Ned Stark (center) and Arya Stark (left) in HBO's Game of Thrones
It is not very often that I find myself really anticipating something. The skeptic in me is far too cautious to let me be drawn in by hype, and as such I will seek the good and the bad about anything that appeals to me. But I can't help throwing caution to the wind as I prepare for the upcoming HBO Mini-Series Game of Thrones, based on the fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire written by George R.R. Martin.
I don't read nearly as much as I ought to, but this series has me hook line and sinker. I started reading the first book last year, and a few months and several thousand pages later I was done with the fourth and ready to throw in my hat to the waiting line for the fifth. But I know not everyone is familiar with this series, and those who enjoy fantasy have stayed clear given its penchant for death and Shakespearean tragedy upon Shakespearean tragedy. But I would caution those worried, to not be so. The tale is gripping, layered, and captivating beyond compare. And if HBO has the courage to see it through, even in a most minimal sense I can't imagine the series falling short.
So, with the episode one premier on its way this Sunday, I thought it timely of me to offer up to you all five bits of information that will help ease your transition into the world.
1. WESTEROS: The fictional continent in which all our stories interact, Westeros is home to two distinct landmarks: The Seven Kingdoms and the North. The Seven Kingdoms mark an ancient land where once seven kingdoms stood apart before all were united under the rule of the Targaryens centuries before our tale takes place. Esos, larger landmass just across the sea, is a free trade continent of wider variety in people than the Seven Kingdoms. Esos is home to the Dothraki horsemen tribe, slave ports, freemarket traders, and an assortment of mystical students.
Map of Westeros' Seven Kingdoms - click for larger version
2. FAMILIES: A Song of Ice and Fire concentrates itself on three specific families at the start: First, the Targaryens. The old royal line of Seven Kingdoms, who it is said rode dragons into battle. Now dethroned, the last remaining siblings found refuge in Esos using what remains of their name to rebuild an army. The Baratheons/Lannisters. Headed by usurper Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and his wife, Cersei Lannister (Lena Heady), the Baratheon/Lannister household forms the new royal line of the Seven Kingdoms. However their relationship through marriage is not an amiable one. Above all else Baratheons value strength, while Lannisters seek only power. Robert Baratheon's eldest son Joffrey is heir to the kingdom. Then, there are the Starks to which my next point is dedicated. As the series branches out, we begin to learn more about the families that make up the four other old kingdoms in the land.
Daenerys Targaryen (left) one of the last two living Targaryens and Ser Jorah Mormont (right) her exiled knight guard
3. STARKS: The central family at the heart of much of Game of Thrones, the Starks are headed by Lord Eddard 'Ned' Stark (Sean Bean) of Winterfell, childhood friend of King Robert Baratheon and second in command during Robert's overtaking of the throne some years ago (14 in the novel - 17 it seems from commercials for the series, most likely an effort to avoid the touchy terrain of graphic teenage sex). Other prominent members of the Stark family are: Catelyn (Eddard's wife - strong willed but ladylike when needed), Robb (their first born and heir to Winterfall), Jon Snow (Eddard's bastard son of same age as Rob), Sansa (the eldest daughter), Arya (second eldest daughter), Bran (second heir to Winterfell), and Rickon (the youngest and wildest of the bunch). When Ned is asked to serve as Hand of the King (the right hand man whom acts as King when the King is not available for certain functions), the close-knit bunch are forced to separate, and their true colors will form. With the exception of Rob and Rickon, each member of the Stark household has been a POV character at some point in the books.
Jon Snow (left) along with Bran (center) and Robb (right) Stark. The three eldest male children of Ned Stark.
4. THE WALL: Standing 700 feet tall, and stretching across the entire northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, The Wall is as old as the men of Westeros themselves. An ancient defense guarding the realm of man from the mysterious 'Others' - an evil force not seen for thousands of years. Maintained by the Black Brothers, a group of ex-cons, bastards, and what few lords they could muster, each has surrendered all other possessions for this one last shot at life. Constantly at war with the wildlings, a small group of humans who have rejected the Seven Kingdom's feudal ways, the Black Brothers are out of sight and out of mind to many of those who sit and sleep far to the south. But an old evil is rising in the far north, and the Black Brothers' resolve will be tested.
New members of the Black Brothers, Jon Snow (left) and Samwell Tarly (center) take part in weapon training
5. The Game of Thrones: Quite simply the Game of Thrones is the all inclusive power struggle that has become the bane of Westeros. With the Targaryen's out of power and the fear of their return slowly subsiding, the Seven Kingdoms - which was only held together by that fear - finds all of its old rivalries returning to the world. The prize: The Iron Throne. Made of pure iron, the Iron Throne is an uncomfortable hulk covered with metal spikes as sharp now as the day they were borne, capable of slashing any who are unaware of their presence. From the barren desert of Dorne to islands of Pyke, every Lord now sees an opportunity for them to become King. An opportunity each of them is all too willing to take, irregardless of the cost. But as Cersei Lannister grimly notes "when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die."
The Iron Throne of King's Landing
So there you have it. Five (not so quick) intro pieces to help ease your transition into the time of Westeros. I do have high hopes for the series, but I don't really see it lasting past three. Why? Budget. Game of Thrones spreads across continents and which each passing book becomes more and more grand, and more and more mystical. To the point which I'm just not convinced HBO will be able to, or want to, sustain the cash flow required to be as accurate to the book as the commercials for this first installment claim to be. Even still, the novels are an amazing read and I do encourage those of you who have not had the opportunity to check them out, to take it.