Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Game of Thrones

So... I couldn't decide where / how to start off my pilot script reviews. Seriously, I was just kind of catatonic / paralyzed for about 15 minutes. Do I start with my favorite from the list (Pilot Script Reviews... Forthcoming!)? Go to a "jury's out"? Just get all the terrible ones out of the way? SHRUG. I've kind of figured it out, but decided to start with a review of something that wasn't actually included in those categories because this is the project that excites me the most.

Written by David Benioff
Draft Date: July 12, 2008 (60 pages)

A GAME OF THRONES is an adaptation of George R R Martin's not-yet-finished epic fantasy cycle "A Song of Ice and Fire" ("A Game of Thrones" is the title of the first novel in the cycle). I feel obligated to start this review by saying that "A Game of Thrones" is, without a doubt and by a considerable margin, the best fantasy book I have ever read.

So the script had a big hurdle to jump, in my head. At the same time, it would take a lot for me to not love the fact that this project is going to shoot a pilot. I won't get into issues with delays in publication of new books in the series, as the only relevance that has to this pilot script is the question of "if it goes to series, and each season is roughly one book, what will happen if the books haven't been published yet?" Which, as they say, is a high-class problem to have.

A GAME OF THRONES, the script, is one of the most literal adaptations I've ever read. A lot of dialogue is word-for-word from the book. And the script takes its time. It was a slow read because, my god, the paragraphs upon paragraphs of detail (which is very appreciated, because it means the writer actually cares about painting the vivid world GRRM created in as many detailed strokes as possible). You constantly hear about the trouble with adapting books to film and to TV. You can never do it perfectly, or satisfy all of the fans of the source material while making the project accessible enough for a mainstream audience that isn't familiar with the source. So, while this script is, truly, as faithful as possible to the source material, I still wonder if it will translate to the screen. The script didn't add anything to the source material, as far as what to expect visually (other than a credit sequence), and didn't cut out much. The only thing lost, as far as I can remember (it has been years and years since I read "A Game of Thrones"), is the POV storytelling device employed by GRRM (each chapter is told from the limited POV of a certain character), something that obviously had to go.

Really want to know what the plot is? Read the novel. You won't be sorry.

In broad strokes, as with the novel, the pilot follows three separate (and differently weighted) stories.

The main story revolves around the events after the death of "The Hand of the King" (basically, the guy who runs the kingdom). King Robert Baratheon decides to make his old friend Eddard "Ned" Stark the new Hand, and brings his wife, Queen Cersei, their children (Tommen, Myrcella, and Crown Prince Joffrey) and much of Cersei's family (the Lannisters, we specifically get to Cersei's brothers Jamie, a warrior, and Tyrion, an intelligent-and-vulgar dwarf) to Ned's domain in the North of the Seven Kingdoms, called Winterfell. We meet Ned, his wife Catelyn, his sons Robb and Bran (and toddler Rickon, but not really), his bastard son Jon Snow, and his two daughters Sansa and Arya (both of whom are underserved in the pilot script... Sansa is a lady, Arya is a tomboy who wants to play with swords instead of knit, and that's pretty much what we get). A lot of politics, a lot of personal history between characters is discussed, and some of the historical events that happened before the pilot are mentioned. The pilot ends with Bran's discovery of a certain illicit relationship (and the fallout from his discovery). Again, read the books. I don't want to spoil the surprise. The story really focused more on the Starks than I've laid out above, but it was the easiest way to summarize the plot events. The hook in the story is that the dead Hand (Jon Arryn) was married to Ned's wife's sister (Lysa). Lysa sent a message to Catelyn that foul play was at work in Jon's death.

The secondary story takes place far away from Winterfell (on another continent), and involves Daenerys ("Dany") and Viserys Targaryen, whose father used to be King of the Seven Kingdoms, but was deposed / had his throne usurped (depends on who you ask). Viserys believes he is the rightful king, but needs to build an army to take back his throne from Robert Baratheon. So he forces his young sister to marry the leader of a nation of "savages" (his word), Khal Drogo, the leader of the Dothraki (a nation of 40K+ horse-warriors). She eventually accepts this and marries Drogo.

The final, extremely tertiary, story takes place north of Winterfell, beyond The Wall (a barrier between the Seven Kingdoms and a cold, mysterious forest). Basically the only thing that happens in this story is that it's our creepy entrance to this world. We begin on three members of the Night's Watch (the people who patrol The Wall), two of whom are killed by disturbing non-human creatures called Others. The one man who escapes is beheaded by none other than Ned Stark (we first meet him performing this action) for being a deserter.

So... the pilot is very, very much set-up for what is to come. We get the hook that Ned will agree to go be the Hand of the King. We get the first step in the Targaryen journey. We get a hint of the supernatural danger looming beyond The Wall. And we get the cliffhanger ending of what Bran discovers and what happens after his discovery.

There is not a ton made of the religion of Westeros (the name of the continent of the Seven Kingdoms) in the pilot, though we do meet both Maesters (think priests) and Septas (think nuns).

Major characters from the novel not present in this pilot (due to the plot, not any oversight or removed material) include Varys, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, and Tywin Lannister (father of Queen Cersei, Jamie, and Tyrion).

Production is supposed to begin in October 2009... and I can't wait.


I.J. Parnham said...

The not-published yet problem is high-class, but I'll be amazed if someone makes this pilot with the fact that at Martin's current rate of writing the final book will be out about 2025!

One thing that intrigues me is how they'll deal with the children, with a lot of the story being from the viewpoint of characters who are very young in a time when you could be married, father several children, lead a battle and get slaughtered before you're 12. Which is a harder sell on screen than it is on paper for a modern audience. Or from another angle, a lot of the early story is an adult one featuring children, and it would be so easy for it to come over as Harry Potter type tale.

Nathan Reinhart said...

Thanks for the first review and I am excited for all the other pilot reviews.