More Game of Thrones CGI

My post showing Game of Throne’s transparent CGI was wildly successful (over 25,000 views on my site alone). Apparently its been popular across the web at large because the SFX company released another video of even more.

Particularly interesting is how many of the weapon strike shots (getting stabbed, speared, shot etc) are all added in with CGI. Traditionally this was just done with quick cuts, trick weapons, and fake blood. Now, evidently, it’s cheaper (and better looking) to just have the actors pantomime the response and fill in the weapon and gore. All those latex horror effects guys must be out of jobs!

This is a very effective means of conveying what they’ve done, and also shows you how weird the rough cut of the show must look without the visual effects. And, also tells you why they need six months after wrapping filming to get the show out!

You can check out the first video here, or

my reviews of each episode of Season 1 of Game of Thrones (the HBO series):

[12345678,910]

Or my review of A Dance With Dragons.

Game of Thrones – CGI

This is a very interesting little video showing off how the Game of Thrones locations are built up using Computer Graphics, substituting effectively for matte painting in traditional film.

In my extensive reviews of the show one thing I’ve noted is that the “foreground” CGI elements are a little thin. There aren’t much in the way of magical swirls, lightning bolts (LOL) etc. The backgrounds however are incredibly lush — and subtly so, bringing to life the rich and detailed world. This video shows the intricate relationship between the art of the location scout, the set dressers, overall planners, and the CGI team. Pretty impressive!

Also don’t miss this second video with more effects, this includes a lot of action shots (getting stabbed, etc).

Also check out my reviews of each episode of Season 1 of Game of Thrones (the HBO series):

[12345678,910]

Or my review of A Dance With Dragons.

A Dance With Dragons

Title: A Dance With Dragons

Author: George R. R. Martin

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Length: 959 pages, circa 400,000 words

Read: July 12-23, 2011

Summary: Awesome, but not without issues.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

My charge through book 5 of Martin’s epic fantasy series was a bit drawn out by my need to concentrate on the second draft of my new novel Untimed, but I finally finished. Before I launch in, it should be noted that this review is full of spoilers.

Dance is huge, weighing in at nearly 1,000 pages. This itself is actually a welcome and comforting fact because these books are something to savor. Overall, I would rate this volume as better than A Feast of Crows and slightly worse than the first three. Still, it’s a fantastic book. Prose-wise, Martin is still a master at both people, places, plotting and reversals. It’s just that this book suffers from a few pacing and structural issues.

Most of these stem from his controversial decision to pull out half the characters from the bloated manuscript of Feast and push them into Dance by themselves. So the first two thirds of the new book is everyone who didn’t get a turn in Feast. Now, for the most part, this saved the best for last. Dany, Jon, and Tyrion make up the bulk of the book, particularly this first two thirds, and they are some of my favorite characters. But overall this leaves both Feast and Dance feeling a little more threadbare than the first three books. Personally I think he would have been much better off winding out the story chronologically, trimming out some useless threads (Aeron Damphair, Victarion, and probably the Dornes), and rearranging the plot so as to have some kind of sub-climax at the end of each book.

As it is, Dance reads excellently for the first 2/3, feeling fairly focused on its three mains. But it’s weird to rewind in time and revisit certain happenings from Feast from the other side (for example Sam leaving the Wall). When we get to the cut off point, however, some of the characters from Feast start to weave back in. This mostly has the effect of slowing the narrative and making it more diffuse. At least until the set of cliffhangers and deaths that come in the final chapters.

I also think that Martin is letting his pacing slip a bit. It’s not that each chapter isn’t entertaining and well written — they are — but many threads there have multiple chapters where the happenings could’ve been collapsed without loss. If we hadn’t known a few of those details were there, we would never have missed them. Worse than the pacing issues, however, is a weirdly increasing fondness for skipping some of the big moments. Now Martin has always done that (the Red Wedding, the “death” of Bran & Rickon, etc) but it’s worse than ever. He has a real tendency to build slowly toward a big event, then skip the event itself, showing what happened to the characters obliquely through other eyes at a much later point.

