Last night I was lucky enough to see a preview screening of the first episode of Game of Thrones, HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's excellent ongoing series of fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire (thanks, Mike V!). I believe the idea is for each 10-episode season of the series to adapt one of the books. For whatever reason, the TV series as a whole is named after only the first book.
(If you would like to be absolutely spoiler-free for the actual television premiere of the series, stop reading now!)
The show opens just as that first book opens - with a prologue in which the Brothers that guard the North ride out seeking Wildlings and find something much, much worse. The sequence is as bloody and disturbing as you could hope for. I don't remember the dead bodies being laid out to form a mysterious symbol in the book, but I like this addition; it makes everything that much more mystical and creepy. The Others aren't quite the way I pictured them - these creatures remind me of Predators more than anything else - but they're certainly frightening and deadly enough.
After the prologue we get the title sequence, which is really wonderful. The camera zooms in on, and swoops over, a map of Westeros and its environs, and each of the major cities of the series pops up out of the map like some kind of cardboard, clockwork model. Then the title of the show appears, engraved in a piece of hot metal surrounded by fire. (If you were at the screening, the woman who whooped joyously and applauded loudly at this point was my friend Jill, bless her. And yeah, okay, I joined in.)
Soon we get introduced to the Lannisters, and to the Starks in their stronghold of Winterfell. The series takes some liberties here and adds some scenes that never occurred in the books. But these scenes and the dialog in them feel true to the characters, and anyway the series creators needed some way to quickly introduce certain characters and subplots, and this way probably makes the most sense. Anyway, I'm glad they chose to avoid using narration or a voice-over of the characters' thoughts to achieve this; that would have ended up being clumsy and cheesy, and it would have ended up telling us too much. As it is, I really admire the subtle touch they've used, and how they've treated their audience like adults, letting us figure things out and piece things together ourselves. Actually, in some cases they may have gone a bit too far, and I wonder if someone who hasn't read the books would be able to follow everything that was going on and pick up all the subtle details (like, would you realize that the Baratheon sigil is a stag, and the Stark symbol is a direwolf, and that's why everyone's looking at each other so grimly when the Starks find a stag and direwolf that died killing each other?). But I think I'm okay with erring on the side of not telling enough, rather than the other way around.
I particularly like how they establish the character of Arya. Instead of having someone say, "She's a tomboy," and leave it at that, they show her bored and annoyed at her sewing, and then they show her running out to hit a bullseye with an arrow.
The show is well cast, and the actors handle their parts well. I particularly like Sean Bean as Lord Eddard Stark and Mark Addy as King Robert Baratheon. Addy is lusty and rotund, and Bean makes Ned hard and implacable, but also human, troubled, and likable. The first time he says, "winter is coming," I have to admit, there may have been some fist pumping on my part. And that scene that I mentioned earlier, where he and his family return from the execution of the deserter and find the dead stag and direwolf, and the direwolf pups, is pretty much perfect.
Daenerys and Viserys are here, too, of course, the former just as innocent and lovely as she should be, and the latter just as slimy, petulant, and naive as he should be. I like the foreshadowing of Dany calmly and wordlessly stepping into a bath her servant thought was still much too hot for any normal human to withstand.
The masterstroke, however, may have been deciding to end the first episode with Bran's fall. Dramatic, shocking, powerful, brilliant.
The show is funny and clever, violent and bloody, rude and obscene. There's plenty of sex, nudity, perversion, corruption, and intrigue. So yeah, pretty much exactly like the novel!
Perhaps my only complaint is a slight change to one of my favorite scenes in the book. I really enjoy the unlikely friendship between Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, and I relish every chapter they're together. The chapter in which they meet is particularly excellent, and ends with one of my favorite Tyrion lines: "All dwarfs may be bastards, yet not all bastards need be dwarfs." The series writers left this line out and instead used an earlier line of Tyrion's: "All dwarfs are bastards in their father's eyes." I can sort of understand why they did this - if you're only going to use one of those lines, this one's better, as it also includes a reference to Tyrion's rocky relationship with his father - but... I'm still disappointed.
That's only a minor complaint, however. Overall, I am really impressed by what an excellent job the show creators have done here. They nailed it. They've transfered the beginning of the novel faithfully into the television format. I'm eager to see the rest of the first season, to see how they manage the rest of it. How I'm going to achieve that I'm not sure, as I don't have HBO and don't plan to get it, but I'll see what I can do.