This may be a controversial review, so let me come right out and say that I think Game of Thrones, with all its sex and violence (but certainly not because of them), is the most compelling TV show being made today (i.e. there is no TV show I am more eagerly looking forward to watching). Every episode of Game of Thrones is top-notch film-quality entertainment (I have only watched the first two seasons). It’s not flawless and it’s certainly not for everyone, but this is a very special show.
What makes it special? Well, before I answer that, you need to know that in my late teens and throughout my twenties I was an avid reader of fantasy novels. At the time, I would have gobbled up George R. R. Martin’s books, on which Game of Thrones is based. While I haven’t read any pure fantasy in many years (and so I haven’t read Martin’s novels), I still recall the magical sense of wonder fantasy novels evoked in me. Game of Thrones captures that magic beyond anything I thought was possible on TV (the extended version of The Lord of the Rings is the only thing comparable). This is an awesome achievement.
Part of the magic requires the magnificent cinematography and special effects which Game of Thrones offers, creating a world that is altogether unique and bizarre but feels real. Part of it is the realization of the characters and stories which Martin created. While the acting is not consistently outstanding, it is well above-average for TV, with an impressive ensemble cast. In the first season, Sean Bean stood out as Ned Stark. In the second season, my favourite character in the series took the lead: Tyrion Lannister, played brilliantly by Peter Dinklage (I would watch the series just for Tyrion).
But what about all that sex and violence (including torture), you say? Good point. Surely I am sensitive enough to the gratuitous nature of cable sex, nudity and violence to condemn this travesty! Indeed, I would have thought so. If you tell me that the sex and nudity, in particular, is as outrageously gratuitous as anything ever seen on television, I will not argue for a second - I will defend you. It’s awful! And yet, it’s not quite a big enough crime to put me off of Game of Thrones. Perhaps if this was an American show, I would be less tolerant of the gratuitous nudity. After all, the British have had network TV nudity for decades, so I’m not as inclined to think they are taking advantage of cable TV to attract teenage boys by showing bare breasts. Still, it is certainly unnecessary, distracting and regrettable. The violence is also regrettable, but a typical fantasy world is violent and I think the show could have been far worse in this regard (I did not notice a lot of gratuitous violence in the first two seasons).
So there it is. Despite the gratuitous nudity (from a technical standpoint, the biggest crime in Game of Thrones), I must give this TV masterpiece ****. My mug is up.