I’m going to go through some of my opinions and analysis thread by thread.

Prologue

I don’t really understand why fantasy authors are obsessed with these. It was kind of interesting, but didn’t advance anything.

Jon

His thread is fine (until the end), but it does feel a bit static. While he’s certainly grown into command, he mostly sits back at the wall and fields interference between factions (Stannis, his queen, the Red Priestess, the Wildlings) etc. Then at the end, he mysteriously decides to rush off to Winterfell. This is a move that makes no sense as he has refused to enter into family entanglements about six times before, and while he is goaded, there is really less at stake for him. Then out of nowhere comes a reaction to this decision that leaves us in a bad cliffhanger. Boo.

Tyrion

The Imp is funny as always and now I can hear Peter Dinklage cracking each and every droll line. Still his thread is also a little dragged out, although it does involve some great sightseeing and is certainly entertaining all along. In the first part of the book it feels like he (and everyone else) is heading toward Dany, but then he gets within inches and turns back. Using him to introduce us to Griff and “Young Griff” is however an excellent device and works much better than an extra POV would have. It is mostly through Tyrion and Dany that we get a sense of the complex and old slave societies of the mainland. Unlike Westeros which feels like late Medieval England, these realms feel more like the ancient east (perhaps an updated Babylon vibe).

Dany

Her chapters are mostly political. She does feel a bit passive. I don’t really understand why she doesn’t try to get a handle on her dragons earlier, this is obviously a key move which could trump all of her political problems. Instead she dicks around (literally and figuratively) with various factions. This is all fairly entertaining, but feels like treading water. Then “a big event occurs” (at least this one is on screen) and she rides off on Drogon. That’s all great, but her narrative disappears until the last chapter. When it returns nothing is resolved at all, but a new out of the blue cliffhanger is introduced. I do really like the world of Meereen and the slave cities, although it feels like we are lingering here a bit long.

Barristan

The hero serves to replace Dany as the POV in Meereen. He’s actually a great POV character with all his lingering thoughts about events during and before Robert’s Rebellion. I really enjoyed his chapters. But they didn’t come to any resolution.

Theon

The hier to the seastone chair returns to us, a few bits worse for the wear. I hated Theon in books 2 & 3, but I enjoyed his chapters immensely here. His transformation into Reek and back again is very deftly handled, with a very proper (and sordid) period quality. It isn’t for no reason that Tarantino used the phrase “medieval on his ass” and that is exactly what the Bastard of Bolton has done to Theon. His pseudo redemption is good. Still, we have classic Martin avoidance of the action with the actual escape from Winterfell. In the cut between Theon jumping from the wall into the snows and his delivery to his sister is a big blank. Not that we needed the travel, but whatever battle happened at Winterfell needed some detailing.

Asha

I could have lived without her POV. It mostly serves to fill in some parts of Stannis’s story when he leaves the wall. The technique is sketchy and I ended up having no idea what really happened during his brutal snowy march and the seige of Winterfell. This I thought was the weakest part of the book structurally, as I’m basically confused.

Quentin and the Dornes

Cut! Dull for the most part, except for some info about the cultures they traveled through. I couldn’t have cared less for these characters. The attempt to steal a dragon was interesting, but was also vaguely described. I’m thinking that Martin, for all his brilliance as a character and world builder, isn’t actually the best at action scenes.

The Dorne chapter back in Dorne: It was okay, but we didn’t really need it.

Jaime

This sucked. I like Jaime’s POVs, but this single chapter had a bunch of crap, followed by one of those annoying Martin reveals that just serve to highlight the gap in information. Brienne returns and they ride off. You don’t find out how she escaped her predicament, what she knows, anything. It just kinda sucked. The effect of her cliffhanger was entirely spoiled.

Cersei

These were pretty good, and I enjoyed seeing her get hers. Martin certainly knows how to throw in the creepy little details so your mind fills in the rest.

Victarion

Cut! I could have lived without these, and they basically just told you he was heading off to Dany with a horn and a Red Priest. Although he’s better than his brother — I’d take any chapter over Aeron Damphair.

