The root problem is that theyâ€™re trying to rush everything and are sacrificing nuance and good storytelling for the sake of pacing. I had the interesting experience of watching the premier with my girlfriend, Amy, who is completely new to ASoIaF and a bit of a fantasy skeptic. But she was game to try it and I was thrilled to have her with me. I noticed that, almost from the first scene, she would have been completely lost without me to answer questions like â€œWait, who is that guy again? And why is he so angry?â€ And even I kept getting a few of the actors confused (how many pretty brown-haired young men can you get into a single show?) I know that exposition isnâ€™t terribly exciting, but some more dialogue establishing whoâ€™s who would have made the episode more noob-friendly (as opposed to just boob-friendly, which Iâ€™ll get into later).
The best solution would have been to make the pilot two-hours long, which would not be unprecedented. Or perhaps they could have just stuck with the Starks and Lannisters for this episode, then fit in the Targaryens next time. This would have given the director more time to introduce us to groups of characters and plotlines without jumping about so much.
The other issue that comes from the compressed timeline is that a lot of the nuance and character-establishing moments were lost. Where was the sibling-rivalry relationship between Arya and Sansa? Why didnâ€™t we get more than just one shot establishing Catelynâ€™s resentment of Jon? I know that darlings must be killed and left on the cutting room floor, but I feel that they were in such a hurry to establish the plot that they forgot the characters.
The thing I found most surprising about the pilot, though, was how gratuitous it felt. Now, I have nothing against sex, violence, nudity, and foul language. George RR Martin wrote a dark, cynical world and the series wouldnâ€™t feel right if it didnâ€™t show a lot of the seedy side of life. This is, after all, a world where knights shove children out of windows â€“ if exposed nipples still register in comparison to that, you may need to check your priorities. But I do feel like HBO was chasing a quota here, as if you can only prove your edgy artistic relevance if you show at least X amount of doggy-style sex and intestines.
The reason all the sex in particular rubs me the wrong way is that itâ€™s lacking in context and, in some cases, really rushed (Iâ€™ll let you titter at that, then we can move on.) For example, Tyrionâ€™s introduction scene, which didnâ€™t exist in the book, is him in bed with a whore. Thereâ€™s nothing inherently wrong with it â€“ a Tyrion without whores isnâ€™t a Tyrion at all â€“ but the scene served no purpose. All it established is that a) Tyrion parties like a rockstar and b) Tyrion and Jaime like to hang out like bros and trade medieval high-fives. Ugh. There are plenty of better uses the director could have made of these two minutes.
The scene that bothered me most, though, came towards the end of the episode â€“ the consummation of Drogo and Daenerysâ€™s marriage. Not only was it more than a wee bit awkward to watch with oneâ€™s girlfriend, but it made me ask some uncomfortable questions about the original scene in the book. This only got worse once I read Jennifer Armstrongâ€™s piece on EW.com. Ironically, the article is about how A Game of Thrones/ASoIaF can be viewed as a feminist work, but in a comment one of the readers refers to the consummation as a rape. My kneejerk reaction was â€œNo, it wasnâ€™t a rape at all!â€ Then I thought back to the scene as it appeared on TV and how uncomfortable Amy looked watching and, yeah, it definitely was a rape on the show. Say what you want about cultural norms and a different time, but . . . yeah. As portrayed, that was definitely not consensual.
The reason I was so instantly resistant to the idea of the Drogo-Daenerys scene as a rape is that it comes across very differently in the novel. As written by GRRM, the sex scene takes a lot longer to get going. Drogo shows more tenderness and concern, wiping away Daenyâ€™s tears and giving her time to become comfortable. As itâ€™s written from her perspective, we see her own lust for Drogo start to surface in the way she describes his body and his hair. And finally, it ends with a very unambiguous granting of not just consent, but eagerness. It was nothing like the wham-bam-bend-you-over of the show.
The point Iâ€™ve been getting at is that the show needs to slow the hell down. I know that screentime is precious, but they really need to invest more in character development and less on spectacle. Take some time to establish the charactersâ€™ motivations before you send them running around taking revenge and sexing each other. And, above all, trust your audience. Donâ€™t think that weâ€™re a bunch of caffeinated thirteen year olds tuning in for the blood and tits. Anyone who has hung tight through the thousands of pages and years of waiting for the books stayed because the characters and themes are meaningful, not just for the sex and violence. So, HBO, take some time and let the dish simmer for a bit â€“ youâ€™ll find that itâ€™ll be even tastier if you do.