TV Reception: ‘Game of Thrones’ Episodes 1-3

Posted by – May 5, 2011

Three episodes into HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” I feel like I’m finally ready to have a fair opinion about it. The first two episodes, “Winter is Coming” and “The Kingsroad” really seemed to wander for me.

If you’re curious to know how the series deviated from George R.R. Martin’s original work, I recommend starting out with Sean T. Collins’ initial review; suffice it to say the series does take a few liberties, but none of them involve compartmentalizing plot for the sake of writing episodes that are much more thematically or structurally cohesive than the chapters they were plucked from.

Meandering story was a problem for me during Episodes 1 and 2, but as of this week’s installment, “Lord Snow,” the pacing of the adaptation seems to be more established, and the momentum and tension leading up to winter are lively and taught. All three episodes work much, much better as a whole, and I’m inclined to believe that when Season 1 is over, the same will be the case with future installments. That’s fine, and it’s probably fair to the books. However, it may keep the show from entering the same realm of TV masterworks that I consider “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” to be in.

The range of settings and landscapes that HBO has employed are incredible. Breaking down all of the drama and history that the Targaryens, Baratheons and Starks bring the story takes no small amount of exposition. The consequence of this exposition is that the very large cast cycles around on a sizable merry-go-round of storytelling turns, and the show spends more time focusing on characters telling tales to set up political and historical circumstances and getting bloated by lingering on sex scenes. By the third episode, the sex arc with Emilia Clarke’s character does makes a lot more sense, but it also seems to weigh the first two down.

The show’s greatest strengths thus far lie in its fully-realized world and strong acting from its leads. The bleakness of feudal existence in an unforgiving world of brutally long winters comes across, and by the time “Lord Snow” ends, the personalities and rivalries have been made much more clear than they were during the pilot.

As of right now, the wait has been worth it. I’m optimistic that the rest of Season 1 will be as well after the snow settles in.

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