Arya

These were great. I have no idea where they’re going, but that’s fine. Arya has always been one of my favorites. Give us more. To be honest it felt like these were the chapters that should have gone in Feast and this the conclusion that book should have had for Arya’s thread. Probably that was Martin’s original plan.

Bran

His chapters were good, but so little, and it all felt dropped as his last chapter is about midway in the book.

Davos

I’ve never been a fan. I think we could have just had these told by raven.

Epilogue

This was actually very good, really being a Kevan in King’s Landing chapter in disguise. I loved the return of Varys at the end — particularly his dialog.

Some observations: There is more magic of sorts in this volume. Martin has a real thing for nubile slave girls — but then again, what self respecting fantasist doesn’t? The scope of this book, with it’s gigantic foreign cities reminiscent of the ancient world is going to make for some hard adapting should the TV series get this far. As I noted in my series reviews the show already has problems with handling large scale people scenes. These slave cities and the like will make that even harder. Likewise with the slave sex and slave violence. I’m all over it (in fiction) but some of it will undoubtedly have to be cut/changed. Sigh. I like that Martin at least highlights some of the sad reality of actually being a nubile slave girl.

Overall, Martin’s books are among my all-time favorite novels. I enjoyed the book immensely, and eagerly await the the next volume (and I’m sure I’ll be waiting for a long time), but I can’t help but think it could have been SO much better if Martin had taken all the material in both Feast and Dragons and reedited them together into two chronological and slightly leaned down volumes.

Also check out my reviews of each episode of Season 1 of Game of Thrones (the HBO series):

[12345678,910]

Game of Thrones – Episode 9

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 9 – June 30, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Best episode in the series!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Episode 9, “Baelor.”This is the episode where it all comes together, pretty much summed up by the text I got on first airing from a friend I convinced to watch (he hadn’t read the books — but is now): “OMG!  They killed Ned Stark!”

Not only does it take a lot of guts to up and kill your most central character near the end of the first book of an epic series, but George R. R. Martin really grinds the emotions in by making the reasons it happens so damned personal and believable.

This is the episode where the frothing cauldron of the last two boils on over. For everyone. This emotional tone renders it less sensitive than the previous episode to the diminutive effects of TV. We open with Varys visiting Ned again in the dungeon, and this narrative is used to spell out Ned’s last choice: die honorably, or confess and hope for exile and to save his daughters.

Then we have Robb faced with the choice of making a disreputable deal with an even more disreputable lord in order to gain military advantage in his war. He knows he’s got no choice but to win, and so he’s forced to go all in. Frey is just as amusing as in the books, and while he doesn’t have quite so many children as I imagined, the scene is well done. Particularly amusing is when Catelyn tells Robb he has to marry a Frey daughter and he asks, “how did they look?” and she replies “one of them was well…”

At the wall, Jon ponders not only his father’s imprisonment but the fact that his brother is going to war. Mormont tries to bind him further to the brotherhood by giving him his family sword. This is nicely done and there is some tie-back to Jorah. I particularly like the “he dishonored himself, but he had the decency to leave the family sword behind” bit. In another scene he gets a lecture from Maester Aemon about the hard choices between duty and family. Jon finds out exactly who the Maester was and we have another great scene from the books nailed with top performances.

Tyrion learns that he and his violent new tribesmen friends will get the most dangerous position in the upcoming battle. He stomps back to his tent to find Bronn has brought him a whore named Shae. She’s not how I imagined her in the books (they made her foreign), but I like the way Sibel Kekili plays her. I noticed her last year in the heavy German film Head On, and she’s a gifted actress. Although, we do have to wonder where Bronn dug up such a smart and sexy whore on short notice! Later in the show when the three play medeval “truth or dare” is a really good scene. Shae is cocky and sexy, and Tyrion’s rendition of his boyhood innocence and treatment at the hands of his father is perfect.

