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When someone told me a year or so ago that George R.R. Martin’s novel A Game of Thrones was being turned into a television series, I have to admit that I was initially fairly wary. Most of my trepidation arose from the fact that I have loved Martin’s epic series ever since I read the first book way back in 1998 – and far too often television and film adaptations of literature turn out to be massive let-downs. But when I subsequently discovered that the series was to be made by HBO I did become quietly hopeful – and this was raised to genuine excitement when a friend of mine told me that Sean Bean was to appear in it!

Over the years, HBO has been taking various genres and reinventing them brilliantly for the small screen – Rome [historical]; Band of Brothers [Second World War]; Deadwood [western]; Sex and the City [rom-com – here I must point out that I’ve never actually watched it, but apparently it was fairly revolutionary when it started out!], and the incredible The Wire [crime drama]. So I had high hopes that HBO would be able to transmit Martin’s incredible world-building ability and the sense of violence and skullduggery that permeates the series. And my hopes were rewarded – Game of Thrones [I’m not sure where the A disappeared to!] is dark, broody and a lot of fun.

In a way it was completely perfect for HBO, as it’s full of bloody violence, sex and a lot of swearing. There’s even incest and an attempt to murder a young child in the first episode. And through the rest of the [book] series there are a whole host of exciting things for the audience to look forward to [these include patricide, fratricide, matricide, rape, flaying, wraiths and dragons to name but a very few of the events that are yet to come!].

The production values are incredibly high, the acting is generally very good and the first episode looked great visually [although, I suppose that in the modern era, we expect a television show to look good, so this is almost a given]. And having Sean Bean as Eddard Stark – a lord from the north of the kingdom of Westeros – works really well. Partly this is because I have always equated Westeros with Britain and Europe [a lot of the actors are British and there’s a huge wall at the top of the kingdom keeping out the barbarians beyond – reminiscent of Hadrian’s Wall, possibly?] and the vibrant, hot and exotic Pentos with North Africa.

Undoubtedly some people will be put off by the fact that this is based on an epic fantasy series and has dragons, reanimated corpses and men in chainmail in it. There is an incredibly unfair bias against fantasy, and it is often stereotyped as being geeky and not ‘proper’ literature. But this is much like claiming that literary novels don’t have plots – it is an unfounded stereotype that has no truth. And Martin’s series is far more than your average fantasy series anyway. It’s filled with layer upon layer of greed, lust, jealousy and ambition, and has a cast of fascinating characters. For, unlike say Tolkien’s novels where characters are either good or evil, in Martin’s world the characters are completely mutable and evolve continuously – and each has their own dark secret to hide.

And, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen [having read A Game of Thrones several times over the years], I still found the first episode of Game of Thrones [Sky Atlantic in the UK] to be gripping viewing and I would definitely recommend it. But I would also like to point out that it is a much-diluted version of Martin’s brilliant series [which I would urge you to read if you have not already]. For me, this was a very enjoyable appetizer, but it has merely whet my appetite before the main course – the publication of the long-awaited fifth novel in the series [although my anticipation is frankly prosaic in comparison to many fans of the series. To see quite how fervently some fans of the A Song of Fire and Ice series take the ‘issue’ of the publication of the next book check out this article which appeared in the Guardian in February 2010].
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