When you think of book-to-film adaptations today, it’s hard for your mind not to go to the young-adult likes of “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games.” But the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” an adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, is nothing you’d want a 13-year-old to watch. The series, which returns on Sunday, April 1 for its second season, chronicles the struggle for power between the various houses of the fictional continent of Westeros.
The story kicks off when the Hand of the King, the ruler’s second in command, dies suddenly and under mysterious circumstances.
Suspecting hostility, King Robert Baratheon travels from the kingdoms southern capital King’s Landing to Winterfell in the far north to convince his longtime friend Eddard Stark to become the new Hand of the King. When Stark returns to King’s Landing to assume his new role he begins to uncover a shocking plot for power.
HBO has referred to “Game of Thrones” as “Sopranos in Middle Earth” and it’s easy to see how the comparison was drawn. The series has more espionage, mystery and inter-familial conflict than you can swing a sword at. While the fantastical medieval setting may throw some would-be viewers off, the multitude of compelling story threads are exciting even beyond the genre-specific world they inhabit.
As one might suspect from an HBO series, the adult content readers of the “Ice and Fire” novels have come to expect from Martin’s universe is abundant. Breasts and blood abound in nearly every episode. On rare occasions both threaten the quality of the show (a particularly grizzly murder and a seemingly pointless, gratuitous sex scene come to mind), but more often than not they serve the purposes of the story and keep the series faithful to their source material. The world of Westeros is a brutal place, far removed from the Disney notions of princesses, knights and chivalry and “Game of Thrones” pulls very few punches.
But despite the exciting wealth of sex and violence, where “Game of Thrones” truly excels is its impressive roster of characters and, more importantly, the top-notch cast of actors that brings them to life. Perhaps the most iconic character for the television show thus far is Eddard Stark, the Warden of the North, who is masterfully portrayed by genre veteran Sean Bean, famous for his role as Boromir in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Bean adorns a wealth of the first season’s promotional materials and rightfully so. Bean’s Stark is a stoic everyman of great honor cast into a world of deceit where nothing can be taken at face value. In a series where the potential for villainy exists in every character, Stark is a protagonist that viewers can get behind.
Also of note is Peter Dinklage as fan-favorite character Tyrion Lannister. The dwarf actor won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the vulgar but all-too-lovable sex machine with quick wit and money to burn.
Bean and Dinklage aside, “Game of Thrones” is nothing short of a bastion of first-class actors. Former sitcom star Mark Addy will surprise viewers of his last show, “Still Standing,” as the aging drunkard of a king Robert Baratheon, the 14-year-old first-time actress Maisie Williams brings Stark’s spirited daughter Arya to life and the gigantic Jason Momoa is brutal as the testosterone-fueled titan Khal Drogo.
With the show’s first season now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and the second season premiere just around the corner those who haven’t yet looked into HBO’s latest hit should definetly consider taking a trip to the brutal and shadowy world of Westeros.