However I had mixed feelings about the battle — or lack there of. Tyrion is great and there are some funny lines like Bronn’s advice to “stay low.” But, instead of actually managing to fight — albiet badly — he’s just knocked out. The visual effect of him being dragged along is kind of cool, and I know they were trying to save time and money. But… they could have given us a three minute little window on the fight. I can’t help but feel this is more “TV shrinking effect,” the show’s biggest problem (really it’s only significant problem at all). I can’t help but feel the producers could do something creative and get a little more scope of action without too much more money.

And the same goes for the (non) battle of the whispering wood, where we just see Robb race back to his mother and deposite a captive Jaime at her feet. Come on. It was a night battle, they could have shown some horses and soldiers clashing in front of Riverrun and Jaime’s last stand. The books actually also suffer from certain large scale action being off screen (which I always felt was odd), but I’d hoped the show would rectify rather than amplify this. It would be easy enough.

Now as chaotic as the action is in Westeros, Dany’s journey is just as important. Her world is crashing around her. Drogo’s little chest wound from the last episode is now infected and he’s dying. For some slightly mysterious reason she has trusted the witch lady she saved (Mirri Maz Duur) to treat it, and now is willing to do whatever it takes to save his life, even if that means black magic. I love this part of the story, and I think Emilia Clarke handles it extremely well, but I do have a couple problems. The Mirri Maz Duur actress feels a little silly to me, not too bad, but she doesn’t have enough gravitas. And more importantly, the handling of the magic is underplayed. I liked the weird wailing sounds coming from the tent, but they decided to forgo any kind of special effects for the ceremony. I think this is deliberate rather than purely budgetary (although that is surely a factor). They have consistently played down the supernatural. But they needed it here. They didn’t have to go all the way to swirling wisps of light (ala early 80s Conan), but I think they should have done some kind of creepy animated shadow-play. As it is, the whole dark ritual is left mostly up to the imagination, and it may be hard for the new viewer to know what is supposed to be happening. It almost felt psychological. But the horse death was pretty decent.

And the final scene isn’t half assed at all, which is typical with the show, managing big pivotal (big in the sense of important, not scope) scenes nicely. Arya living in the streets is great, and then her viewing of Ned’s tragic “confession.” Joffrey continues in deliciously despicable style and orders the execution anyway. The handling of this for all involved is well done. Arya perching by that statue. The hysterical Sansa. Even Cersei livid. I would have just liked a little nod to the fact that they use Ned’s own sword: Ice. Come on, everyone loves a sword with a name. Jon said it when he gave Arya Needle, “all the best swords have names.”

Still, by the standards of TV, this is a near perfect episode. The human drama is handled flawlessly, they just need to add a little more cinematic feel to the action and magic.

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7, Episode 8 ]

Or the next, Episode 10.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

Game of Thrones – Episode 8

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 8 – June 30, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Oh boy, it’s coming

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I had to delay watching the last three episodes of the show for a month while suffering on vacation in Italy (travel log here). Even after being up for 36 hours I binged through two of the three after unpacking.

Episode 8,  “The Pointy End.” The last third of the season, or even last half, is all about grinding out the consequences of positions and choices made in the first half. Many of these lead to additional hasty decisions that will also have repercussions. Also it is worth noting that this episode is actually penned by George R. R. Martin himself, which is fitting because it’s one where the character arcs are really pivoting.

One of the great things about Martin’s novels are how believable these difficult choices are for the characters. They don’t see the future, aren’t even always aware of all that the reader is, and even more importantly, are filtered through their own biases and priorities.

We open with the play out of the season’s most central pivot, that Ned’s attempt to show the queen and her children mercy leads to disastrous results for his family and for the realm as a whole. His entire household in King’s Landing is slaughtered, and Sansa is captured. But Arya, training with her “Dancing Master” Syrio is not so undefended. Syiro is a favorite character and he is played delightfully by Miltos Yerolemou in the show. I do think that — like many scenes in this episode — that the production felt a little TV. Syiro holds off about five Lanister guards with a wood training sword, which is bad ass, but the choreography could have used just a little more punch. There just wasn’t enough zing to his movements. Still he kicks butt and his final line, “And what do we say to the god of death?” -> “Not today” is awesome. Similarly Arya’s all important stabbing of the stable boy felt a little flabby. Or maybe it was just by mood (very tired).

