It’s currently almost impossible to get on any form of public transport anywhere in the UK without seeing someone reading one of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice of Fire novels.
Since the critically acclaimed (and really rather wonderful) first season of the HBO television adaptation arrived on our screens last year, the series has exploded in popularity to the extent that we long standing fans have been forced to retreat back to our grimy hobbit holes and sneer at every Johnny Come-Lately who thinks they’ve figured out who the Prince That Was Promised really is.
Obviously any real fan of the series knows it’s Hodor.
Now having introduced all these folks to the books and produced a very fine first season of television, the second season premiere of Game of Thrones has to start facing up to the huge Ice Wall of Doom that lies ahead of it, namely that the books grow so monstrously huge, complicated and vast in scale that they are going to be all but impossible to film without taking some bloody huge liberties with the text.
Fortunately on the basis of this episode the omens for this adaptation are highly promising.
This being the opening episode there’s a large amount of ground to be laid and pieces moved into place but it was done with a speed and economy of movement that fair whisks you off your feet.
The plot of course is labyrinthine enough for a hundred minotaurs to wander around in, but the basic situation as the season opens is this:
Loathsome boy King Joffrey is ruling the Seven Kingdoms but not happily: his dead father’s brothers have both claimed the throne and the Northern regions has declared independence after Joffrey had their liege lord, good old Ned Stark, beheaded. Oh and not to mention across the water an exiled princess wanders lonely and starving in the desert with only her baby dragons for company while terrible things are stirring in the frozen lands beyond the Wall.
But it’s so much better and more complex than that. The titular Game of Thrones is a brutal, hard and unforgiving one where the only hard and fast rule seems to be that everyone gets punished eventually.
Whatever punishment is heading towards the hateful Joffrey can’t come soon enough, which is why it’s perfectly acceptable to chortle along to every last second of this ten minute video of him getting slapped in the chops, rather than feeling like a wierdo for enjoying seeing a child being hit repeatedly.
That video also features Peter Dinklage as Tyrion who is the living heart of the show. What he lacks in height he makes up for by being cunning is a snake with the wit of a demonic Stephen Fry.
Tyrion is a gift of a part for Dinklage who is magnificent. But then the whole cast is pretty excellent, from highest Queen to sweatiest peasant. What really makes the show is the sense that this is a living world where even the smallest characters have their own desires and destinies ahead of them.
If I had to pick a favourite character at the moment, it’d probably be Iain Glen as banished knight Ser Jorah Mormont. Many may have assumed he’d be typecast as an interstellar warrior bishop forever, but I can happily report he is deploying his mighty acting talent to wonderful ends here.
This opening episode of the season suggests the series’ approach to the novels will be to distil as much as it can from the best of the books, retaining their vast scale while judiciously cutting and adapting as required.
It might not be a perfect translation of the books onto screen but then nothing could be- and to be fair even fans admit that the (still as yet unfinished) series of novels is more infinitely sprawling than a version of the London suburbs designed by Escher.
What’s most important is that it’s very likely to provide some damn exciting television: think a Tolkien-penned version of the Sopranos with a side order of Macbeth. And dragons.