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GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
(Sundays at 9:00/8:00c beginning tonight)
The network's description: "GAME OF THRONES follows kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars and noblemen as they vie for power. As the series opens, King Robert Baratheon, who is married to Cersei Lannister of the wealthy and corrupt Lannisters, asks Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark to come south and help run his kingdom after the questionable death of his right-hand man. Meanwhile, there is a threat to the throne from the east by the exiled teenage Princess Daenerys and her brother Viserys, whose family ruled the Kingdoms for many years before their bloody ouster. And there are rumors of strange things happening at the edges of the Kingdoms, north of the Wall, where Jon Snow, Ned's bastard son, goes to be part of the brotherhood of the Night's Watch, which is sworn to protect the Kingdoms."
What did they leave out? With 16 series regulars and twice as many supporting roles, quite a bit...
The plot in a nutshell: ...as the aforementioned description dips your toes into the series as well as anything. To detail any more would both spoil the fun not to mention read like a blow-by-blow plot synopsis rather than an organically driven plot. So "kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars and noblemen," etc.: that's really all you need to know going in.
What works: It's just a wonderfully complex and rich series as the characters and relationships deepen with each passing hour. Most impressive is the way the show manages to routinely throw together two characters - sometimes those who we've seen barely speak to each other - and have them share a conversation that literally changes everything you think about them and what they're doing. It's a show that inexplicably manages to hinge on talking - the last thing you'd expect from a fantasy series. Whether it's Queen Cersei explaining to her son what kind of king he can be, Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow bonding over their mutual status in life, Viserys Targaryen and his sister Daenerys discussing her upcoming nuptials or Jaime Lannister and Ned Stark rehashing their family histories, they're all colorful tapestries - ranging from the down right frightening to the unabashedly earnest - that when interwoven make the series all the more powerful for it.
Through six episodes, I'm stunned by how quickly the characters manage to grow and add dimensions. The people you meet in the pilot are in some cases 180 degrees from what they'll ultimately blossom into. It's an intoxicating show and very easy to see why the books have such a fervent fanbase. As previously noted, it's just as surprising how non-"fantasy" the series feels. Sure there's glimmers of the supernatural, but it's more of an adult drama that just happens to have swords, dragon eggs and the like. Spearheading the adventure is a compelling, dynamic cast, from the topliners like Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage to memorable supporting players like Iain Glen as Ser Jorah Mormont, a disgraced knight who comes to be Daenerys's trusted advisor; and Conleth Hill as Varys, a eunuch who traffics in gossip - all get their moments to shine.
And if that wasn't enough: all of the above is wrapped in a blanket of cynicism, violence and sadness that could rival David Simon's "The Wire." Unlike the usual trappings of the genre, the more honorable characters behave the more the realm seems to turn the screws on them. For a show with such fantastical elements, it's amazing how real world it can actually feel. All in all, it's one of those rare series that actually lives up to the hype.
What doesn't: The pilot is actually the weakest of the six provided for review. With so much ground to cover - just from a geographical and social standpoint - it takes almost the entire initial hour to begin humming. When it does though - via a genuinely shocking twist - the countdown to get to episode two becomes all the more frustrating of a wait. If anything my feelings about the show are best summarized by its intricate title sequence: what initially appears to be a mess of names, places and insignia ultimately crystallizes into a breathtaking tour of places visited and yet to come - a perfect rallying cry for a series if there ever was one.
The bottom line: Dive in headfirst and don't look back.