Ned is briefly visited by Varys in the dungeon, and I do love this portrayal of the spider. Instead of the interior monologue of the novel their conversation is used to expose the central crux of his moral journey: The fact that his mercy (toward Cersei) lead to his downfall, and that he must now chose between family and principles — and they aren’t good choices either way. We also have some wonderful background on Varys.

The news of events in the capital is spreading, linking the separate story-lines together. Jon is forced to cope with his own choices and loyalties between family and duty. We even see a bit of ghost! And then he gets to fight the white walker. This was pretty cool, but again, as I felt with a lot of this episode (but not about Episode 9) lacked a tiny bit of gravitas (not to mention Morment’s raven — boo!). But it’s still important as it really starts to establish his role with the Black Brothers.

In Winterfell Robb must deal with the imprisonment of his father, being forced to become the man he knows he should be. This is well handled, and there is a pretty good sense of him coming into his own. Theon is well set up. In the books he is extremely minor in book 1, but clearly the producers have chosen him as a character to emphasize in seasons 2 and 3. We have a bit of Bran in this part of the arc too. Somehow in the second two thirds of the show Bran feels much more absent than he does in the novels (as there he has all the POV for Winterfell). This brings him back a little, but I would have liked more emphasis on the wolves and the dreams. I’m coming around to Osha a bit though — even if she has crazy hair.

Tyrion and Bronn make their way out of the Vale. Their dialog is first rate as always, and they have their encounter with the mountain men. This too felt a little TV as they just couldn’t show enough men. You see about fifteen, but it really wanted at least 150, a real camp, and more of a sense of ferociousness.

Across the sea Dany is coming down off the high of being promised the world by Drogo to see a bit of the reality of what it really means to be a war leader. The Dothraki are slaughtering the “lamb people” and she tries to put a stop to the rape of some local women. This is a decision that for her will bring momentous change, continuing the theme illustrating the dangers of mercy. We also meet the witch, who looks like some Italian mother from Brooklyn. Like the other big scenes, and many of the Dothraki scenes in the whole show, this little battle felt crimped by the TV budget. Just not large enough or dynamic enough. Drogo’s fight however, defending his manhood and her honor, is pretty awesome. Jason Momoa has some real charisma, and I’m looking forward to the new Conan. He pulls off the very personal manly man-ness (guy-liner and all) to good effect.

The episode concludes softly with the dismissal of Ser Barristan, which is very well handled. You get a real feel for Cersei and this unctuous Joff overextending themselves. Barristan is wonderful too, along with Jaime the only developed member of the Kingsguard.

The plotting  and characters of this story are just so good. Everyone is in motion, in conflict all the time, but not just the kind of meaningless Transformers 2 style conflict, but real honest to goodness stuff that tests their fundamental values.

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3Episode 4Episode 5, Episode 6, Episode 7 ]

Or the next Episode 9.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

Game of Thrones – Episode 5

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 5 – May 15, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Best episode yet for sure!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Episode 5,  “The Wolf and the Lion.” This is where four episodes of character development pay off. This week the writers deliberately narrow the focus of the story into the core conflict, like waters passing through a canyon, to build the pressure into a torrent.

Almost all of the story takes place in King’s Landing. With two brief scenes back in Winterfell and a number with Cat and Tyrion playing bass to the boiling over of the Stark vs. Lannister feud Ned plays on guitar. The Jon and Dany threads are given a breather (Dany will be back next episode big time). We also have an episode full of action, punctuated by a number of brilliant scenes not in the novels that develop the character relationships in a way needed by television as it lacks the interior monologue the novel’s multiple view points allow.

And there are some really kick ass scenes. Pretty much all of them.

We begin with the every amusing Mark Addy as King Robert where he taunts his squire and fails to even squeeze into his armor. He’s just so deliciously boorish. Then we role into the tournament and a face off between the Mountain and the Knight of (the) Flowers. As if a joust isn’t cool enough, the shows off the character of that lovely pair of brothers Clegane. Sandor is a big man, towering over ser Loras, but the Mountain is something else all together and his enormous broadsword just awesome. What he does with it too. Sad but good. But I loved most when he storms off through the crowd, a full two feet taller than most.

