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To much fanfare and nearly constant repetition, HBO unveiled its latest lavish drama last night. Considering the push it's been given, it was hard to like Game of Thrones, but the finished product was way better than anticipated. It was like Dynasty with zombies.
Don't let HBO's reputation for Emmy bait and critical favorites fool you, Game of Thrones is nothing but a classic prime-time soap opera of the trashiest sort. It's like JR Ewing with a crown instead of cowboy hat or Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan in a period gown rather than shoulder pads and gem tones. Game of Thrones has heroes and villains, complicated and inextricably interwoven families, the fight for power over a kingdom, and lots and lots of sex. We were waiting for Amanda Woodward to show up, clear all the tanks of mead off the banquet hall table and straddle a warrior right there. This thing is soaptastic!
Ostensibly the show is about Ned Stark, the ruler of Winterfell, the northern stronghold of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a medieval-esque far, far away land. In the first episode we learn the king's right hand man was murdered and the king shows up to ask Ned to be his new second in command. There are also two Albinos across the sea who are plotting a coup and the queen is plotting with her brother to take the throne.
But what makes Game of Thrones better than any other schlocky serialized show is that it is set in this fictional world. Not only do you get a queen and her brother fucking in a tower, but you also get demonic creatures and zombies wondering around in the woods. Neither of these take away from the other—in fact, the fantasy and soap elements make each other stronger.
The thing about most shows modeled after Dallas and the like is that the storylines quickly get corny and strain the limits of believability. Sure, there is amnesia and multiple personalities and baby swapping in the real world, but you don't ever really believe its going to happen, even on a TV show. Well, Game of Thrones (unlike its sister supernatural soap True Blood) isn't set in the real world or meant to reflect it. No, this is a world with its own rules, so it makes complete sense when a sadistic man who thinks he's heir to the throne gives up his sister to a savage and watches people get fucked and murdered at her wedding. We completely buy it, and it's fantastic!
While the dynastic shenanigans of a soap can get unbelievable, the dragons and magic powers of the fantasy genre can go from cool to Kevin Sorbo as Hercules in about 2.5 seconds. Just because there are powers and weird creatures isn't enough to keep people interested, but you throw in some complicated power dynamics, shifty allegiances, and double crosses, then we'll be watching faster than you can say "It's like The Sopranos but with swords."
After watching the first episode, I was left with that feeling I never got from HBO's other recent boondoggle, Boardwalk Empire. I am fully immersed in this new reality and I can't wait to find out what happens next. Sure, I may still be disappointed, but I'm already in for the full season—so bring on the witches, trolls, and, yes, even the amnesia.