Late to the Party. Pour me more wine!
I fully realize that the rest of the world has been watching Game of Thrones since 2011. My excuses for not watching before now are legion: we don’t have HBO, I only read half of the first book, It’s only available on DVD through Netflix, I’m stupid. Turns out the only reasonable excuse is that last one. We are now finishing season 3 and this might be our most glorious Netflix binge of all time.
For anyone out there like us who has yet to indulge in this most wonderful of series, I’ll give you a little, SPOILER FREE rundown. Game of Thrones is set in the fictional world of Westeros, which is a very medieval place filled with lords and castles and various noblemen, peasants, servants and whores. There is also loads and loads of discord, with competing houses and factions constantly jostling for power. As the series opens, Westeros (also called The Seven Kingdoms) is ruled by King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy). He is traveling north from his home base of King’s Landing (where the throne sits) to Winterfell, the northernmost grand castle, whose lord is Eddard Stark (Sean Bean). The king wants Stark to be his new “Hand” – basically second in command. It’s a thankless, dangerous job. Stark takes it because he is an honorable man with many long years of ties to the king.
All of this is just the very beginning of the very tip of the grand iceberg that is Game of Thrones. We get endless political machinations in King’s Landing, but we also learn of the history of Westeros and meet many more of its denizens (as well as those who live in far flung places but wish to return).
I think my favorite part of the whole grand world is The Wall, beyond which lies a mysterious land, in constant winter, filled with mystery and magic. The Wall and everything beyond it harkens back in time to when magic and otherworldly beings were common – the rest of the kingdoms have all but forgotten them and most believe they – and the dangers they pose – are no longer. But those who guard The Wall know better…
Things to Know When Beginning a Game of Thrones Binge
1. This is a highly binge-able series. But you’ll need to cut yourself some slack in the first season. It takes time to become familiar enough with the huge cast and multiple plot lines to really begin to revel. So first season watchers should probably limit their binges to 2 episodes at a time. After that, make sure you have lots of food and drink in the house once the DVDs arrive in the mail – we could easily watch 4 consecutive episodes.
2. Because it is only available on DVD, you should try and pace yourself. Though we could do 4 episodes, we try hard to limit it to 2. There are only 2 episodes per disc, and unless you’re willing to buy them (which really isn’t absurd at all – I can’t imagine the extras are anything short of spectacular) you’ll need transit time for your DVDs. We have a 3 disc subscription and still manage to be without a new episode on occasion.
3. Do not get too attached to your favorite characters. Unlike other series, you never, ever know who’s going to bite it. The author of the novels on which the series is based, George R.R. Martin, is not shy about killing characters he thinks need to die in order for the story to progress logically. There’s medieval-ness here, you can die from an arrow through the heart, a sword to the throat, or an infected boil.
4. Keep an eye on the Halfman. Peter Dinklage plays one of the most unapologetically lecherous, spoiled, untrustworthy and drunken lords in Westeros. He steals every single scene in which he appears. I have no idea if or when he gets killed off, but enjoy his moments, for he provides much needed and perfectly timed comic relief.
To Read or Not To Read
That is the question. As I said, I read half of the first book. I know just where the series passed me. I don’t think there is any necessity whatsoever to have read the books to enjoy the series and in fact you might enjoy it more if you haven’t. So many unexpected things happen, I was a little pissed just because of the few things I knew ahead of time. If you have read the books, it might be fun to see them brought to life, but it definitely takes away some of the suspense. I understand that season 5 is where the series finally is forced to go off on its own, since they will have caught up with the books. That should be interesting.
In the end, my advice is to rent or buy, then binge to your heart’s content (within reason of course – please take time to eat, sleep and relieve yourselves). Game of Thrones is an endlessly complex, fascinating series that HBO can be proud of – I’m looking forward to finishing season 2 and moving on to season 3 tonight. If you don’t have or use a rental service – just buy season 1. You won’t be sorry.