The Cat/Tryrion scenes on the road might have been a little better, although I did enjoying seeing Tyrion’s “low blow” style of fighting, and his one liners are great. But when they get to the Eerie it’s a pretty amazing, if slightly Middle Earthy place. The sky cells are cool, although not as cramped as I imagined. They also skipped the mule and basket ascent, which is a part of the books I enjoyed. But Lysa and her son are every bit as creepy/crazy as they should be. The eight year-old nursing is tres HBO, but it tells all in very short order.

We have a lot of Littlefinger and Varys intrigue in this episode, and I suspect new readers will have no clue about the motivations of either — which are still fairly opaque to me even having read the books twice! But their conversation together is pure delight. I am very much enjoying both actors and their casting couldn’t have been better. Arya is cute as always too in her little scenes, and we do get to see the dragon skulls (very briefly) that were foreshadowed in Episode 4.

The plot pivots on the council scene when Ned opposes the plan to murder Dany and breaks with Robert — and it’s fine — but it’s merely good lost among great scenes. However, it — along with Cat’s actions — forces things in the perilous direction where they need to go.

Another of the “new” scenes (not in the book) is one between Loras and Renly. The hinted homosexuality between the two in the books is raised (hehe) to highly explicit. Although the lip smacking sounds were too much even for me.  The scene is good character development too, setting Renly up for season 2, but it also has a subtle tension owing purely from the device of having Loras shave Renly (all over) during the entire conversation using a straight razor.

Then the show’s best scene to date, another new one, between Robert and Cersei. This is a fantastic stuff, making both characters more sympathetic, even though they’re brute and bitch alike. Their dysfunctional relationship has come so far that they are able to have this moment of truth like a calm before the storm.

Then, after being manipulated or stalled or helped by Littlefinger, Ned has his run in with Jaime. Leading to an awesome duel, some sad happenings, and the cliffhanger ending.

This is clearly the episode where the new viewers start to see to what drastic lengths George R. R. Martin is willing to go to make his characters miserable and his readers ecstatic. Next episode should double down — and as a special bonus next week as episode 6 airs, episode 7 is going to be available on hbogo.com simultaneously.

Reviews of previous episodes: [ Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3, Episode 4 ]

And the following Episode 6.

Click here for some trailers for and about the series.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

Game of Thrones – Episode 3

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 3 – May 1, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Amazing!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Episode 3 is titled “Lord Snow,” in reference to Jon Snow‘s nickname at the wall. This episode continues, and I think essentially wraps up, the trio of scene setting episodes. This world is so complex, with so many characters, it needed a three hour pilot. Still, it’s a damn enjoyable setup.

We do find ourselves with a different feel than last week’s “The Kingsroad.” This episode is brighter and faster, better I think, but also lacks any real momentous events or a dramatic conclusion. Episode 2 started off slower, but ended with a bang. Episode 3 just fundamentally introduces the Wall and King’s Landing. But both are fun. Varys and Littlefinger are a delight. There are a lot of very strong scenes in here, mostly in the area of character development and exposition. The scene where Robert, Barristan, and Jaime discuss their first kills is terrific. Others will and have quote it, but I will again. “They don’t tell you that they all shit themselves. They never put that part in the ballads.” Just awesome.

Tyrion and Arya continue to rock, Jon is building momentum. There’s good work with Arya and her sister, even better work with her and her father, and the fan fave delicious introduction of her “dancing instructor,” Syrio. No one who’s read the books doesn’t love Syrio and the waterdance. You can see subtle little nods to the characters, like Arya listing off those she hates, as this will flare into the flame that keeps her warm in the dark cold nights.

There are also curious absences. What happened to Ghost?  (Jon Snow’s albino wolf)  And Commander Mormont’s raven?  And time pressure makes a few of the scenes feel very very fast indeed for those viewers who haven’t read the books (particularly the Dany scenes this time around). If any of readers are in this camp (not having read the books), please comment below and offer your opinions of the show, I’m really curious. I love it, but some of this is propped up by my encyclopedic knowledge of the characters and their relationships.

