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TV Review: HBO Returns to Dark World of Beloved ‘Game of Thrones’
CHICAGO – Millions of viewers will return this week to a land of dragons, swords, magic, and characters that are difficult to tell apart when HBO’s “Game of Thrones” premieres its third season tonight, March 31, 2013 at 8pm CST. What is it about “Game of Thrones” that has engendered such incredible loyalty? It may not get the highest ratings on TV but it shatters all expectations for a program this complex and people who love the show based on the George R.R. Martin books LOVE it. Why? And where does the program stand at its third season, one that’s sure to be as popular as the last?
Television Rating: 5.0/5.0
One of the notable elements of the writing of “Game of Thrones” is the truthful ripple effect of action in this world. We all grew up on fantasies that often reset themselves as characters may betray each other one week and be allies the next. Not in “Game of Thrones”. If there’s any part of you that thought that the action of the flaming (literally) conclusion of season two wouldn’t play a major role at the start of season three than you don’t really know this show. In fact, the opening arc of the first part of the season seems largely built around the repercussions of last year.
Photo credit: FX
King’s Landing is in ruins. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is scarred, beaten, and a little paranoid (although has lost none of the incredible wit that has unexpectedly made Dinklage one of the more popular TV stars of the ’10s.) Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is licking his wounds from the defeat of his forces and listening too closely to the wicked Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Robb Stark (Richard Madden) continues to move toward leadership of more than the South while an incredibly powerful new personality named Mance Rayder (the wonderful Ciaran Hinds) is introduced as a force with which to be reckoned. Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) may end up being the most powerful of them all as her dragons continue to grow and she begins to amass an army of her own.
Photo credit: FX
And that’s just the beginning. There are those terrifying White Walkers to deal with, the continued journey of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), the new fate of Sansa (Sophie Turner) now that she’s freed of Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), and much, much more.
How has such a complex, dramatically intense program garnered such a following? Don’t think that it’s purely because well-written TV is rewarded with a following because if half the people who have seen “Deadwood” and “The Wire” on DVD watched it when it aired, they’d still be on. “Game of Thrones” is a show that even its most diehard fans admit they can barely follow. And yet I think there’s an awareness that this is smart television that transcends being able to simply follow the plot. It’s in the dialogue and the emotion of specific scenes as much as the overall story. When we watch some of Shakespeare’s more complex historical dramas, we can’t follow the specifics as much as enjoy the beauty of the language and the depth of the world that we’re watching. The same goes for “Game of Thrones.”
And then there are the production values. If “Game of Thrones” looked like a SyFy Original Movie, it wouldn’t be nearly as popular. There’s a sense here that people know they’re watching something with as much craftsmanship and detail as a major motion picture (actually more) and that Oscar-caliber attention to every single element of the production from the stellar cinematography to the perfect costume design goes a long way. No one watches “Game of Thrones” and thinks they’re watching a program that cuts corners in any way. And fans admire that commitment to creativity.
As for how the show compares to past seasons at the start of season three, I think, believe it or not, that it’s getting darker. There’s a sense in the first few episodes that what is happening is being built on carnage. Burned bodies fill a square, family relationships are shattered, stone walls have crumbled — the world is reflecting the power struggle that has defined the show. Whoever is going to take power is going to have to climb a hill of bodies to do so. And legions of loyal TV fans will be watching.