Dragons? The coming of Winter? Zombies? Incest? “Kha-lee-si”?? WTF?!
These are hard times for non-fans of Game of Thrones. While the world was relatively normal some years ago, nowadays it’s all about the haircut of some chap named Jon Snow, bloodless encounters between zombies and knights, and the antics of some silver-haired individual who fashions herself “the Khaleesi”. No way you’re going to indulge and actually watch the whole circus, but secretly it would be nice to at least understand what all the fuss is about. So this one is just for those covert non-fans: here’s all you need to know to not-join-but-at-least-get-the-conversation;
First of all: the ketchup fest called Game of Thrones didn’t start out as a TV-series, but as a literary epos, brought to us by American author George R.R. Martin, who christened his life’s work A Song Of Ice And Fire. As always, the written version is even better than its counterpart on the silver screen. The series for now consists of seven novels, each as thick as the bible, and the first one was titled Game of Thrones in 1991. Over 25 years later, Martin is still writing on: The Winds of Winter and A Dream Of Spring are to be the two last novels, they are both being written at the same time and will be released “somewhere in the years to come”. I personally am deadly afraid Martin won’t live to write the end –he doesn’t look like he’s on a very healthy diet- and I can only hope he secluded the actual ending somewhere in a booby-trapped safe that is guided by both dragons and white walkers, but back to the present: the series attracted both praise and controverse for the blunt way it treats topics such as sex, violence, politics, incest and migration. Not for the faint of heart.
In 2007, American channel HBO bought the story’s TV rights and here’s where it becomes interesting: the show moved at such fast pace that it has caught up with the books, which means it divulged plot twists even the most avid readers didn’t know of. There’s a twist to the plot twist however: not everybody (note: nobody at all) was happy about the way the TV-show ended the epos, so all hopes are now on Martin: will he change the TV-ending in his books? There have been noted differences between his story and that of the screenwriters, so it wouldn’t be impossible, but only time can tell…
The story takes place in a fictional world where seasons can last for years and magical creatures such as dragons are as normal as wales or narwals –people acknowledge their existence, but they are very rare. Despite these fantasy elements, the story focuses on human drama and intrigue at the courts of Westeros and Essos, the two main continents in the world. Westeros mainly consists of an empire called the Seven Kingdoms, each one of them ruled by a different noble family, while all are being governed by one central power, seated on the Iron Throne in King’s Landing. It’s not hard to guess that this particular piece of furniture, and the question whò may place his or her buttock on it, is what causes the stir most of the time. It belonged to the noble Targaryens for years, a house of ancient dragon tamers that was defeated when its last king, nicknamed the Mad King, went cuckoo and decided to burn down his own city and court –just for fun. It caused a massive uprising, the extinction of the entire Targaryen family line and the coronation of warrior Robert Barratheon as new king of the Seven Kingdoms. By his side, queen Cercei Lannister, heiress to the richest family of the land, and the mighty Stark clan from the North.
It’s hard to pinpoint an era for the Game of Thrones world, but by the looks of all the ironware en vogue, the fact women are adorned like Christmas trees and the less than desirable sanitary facilities, I would say it matches our Middle Ages.
Broadly put, there are three main storylines:
In the first book, hell breaks loose after the untimely death of king Robert Barratheon, who is taken down by a wild boar during a hunting expedition. Widowed queen Cercei, who is conducting a very torrid and very incestuous love affair with her twin brother Jaimie, wants to grab power for her and her kin, while Ned Stark, Robert’s best friend and right hand man, decides to investigate the suspicious death. In their wake, members of other noble families, such as the mighty Tyrells, the remaining Barratheons and the disgraced Greyjoys, also try to snatch their bit of the cake. Add a bunch of professional schemers, figures of the shadows, both legal and bastard kids, a pack of giant wolves, a geniusly cool dwarf and a fiery witch to this cocktail and you get why the situation quickly boils over in Westeros.
Over to Essos, where Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen, two of the Mad King’s children who managed to escape the uprising, lead a beggar’s life at the mercy of rich merchants and sympathizers who still abide by the old crown. They will do anything to restore their family’s glory and right now that seems to be marrying off Daenerys – “Dany”- to some fierce local warlord called Khal Drogo. The latter not only possesses a talent for horseback riding, hair and make-up (his mascara skills are beyond belief and he is a walking commercial for l’Oreal hair), but also conducts one of the largest and most feared armies of Essos: the notorious Dothraki, whom Viserys hopes his new brother-in-law will lend to him to conquer back the Iron Throne. Viserys, however, turns out to be a spoilt brat, while shy little Dany goes on to become a bad-ass queen –the Khaleesi!- who assembles her own army of Dothraki, freed slaves, mercenaries and even dragons, before heading home to Westeros.
The third storyline takes place in the most northern part of the Seven Kingdoms, where a giant wall of ice and an ancient order called the Night’s Watch are meant to protect the kingdom against savages from the northern wilderness. Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard son, is a not so proud member of the Watch and discovers his job really is about keeping more out than just hairy basket cases dressed in rabbit furs: Zombie. Army. Alert! Jon, who possesses a quick mind under his sexy head of curls, quickly gets that the real battle to be fought here is not between a bunch of noblemen, but between Life and Death itself. Of course, as is often the case with taciturn dark heroes with good intentions, nobody listens to him, which has him broodingly staring into the snow most of the time.
In the margin –surprise!- there is a fourth and final storyline: the weather report. I mentioned before how seasons can last for years in the Game of Thrones universe. At the start of our story, a decade-long summer nears its end, and the more some above mentioned zombie army advances, the gloomier the forecasts get. “Winter is coming” –ah, there you have it!- is the motto of the wise Stark family and starts to get eerily prophetic qualities…
Who are we rooting for?
It’s hard to pick one champion, as there are no such thing as black or white characters –thank god- in this epic tale. We can positively state the zombies are nòt nice, but apart from them, there is something to be said for –and against- each and every character. Don’t get to attached anyway, as people tend to perish and/or switch camp at an alarmingly fast rate. One moment you adore them, the next they are slitting your other favorite person’s throat. The books are written from different point of views, which means you get to know the entire bunch quite well, so see for yourself who you like. I for one, at least think I might want to hand out these awards…:
Jon Snow’s man bun is definitely the winner here, while Mr and Mrs Drogo’s impressive braids are runner-up. No ink was spared in the books to describe this trio’s glorious locks and the TV producers have obviously done their best to honor them too.
Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf brother of Jaimie and Cercei, is a political mastermind and knows how to sails the treacherous waters of the royal court like no other. Once things get a bit too spicy for him in Westeros, he flees to Essos and inevitably meets Khaleesi. He doesn’t care for taboos nor clichés, and manages to survive thanks to his foul mouth, heart of gold and wild party behavior. Definitely one of my favorites. Even if at some points he deems it necessary to lit up an entire sea, burning thousands of innocents in the act. Woops!
They are incestuous, murderous monsters by day, but by night Cercei and Jaime Lannister are just two people who are desperately in love, trying to hold track of the cruel world around them. Jaimie in particular evolves from a pushing-little-kids-through-windows-asshole to a tormented white knight, who passively witnesses the woman he loves going mad in her quest for power.
The Cool Kids
Everything Ned Stark produced is cool: Bran, Sansa, Arya, Rickon, Jon and Rob have giant dire wolves as pets, spend their days in customized furs, develop superpowers along the way and even after the destruction and disgrace of their family, they have always managed –for now- to outsmart their enemies. Well at least, some of them did -RIP Rob…