Four episodes into the first season Game of Thrones is really hitting its stride. The plot lines are becoming a bit clearer, with fewer moments where only people who have read the book would know what is taking place. More importantly, the characters themselves are starting to shine. The actors playing Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Tyrion Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen are all doing an outstanding job. Even the actors playing Sansa Stark and Joffrey Baratheon – two of the least likeable characters – are succeeding in making their characters really unlikable.
Moreover, as Alyssa Rosenberg points out, Game of Thrones is succeeding in portraying the many ways in which George R.R. Martin’s novel rejects traditional fantasy constructs for how societies deal dynamically with people who don’t fit traditional roles with ease.
But one of the things the Game of Thrones universe does best is to shake up the fantastical expectation that it’s reasonably easy for unusual people and people with unusual ambitions to make a place for themselves in rigid societies. The show insists that it’s difficult enough to fit into pre-approved roles if they’re available to you, and even harder to find a place for yourself if you’re unlucky enough not to slot into a pre-approved role at all.
I think this is really right. Add this to the brutality of Martin’s world (demonstrated last night with a violent and bloody depth at an otherwise regal jousting tournament) and the HBO series is doing well to preserve some of the key aspects to Martin’s unique narrative.
The only thing that makes me disappointed is with how fast-paced the HBO series is. We’re already about 40% through the first season. Yes, good, interesting, dramatic narrative threads are being drawn out. But they’re being constructed with far less depth and complexity than the books. This isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s somewhat sad to see things left out from such a robust narrative. I don’t blame the folks at HBO for this. I imagine an truly close dramatic translation of A Game of Thrones to television would require 30-40 hours of film time. Ten hours requires cutting a lot. At the end of the day, people who like the Game of Thrones series should absolutely still read Martin’s books.