I do also have to say that I don’t love the weird mixed race look of the Dothraki. The Khal is fine, but I would have just cast the rest as Mongols and made them straight up raw and tough. The blood rider is so young he looks soft, and middle eastern to boot. Who’s with me in thinking that Endo from Lethal Weapon would have made the perfect blood rider? — 25 years ago.

King’s Landing (aka Malta) has a different sunnier feel than I imagined it in the books, but I kinda like it, down to the interesting little detail of the floors always being dirty. And in a number of scenes the CG view out the windows is gorgeous, high up on the towers with the whole city laid out beneath like in Napoli. I also liked Maester Aemon, but he needs those white “blind guy” eyes because that’s how I imagine him.

Exposition or no, I enjoyed every minute of this episode, and we’re poised for some serious stuff in the hours to come ahead. Next week, jousts and dwarves in a pickle.

My reviews of other episodes: [Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, Episode 4].

Click here for some trailers for and about the series.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

Game of Thrones – Episode 2

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 2 – April 24, 2011

Status: First Season now airing on HBO

Summary: Amazing!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

After watching Episode 1 three and a quarter times, I was eagerly awaiting the continuation. This week’s installment, entitled “The Kingsroad” didn’t disappoint, although this is an extremely transitional episode.

In “Winter is Coming” (Ep 1) we were introduced to the major players in what amounts to two major settings and story lines, one at Winterfell with the Starks, King, and Lannisters, and the other across the sea with Daenerys. About midway in this second episode the main Westeros storyline splinters into three: Ned and the girls, Jon & Tyrion heading to the wall, and Cat, Robb, and Bran back at Winterfell. This fragmentation will continue a bit in further episodes, but for now everyone is moving into place. I suspect in the long run this will be one of the “duller” episodes of the series. But all is relative, and it still contains a number of very powerful scenes.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion continues to delight with his ironic tongue and sharp delivery. The queen shows both her calculating side, and her cruelty. Joff is appropriately loathsome and Arya every bit as spunky as she should be. While new viewers might not be totally aware of it. This episode really starts to drive home the consistant notion in the books that all choices and actions have consequences, and that those are never what they might seem.

Jon chooses the wall, but even from the start, it isn’t the romantic knighthood he hopes. Tyrion chooses to side, even if by default, with his own, and that will play out with fiery results. Sansa choses to stay out of the fray, Arya to enter one, with drastic consequences. Dany chooses to try and make the best of her miserable situation. I do wonder a little how new viewers (those who have not read the books) will take all this, as even in this long (10 hour format) the incredible richness of the characters, their interactions, choices, and consequences.

For example, despite spending an entire hour on this transitional moment the writers still have to rush Dany’s realization that she can take control of her situation. Married off by her abusive (and more than slightly creepy) brother to a mongol-type warlord who takes her every night “Dothraki-style” (like a Stallion and a mare) she isn’t in the best place. Some reviewers have issue with this, but personally, as this has been the plight of millions (or billions) of women throughout time, nobel and pauper alike, I think it belongs here. Some wonder, why does she stay? Well, what is she supposed to do, married to a warlord, virtually alone in a camp he controls with 40,000 of his people in the middle of nowhere? She does the only strong thing possible, she starts to seize on some measure of control in her relationship. One must not interject the modern conception of mariage is mutable into it. For much of history a sort of grim fatalism pervaded most people’s being.

The final bit of the episode too, with the crucial play out of various childish personalities having dire consequences in both the youthful and adult worlds is very well handled. Joff’s cruelty and impotence, Arya’s headstrong nature, and Sansa’s passivity clash. Who suffers? A cute doggy and the peasant boy. But this will have long standing consequences for everyone involved, including the adults. We can see it in the seething looks exchanged between Ned Stark and the queen. The very end rises to a nice emotional tieback. Still, I would have enhanced the mystical a bit here (almost totally downplayed by the producers). Perhaps showing all five of the other wolves howling and/or linking with one of Bran’s dreams as in the books. I suspect that because of a fear of being labeled too fantasy the producers will continue to soften the fantastic elements, subtle as they are even in the original books.

