To elucidate the plot threads of Game of Thrones would be a daunting task; like many other shows of its ilk, its many characters and their alliances with each other make it nearly impossible to explain every detail. In brief, the show, which just finished its first season, is a smorgasbord of sex, violence, and vying for power – and not necessarily in that order. It is a show that at its introduction posits us in a semi-fictional universe and asks us to familiarize ourselves with the surplus of names and characters.
A few episodes in, though, and we’re hooked. New characters are still being introduced, but more importantly we learn whom to trust and whom to despise. In the pilot, Bram, the youngest son of the Eddard family, is scolded by his mother, Catelyn, for endangering his life by climbing high buildings. At the end of the episode he reaches the top of a castle to see the Queen having sex with her brother, who don’t take too kindly to someone learning their secret. It is here that we know that the Queen and her brother, both of whom are Lannisters, are among the chief antagonists of the series – or at least of the first season. Not all of the Lannisters are villainous, though. Tyrion the “halfman,” portrayed by Peter Dinklage, is so far on neutral territory. Wise beyond his years, he seems to be aware of his siblings’ incestuous bond, and though he hasn’t joined the Eddard clan yet, a huge war is hinted at for early in the second season in which Tyrion is likely to fight alongside the Eddards, if not by taking arms then in a more intellectual capacity. As small in stature as he may be, his nobility more than makes up for his lack of physical ability. He is a character who is consistently disrespected, and yet has proven to be one of the show’s most dynamic characters. Not only does he deliver some of the best lines (“The gall of them, fighting back!” he replies, when a character expresses surprise that not all of their men made it), but he serves as an important reminder that physical shortcomings are no match for internal strengths.
Never forget who you are, for surely the world won’t. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.
To look at it differently, Tyrion is the Omar Little of Game of Thrones. Omar, from HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire, also had terrific lines that bespoke his values and the cruel nature of the “game.” While Tyrion deals with dwarfism in a world where physical stature is crucial, Omar was a gay gangster on the streets of Baltimore. The same way Tyrion shows no loyalty to anyone but his most trusted friends (and perhaps his whores), Omar takes no sides between the predominant thug family and the police that are trying to put them behind bars. They are both lone soldiers who only have their wits and values to guide them.
The best of today’s dramas are sprawling epics with storylines that parallel our own. They place us in an inspired setting – think The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire – and show us the human response to crises. The stakes are invariably high, often a matter of life and death – or in the case of Game of Thrones, honour and disgrace. The characters are multifarious, some being heroes, some being villains, and the most interesting of them falling in that middle ground until their true selves are slowly revealed. There is sex and violence in the most original and suspenseful of ways, and when done properly, you just accept it as part and parcel of the story rather than an unnecessary add-on in the style ofMichaelBay. And it’s always the characterization that keeps us wanting more. As compelling as dragon eggs – which make an early appearance that’s expanded on in the finale – may be, viewers could always rent Eragon to watch dragons fly around. But we keep watching because we want to see what part they’ll play in the broader narrative, and how they’ll affect the characters we have grown to love, what with their fortitudes and fragilities. Nor would all the treachery – Shakespearian in its magnitude – be as impactful if we didn’t care about who’s getting the short end of the sword, as it were.
With stunning set pieces, sharp dialogue, jaw-dropping action visuals and a highly compelling story, Game of Thrones is a journey worth following. But like many before it, the series’ greatest asset is its ability to form convincing characters that make us feel – be it anger, humour or sympathy. Chief among those characters: Tyrion Lannister. All hail.
Season 2 of Game of Thrones begins Spring of 2012.
Season 1: 4/5