‘Thrones' trades detail for gore, violence, sex

by Allison Levy | 4/24/11 10:00pm

HBO recently decided to renew the
by Courtesy of Filteringcoffee.com / The Dartmouth

The network also has a lot of money in its latest original series. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the pilot of "Thrones" alone had a budget of between five and $10 million, a number that is much more believable once you sit through the hour-long fantasy extravaganza that is the first episode.

Of course, given the premise, it would be foolish to expect the series' debut to be anything but extravagant. "Thrones" chronicles the political, personal and sexual tensions within and among the seven kingdoms of the fictional land of Westeros. Packed with mythical creatures and Medieval-esque bacchanalia not to mention gratuitous amounts of violence and nudity the producers would have had to try really hard to make the series boring and even harder to make it subtle.

Not that I minded much the series' self-indulgence is part of what makes it fun. But the lavishness seems to play another crucial role in the pilot: keeping viewers watching.

The pilot of any series has the tall task of both introducing the show and convincing viewers to tune in for the next installment. The "Thrones" writers had the particularly difficult job of introducing the complexities of Martin's meticulously crafted world in under 60 minutes. With such a sprawling cast of characters, confusion is inevitable. But the awe-inspiring vistas, grand castles, gory beheadings and (of course) sex all provide viewers with something to grab on to in moments of uncertainty.

Given the epic proportions of the series, such confusion is plentiful, and judging from the viewers' guide (replete with family trees) on HBO's website, the network knows it. Although I hate to admit it, I've rarely been so grateful for my DVR's rewind button. As the pilot jumped around geographically and from one storyline to another, I struggled to keep my Lannisters straight from my Starks (two of the major houses). The ubiquity of heavy fur cloaks in the North doesn't help. To compensate, "Game of Thrones" lays it on heavy, from the scenery to the sex scenes.

Yet this approach runs the risk of overusing licentious elements and turning into "True Blood" with swords instead of fangs and mythical giant wolves instead of vampires. Too much sensationalism, and viewers will notice a lack of substantive content and come to see the gregariousness as unintended humor.

Fortunately for "Thrones," the pilot is much more accessible upon a second viewing. With an understanding of the basic political structure of Westeros, viewers can more easily appreciate the interactions between the characters without getting distracted.

Even still, if the series attempts to sustain the amount of gore and nudity it had in its first episode, it will certainly grow old quickly. Five beheadings per episode just seems like overkill (bad pun intended).

I am optimistic that "Thrones" will only become more enjoyable as the series establishes itself and viewers become familiar with the characters and plotlines. Most importantly, I hope that the not-safe-for-basic-cable moments will take a backseat to the show's complexities once audiences are ready to appreciate them.