Still. I can’t wait for Episode 3, which with the arrival at both Castle Black and King’s Landing should make for some good stuff. Littlefinger!

For my reviews of other episodes by number: [1, 2, 3, 4]

Click here for some trailers for and about the series.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.

Game of Thrones – Episode 1

Title: Game of Thrones

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Watched: Episode 1 – March 31, 2011

Status: First Season coming to HBO April 17

Summary: Amazing!

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I had the privilege to get an advance screening three weeks before the premier of the first episode of the new HBO miniseries Game of Thrones. For those of you living in a hole, it’s based on the stunning (and huge) series of novels by George R. R. Martin called the Song of Ice and Fire. The TV series is named after the first volume, Game of Thrones, and the first season covers the first novel. Currently there are four books to the series, with a fifth due this July.

These are arguably my favorite fantasy books (read them all twice) and fantasy is my favorite genre. I’m not reviewing the books specifically here, but it is worth noting that they are stupendously good. Political, dark, complex, and full of very human characters. While this is fantasy, set in a sort of medieval-England-like kingdom, the fantasy is light. There are no armies of trolls and orcs. Just good old fashioned human sex and violence and a touch of the magical.

Which makes it perfect for HBO, and if the first episode is any indication they have done a stupendous job of adaption. I was blown away. I wanted to like it. I love HBO dramas so I hoped I would. But I’m critical by nature, so I was thrilled to find it exceed my expectations on all accounts.

This is a very faithful adaption of fantastic source material, but the series also plays to television’s strengths. The production is lavish, landscapes, sets, costumes, food, everything looked tremendous. And sounded tremendous. I saw a 35 mm print on the big screen with a serious sound system. After the titles alone (gorgeous) and the pitch perfect music I had goosebumps.

The casting/acting is also fantastic, and combined with the great writing is going to make this ambitious show work. These books have a lot of characters, and very well written ones. There is no big Sauron-type villan, there are only conflicted people. The Lannister brothers are awesome. My favorite character is Tyrion, the  Imp, brilliant, sharp-tongued youngest son of the land’s richest (and meanest) Lord. This is a tough role, and made even more difficult by the inherently limited roster of actors short enough to play it. Peter Dinklage is off to a tremendous start, stealing every scene he’s in. Awesome, and cudos Peter! Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is also superb as his taller and prettier older brother Jaime. Both are complex characters, and it’s good to see them nailed out of the gate. The Stark daughters and Jon Snow were also great, plus Sean Bean dominates with all the powerful gravitas that Ned Stark deserves. Emilia Clarke is gorgeous and appropriately vulnerable as Daenerys Stormborn — I’ll be interested to see if she can handle the character changes in store for her. Some seriously good casting across the board.

The writing is also great. This episode pounds through a LOT of material. A lot of introductions, and a good amount of setup and action, and it does it without feeling rushed. I’ll be curious to see how viewers who have not read the books cope with the staggering array of characters. It seemed to me that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff (they had the writing credits) did an incredible job unfolding the parallel threads of the book’s many viewpoints into one seamless narrative. They’ve linearized the story a bit, which actually makes it clearer. I hope that newbies give these characters a chance to unfold because as startling and brilliant as the first novel/season is, it’s really with books two and three that things really get crazy.

The atmosphere was perfect too. Detailed and moody. Filmed mostly in Ireland and Malta (across the narrow sea) it feels authentically “celtic.” And there is the now HBO standard hefty dose of nudity. We’ll also see what the producers make of some of the books’ more sordid moments — which are one of the things that make them such a dark pleasure to read. Now the only problem is that I have to wait a couple weeks for the second episode!

Congrats HBO and George R. on such an awesome job. Now just make sure to green-light the next 6 or so seasons!

For my reviews of other episodes by number: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10]

Click here for some trailers for and about the series.

Or my review of A Dance With Dragons.

Or find out about my own fantasy novel, The Darkening Dream.