TV Review: Game of Thrones

By Columbus Alive
From the March 29, 2012 edition

I’ve never read any of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series, on which the HBO show “Game of Thrones” is based, and I don’t plan to any time soon. As long as “Game of Thrones” is airing (and remains as excellent), I have no plans to read ahead in the story because I love the way this series constantly surprises me, mostly with shocking deaths (and dragons). Spoilers for said deaths (and dragons) ahead. If you haven’t seen Season 1 or read the books, stop now.

I had no clue the ostensible protagonist Ned Stark (Sean Bean) would wind up beheaded in the conclusion of Season 1, and man, was it awesome. It perfectly captured the high stakes at play in “Game of Thrones.” No kidding around with that tagline: “You win, or you die.”

The surprising revelations are only part of what makes this one of the best shows on television.

Executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have done a masterful job of turning Martin’s massive novels into a well-paced series. The beginning of Season 1 had some understandably slow moments while laying out the many players and their histories — and Season 2 also has a couple of exposition-heavy moments while introducing the new characters — but it gave way to an excellent second half.

Making the most of Benioff and Weiss’ adaptation is a cast that’s second only to the likes of “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men.” Peter Dinklage deserved his Emmy and Golden Globe wins for his portrayal of master conniver Tyrion Lannister, but every actor is on point in Season 2’s first four episodes.

Dinklage, Emilia Clarke (as Daenerys Targaryen) and Jack Gleeson (as King Joffrey Baratheon) stand out. Gleeson revels in Joffrey’s malevolent bloodthirsty rule of Westeros, and I’ve never wanted to punch a kid in the face (repeatedly) so badly in my entire life.

Initially, my biggest sticking point for “Game of Thrones” was that it’s set in a fantasy world where dragons and such exist. But I’m all-in now, because the exceptional skill that populates a world of absolute fantasy had me completely invested in its fiction, dragons and all.