, 2012 and is not rated. Drama, Fantasy. Directed by Alan Taylor. Written by David Benioff, George R.R. Martin, D.B. Weiss. Starring Emilia Clarke, Harry Lloyd, Jason Momoa, Mark Addy, Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Sean Bean.

Mar
06
2012
Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.

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