When you play the game of thrones, you win…
…Or you die.
If you don’t know what to watch next, HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019) is available on Amazon Prime.
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, is the most-nominated drama in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards. It won Outstanding Drama Series in 2015, 2016, and 2018.
The fantasy epic takes place in the feudal Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, united under the Iron Throne. Multiple storylines weave around three central arcs. One is the dynastic civil war between noble Westerosi families for control over the Iron Throne.
Another involves a warrior named Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and his own war against the undead White Walkers in the frozen northern wilderness of the continent.
Meanwhile, east of the Narrow Sea in Essos, the exile princess, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), whose ancestors first sat the Iron Throne, hatches three dragons and leads an armada to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.
The production value of Game of Thrones rivals big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, forging its place in the Golden Age of Television with dragon fire.
But it’s not just the ambitious small-screen spectacle that makes for already classic TV.
At its best, Game of Thrones comes across as more of a political thriller than it does, say, a knockoff of Peter Jackson’s godawful The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), even though such comparison is inevitable.
Its commitment to medieval realism, despite the dragons, witches, and ice zombies populating the mise-en-scene, casts the fantastical setting in a more accessible light for all audiences, not just fans of the genre.
The key to this detailed world-building lies in the show’s character development, with the ensemble fighting to survive in a world where power too often falls into the hands of those who deserve it least.
But that’s Game of Thrones at its best.
The fifth season is the first to adapt material not yet published in A Song of Ice and Fire, and that is where the showrunners’ writing begins to collapse under the weight of Martin’s mythos.
The dialogue in the sixth season is a far cry from the more quotable lines in earlier episodes (“Winter is coming,” “All men must die,” “For the night is dark and full of terrors”), but the storytelling is still consistent with the source material.
After all, Martin himself is a stronger storyteller than he is a wordsmith, and, in their prime, the books and the show complement and improve upon each other spellbindingly.
The final two seasons, though, shorter than the first six ten-episode installments (the seventh season is seven episodes, and the eighth season is six), rush to their subverted expectations at an incoherent pace.
They are almost caricatures of the twists defining the series at its finest. These narrative turns are meant to be the climactic payoffs to the slow-burn, character-driven, chess-piece setups arranging themselves throughout the drama.
Otherwise, it’s all style and no substance.
Still, Game of Thrones is worth your time, if for no other reason than to see what Benioff and Weiss are trying to do (whether they succeed or not), and the first four seasons are more than worth the price of admission. The fourth season alone is some of the greatest TV ever aired.