Arts and Culture

Found Your Seat for 'Game of Thrones'?

The Sopranos of Middle Earth are back. Dragon you in yet?

By Steve Burgess 29 Mar 2013 |

Steve Burgess writes about culture twice monthly for The Tyee. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

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Pets allowed: Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, played by Emelia Clarke.

I've done a lot of stuff over the last 10 months. I have eaten meals. Using the calories gained through food consumption, I have cleaned and dressed myself almost daily. I've clipped my nails, made small talk with neighbours, and even travelled some. All nothing more than time-marking, suffering through the agonizing ennui as the calendar crawled toward 3/31/13. On Sunday evening my sad, empty existence regains its purpose. Game of Thrones returns to HBO Canada with the premiere of season three. I thank the old gods and the new that I was not messily beheaded before this day.

For those who've missed it, Game of Thrones is a TV series based on A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin's fantasy novel series. (Also, Lady Gaga is a popular musical performer known for colourful costumes, and Mitt Romney lost.) If you want a capsule description you can't do better than the pitch show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss reportedly gave HBO: "The Sopranos in Middle Earth."

Martin realized creating an alternate universe with dragons and a certain amount of magic does not mean that characters have to behave like knights in pursuit of the Holy Grail. In the history of Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, dragons and magic are no different than the crossbow, the trebuchet, or gunpowder in the history of the Earth -- tools of war in the ruthless struggle for power. While some characters are markedly less noble of spirit than others -- I'm looking at you, young King "Douchebag" Baratheon -- for the most part the show is less about heroes and villains than about the clash of competing interests.

It may be a fictional universe but back in this one they ought to be putting up four and half foot statues to Peter Dinklage, the Jackie Robinson of the little people, whose character Tyrion Lannister packs more power, savvy, and personality into a modest package than any fantasy figure since Yoda. And yet he may not even be a match for his own sister, Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), who herself has done great service in dispelling stereotypes about kinder, gentler female rulers. Have a watch:

The queen may in turn may yet meet her match in Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons. (Grade school teachers: note the spelling. You'll probably be seeing a lot of little Daeneryses in your classes soon). She's the kind of visitor who could inspire any establishment to institute a strict "No pets" policy.

Season one established with jaw-(and axe)-dropping certainty that Game of Thrones is not a show where one can predict the fate of any given character. And those familiar with the plot of season three -- not only the show's creators but the many Martin fans who've read the books --insist that more and bigger shocks are on the way. Martin himself has said he's "dreading" the development of at least one character's storyline, claiming that when a certain episode airs he plans to hide away where he can't be reached by outraged fans. Sounds like Game of Thrones, all right.

The show is not for everyone -- I do grasp this, with difficulty. But the fan frenzy surrounding the series ought to be good news for anyone who cares about quality TV. Game of Thrones is a hugely ambitious undertaking and represents a major commitment on the part of HBO. It's the opposite of the quickie reality shows that are any network bean counter's favourite drug. Some have suggested that online piracy will be the doom of expensive productions like this one but HBO seems pretty happy with the show so far. So let me take this rare opportunity to wish fat, well-deserved profits to the huge Time Warner corporation. Long may your dragons belch fire.

What's a Zombie worth?

Perhaps the good corporate folks down the dial at AMC deserve the same endorsement, but it's hard to say. Mad Men, that other reigning titan of quality cable TV, returns for season six on Sunday, April 7. But AMC seems to be a house where bean counters hold the whip hand. Its three biggest dramatic franchises, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, have all been subject to nasty contractual and/or creative squabbles with their host channel at various times. Walking Dead, AMC's zombified smash, recently lost its show runner (a show's de facto operative boss) for the second time in its three-season history. Glen Mazzara's departure sparked a hilariously vicious attack on AMC by Mazarra's friend, Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter. While heaping scatological abuse on AMC execs, Sutter did offer a piece of wisdom that unites walkers on both sides of the morbidity line: "Even zombies need consistency."

Another report claims that Mazzara's dismissal resulted from a power struggle rather than budget cuts. But AMC's history of creative trouble might just reflect the difficulty of making a premium quality TV series, especially for a smaller outfit taking on bigger fish like HBO. All the more reason to be grateful for shows like Mad Men and Game of Thrones that have managed to keep their creative vision intact while walking through the valley of the shadow of network executive suites. That's an alternate universe that makes the Game of Thrones look like My Little Pony.  [Tyee]

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