I've heard many people say things like "Game of Thrones is the cooler/ better/ non-lame/ whatever version of Lord of the Rings." Their slightly inarticulate implication being that Thrones is a vastly superior take on the old medieval fantasy genre. I totally agree. But really, it is so much more than that. It's a wonderful gateway into the genre for non-fantasy fans. Game of Thrones is yet another stroke of genius from HBO.
As this second season began, we found ourselves deep in the shadow of not just Ned Stark's untimely demise but, the birth of Daenerys Targaryen's three adorable baby dragons as well. The Stark family is tossed to the wind, while the Lannisters' grip on the crown is loosened by the arrival of the much talked about (and apparently semi-evil) Stannis Baratheon, who is more than ready to reveal King Joffery's bastardry.
If you haven't seen the show, I might as well have been typing gibberish just then but, as Thrones fans will assure you: This is all very serious business. The end of the first run seemed to foreshadow a war --blood on the horizon. I don't think I was the only one who was hoping for revenge. I wanted to see the head of the loathsome Prince Joffery -an unredeemable and soulless character- on a pike. Frankly, I just wanted to see any/ all of those evil Lannister's suffer for their crimes. Except for Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who may be my favorite TV character since Omar Little from David Simon's The Wire. (More on that in a minute.)
Instead of the assumed dramatic payoffs I expected, that first episode introduces us to a number of new characters and locales. I found this a little confusing at first. But now I find myself trusting creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. I don't mind feeling a little lost momentarily-- if I have confidence that the people behind the scenes know what they're doing.
As the season plays out, my confusion is gradually clearing up and I recall that I had reacted similarly to the beginning of season two of The Wire. ("Why are we meeting all these dock workers?" Oh, you'll see.) The plot development of both HBO gems effectively set up their second seasons for which many fans were expecting dramatic payoffs much sooner than the creators felt like revealing them. We haven't exactly gotten what we were expecting but in the end, what we did get is actually far greater.
The two shows share thematic parallels, as well. They examine the easily corruptible nature of power, both socially and politically. Life is cheap on the streets of Baltimore, as it is in Westeros. The good guy does not always win. In fact, he doesn't even get a hero's death in most cases. Both universes are drawn and depicted so authentically that Winter Fell feels just as real as South B-More. And I realize that comparing any show to The Wire is high praise indeed.
Where they differ is in the depiction of violence. On The Wire, death is always a sad, heart-wrenching thing. People get shot and slowly die, begging. On Game of Thrones, the violence is more cinematic and over the top. Thank god for HBO. No other network could air this. Decapitations, prostitute mutilation, child killings, its all in a days work. So, perhaps a beat-to-beat comparison is impossible. On the other hand, both shows share the wonderful ability to genuinely enrage their adoring audiences.
To me, the murder of Ned Stark felt as tragic and angering as that of D'Angelo Barksdale. Usually on an hour long drama, the death of a major character is greeted by audiences with excitement. "Finally, something is happening! The plot is moving forward, yay!" That absolutely does not apply here. Both events were heartbreaking. Stark seemed to be the only good, honest man in the kingdom. Barksdale was on his way out of the game, for good. Both men unquestionably changed their respective worlds for the better, even if they did not necessarily live to see it.
You know those 'How could my favorite character get killed' cries of sorrow? Such a response merely indicates how consumed by the story and characters the audience has become. But in the end, The Wire was not a show about wish-fulfillment or revenge. However, the first episode of Thrones' second season is darkly titled: "The North Remembers." Perhaps my dreams of seeing Joffrey's head on a stick are not yet dashed.
Unlike Lost, a show that proved in the end that they did not have everything mapped out, Thrones has yet to disappoint. A great key to Thrones success is that George R.R. Martin's books are always there to guide the show's creators, keeping them on the right path. And Thrones is immensely popular. For me, this is one of those rare occasions where the public seem to have genuine good taste. If only The Wire had the commercial success while it was airing that Game of Thrones has today. It took years for those Brother Mouzone Twitter hash tags to catch on.
I've spoiled as little of season two as I possibly could (for both programs) but, if I've been unclear: Game of Thrones is better, smarter and more engaging than any of its TV contemporaries. Personally, I still prefer The Wire but, that is no insult to Thrones. The real victor in the war of Game of Thrones versus The Wire is the audience. You should really join that audience, if you haven't already.
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Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.