HBO bets that view­ers will love epic fan­tasy ‘Game of Thrones’

The Daily Herald - TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOHN CROOK

The epic na­ture of “Game of Thrones,” a 10-part HBO se­ries pre­mier­ing Sun­day, an­nounces it­self from the very be­gin­ning, as the cam­era dives and soars like a tipsy fal­con over a liv­ing map of the Seven King­doms of Wes­teros. It’s a realm that en­com­passes both the balmy south­land of King’s Land­ing, whence King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) rules from the Iron Throne, and the frozen north­land where the king’s war­den and life­long best friend, Lord Ed­dard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean), main­tains or­der from his home at Win­ter­fell.

Sev­eral years be­fore the se­ries be­gins, Ned helped Robert, a fel­low sol­dier, over­throw Aerys Tar­garyen, an in­sane monarch who was ter­ror­iz­ing and mur­der­ing his own peo­ple. In the af­ter­math of that re­bel­lion, the two planned to rule the Seven King­doms to­gether, but their sub­jects needed a sin­gle monarch, so Ned and his fam­ily hap­pily re­turned to the north­land, where an an­ces­tor of yore had erected the Wall, a mas­sive struc­ture de­signed to pro­tect Wes­teros from the dark­ness to the far north.

Based on Ge­orge R.R. Martin’s best­selling fan­tasy se­ries “A Song of Ice and Fire,” “Game of Thrones” opens as Robert comes to Win­ter­fell to en­treat his old friend to come south to King’s Land­ing, which has de­te­ri­o­rated into a place of corruption and vi­o­lence. There are rum­blings that de­scen­dants (Harry Lloyd, Emilia Clarke) of the mad king are plan­ning a re­bel­lion of their own, but Robert’s big­gest prob­lem lies closer to home. At the urg­ing of an ad­viser, he has mar­ried Cer­sei Lan­nis­ter (Lena Headey), a ruth­less beauty whose lust for power makes Lady Mac­beth look like Betty White.

“What Robert didn’t re­al­ize is that he was mar­ry­ing into pos­si­bly the most power-hun­gry fam­ily imag­in­able, in­clud­ing his wife and her brother, Jaime (Niko­laj Coster Wal­dau), who was known as the Kingslayer, be­cause he killed the for­mer king,” ex­plains Addy, best known to Amer­i­can au­di­ences from his role in the lon­grun­ning CBS sit­com “Still Stand­ing.” “He re­al­izes too late that he has placed him­self in a po­si­tion where he is sur­rounded by en­e­mies, and there is re­ally only one man he can trust --Ned --be­cause his ad­vis­ers all have their own agenda as well. But by mak­ing Ned the Hand of the King, he is draw­ing Ned into the same dan­gers that he is in. It’s a real quandary for Robert, but he re­ally doesn’t have a choice.”

Bean, an ac­tion movie reg­u­lar who played the flawed hero Boromir in Peter Jack­son’s “Lord of the Rings: The Fel­low­ship of the Ring,” freely ad­mits that he never had heard of Martin’s fan­tasy se­ries be­fore one of the pro­duc­ers on this pro­ject started talk­ing to him about play­ing Ned, but he be­came hooked as soon as he started read­ing.

“The char­ac­ters were just very rich and mul­ti­lay­ered,” the ac­tor ex­plains. “They’re there for a rea­son, not just for pad­ding. I par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Ned and King Robert be­cause they’re old friends.

“It made things even more en­joy­able that Mark and I have known each other for a long time in real life. ... We were at drama school to­gether, and I know some of Mark’s man­ner­isms and his laugh­ter and stuff like this. I know his mind, so I can play off that. We have good chem­istry, and it made the re­la­tion­ship feel more nat­u­ral and spon­ta­neous. Mark and I are ac­tu­ally from the same county in Eng­land, York­shire, so that might have a lit­tle to do with it, too. We un­der­stood each other’s nu­ances and hu­mor.”

Both ac­tors give the HBO cre­ative team high marks for the rich de­tail of the pro­duc­tion.

“They’ve just done a ter­rific job, all of them, tak­ing el­e­ments that look fa­mil­iar and make you think, ‘Oh, that looks medieval,’ and then you’ll see a vaguely sa­mu­rai kind of look,” says Addy, a new­comer to the ac­tion fan­tasy genre. “They’re fa­mil­iar, yet not spe­cific, so you build up a world, or even a se­ries of worlds, which are fully be­liev­able. You ar­rive on that set, and it’s a world you can be­lieve in. You can be­come these char­ac­ters with­out hav­ing to fight against Ly­cra or what­ever crazy cos­tume they put you in. Ev­ery­thing in this looks real and feels real and smells real.”

“I was fas­ci­nated be­cause I would come onto these sets, and I would see a crack in the cor­ner that had been painted in,” adds Bean. “You might see it (on screen), you might not, but it was there, be­cause some­one cared so much about how it looked.”

The story line for the se­ries also fea­tures sec­ondary and very touch­ing story lines in­volv­ing two fas­ci­nat­ing mis­fits: Jon Snow (Kit Har­ing­ton), Ned’s il­le­git­i­mate son who goes to help guard the Wall, and Tyrion Lan­nis­ter (Peter Din­klage, who nearly walks off with the en­tire pro­ject, de­spite a free-range ac­cent), the dwarf brother of Cer­sei and Jaime whose own painful life ex­pe­ri­ence has given him a com­pas­sion and per­spec­tive that his si­b­lings to­tally lack.

Epic fan­tasy can be a dicey prospect for tele­vi­sion, but HBO hasn’t hedged its bets with “Game of Thrones.” It’s a stunner from top to bot­tom.

Mark Addy stars in “Game of Thrones,” a 10-episode se­ries pre­mier­ing Sun­day on HBO.

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