I have been watching the new HBO adaption of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones (GoT) over the past seven or eight weeks and last Saturday evening I watched the first episode of Camelot.
Both very different series with their own unique feel, and to a certain extent scale as well. However, they both share common ground in being the first serious attempts to bring fantasy (or, in my mind, more accurately Sword and Sorcery) to an adult audience. Certainly we have seen other attempts, with shows like Legend of the Seeker, which unfortunately fell somewhat short of it’s initial success (although I must admit I do have a certain urge to pick up the two seasons on DVD and see if it improved after I stopped watching it half way through season one).
Getting back to Game of Thrones and Camelot, so far (I have only seen the first double episode of Camelot), Game of Thrones seems to be standing up much better. The plot works well and the strong visual elements and language (both violence and sexual in nature), seem to fit better with it all. In Camelot, certainly as far as the sex and language go, they feel tacked on, unnecessary and somewhat superfluous (although I must admit I had no objections to Eva Green disrobing at the end of the episode).
I should state at this point that I have not read George R.R. Martin’s books, and haven’t read any “epic fantasy” novels in over 20 years – I have read and re-read all of David Gemmell’s books, but they are not what I would consider “epic” fantasy. I also dip into my Robert E. Howard collection fairly regularly, but again not “epic” fantasy. I think you get the point, I am not a fan of epic fantasy, what finally killed the genre for me was reading The Mallorian by David Eddings, a complete re-hash of his previous series, The Belgariad. Other than Gemmell and REH, I don’t read any fantasy and very little sword and sorcery any more. However, when it comes to TV and film one has to take ones genre shots where-ever one can get them, so my viewing habits are a little more broad. As far as my inclinations go towards Camelot, I have always loved the Arthurian legends and will generally watch any adaptions of them that come along. For many years John Boorman’s Excalibur was in my top three favourite movies (although a recent watching did show up quite a few flaws that I hadn’t spotted before), I also have the Sam Neill Merlin DVDs and have been watching the less than startling BBC Merlin TV show. I even quite liked the movie King Arthur, which was basically only ruined by the subtitle “The Untold True Story”!
So now you know where I stand as a viewer approaching Game of Thrones and Camelot. Game of Thrones is developing into a well rounded and strongly paced series. The cast is excellent, the acting and dialogue not too OTT, the design is wonderful and the whole look of the show is fairly sumptuous. Comparisons are bound to be made with the Lord of The Rings movies and I am sure that the success of that LOTR movies heavily influenced the funding and green-lighting of this show, however to my mind, Game of Thrones (and Camelot) bares much more comparison to HBOs previous series Rome. The influences’ seem quite obvious. Taken at a surface level both Rome, Game of Thrones, and now Camelot have much in common, political intrigue, some extremely dirty and violent fights and fairly strong sexual content.
The cast of Game of Thrones seems to have hit the mark pretty much right across the board. Sean Bean (who in recent years seems to have landed more roles as the villain than the hero) fills the role of Ned Stark with troubled dignity and carries off the turmoil that an honest and noble lord feels when asked to negotiate his way through court politics and intrigue. Other cast members, including Lena Headley, Mark Addy, Emilia Clarke and Jason Momoa all fulfil their roles with straight forward elegance and feeling. It is possible to empathise with all of the characters at one point or another, even the series major antagonists.
The violence in GoT is at time brutal, but it is all in keeping with the nature of civil war, and indeed medieval warfare in general. The sex also seems to fit, it is a part of the way of life within the world created by Martin (at least I assume it features in the books as well). As far as “fantasy” elements go, in GoT they are quite thin on the ground, at least in the episodes that have aired in the UK so far. There have been a few sightings of the White Walkers, half wraith / half yeti like beings that will probably have more screen time in later episodes. There are some dragon eggs and skulls dotted around, that could simply be taken as sculptures and ornaments. As far as I can tell there has been only one use of magic. All of this, I am sure, helps keep an audience who possibly doesn’t like “fantasy”, just about hanging on to the show.
Camelot has not caught my affection quite as much as GoT yet! I am left fairly unhappy by the casting. Joseph Fiennes portrayal of Merlin is certainly a different take on the character than has been seen before, which is not necessarily a bad thing, however he comes over as very cold and without many charismatic traits. For a character that is so central to the story this does not attract me to the show.
Jamie Campbell Bower’s King Arthur, so far has also not particularly clicked with me, although that may change as his character matures and he develops his kingly persona.
To be honest the three characters that really worked for me in this opening episode were Eva Green’s Morgan, James Purefoy’s King Lot and Sean Pertwee’s Sir Ector. Bit of a spoiler here, as two of them don’t survive the end of this episode it doesn’t bode to well for the rest of the series. Eva Green as Morgan, is supremely evil, communing with some dark spirits (only seen so far as shadows in the mist). James Purefoy manages to inject quite a likeable character into King Lot, who generally should have been seen as a nasty piece of work. Sean Pertwee as the noble knight Sir Ector was clearly destined to die early on, well it is Sean Pertwee, when do his characters ever survive to the end of a movie (it is pretty much a drinking game now – at what point in the show will Sean Pertwee’s character die)!
In the final battle of the show when King Lot faces off against Sir Ector, in a scene that was clearly paying homage to John Boorman’s Excalibur, the impaled Sir Ector pulls himself along King Lot’s spear and so is able to stab King Lot with his dagger. A dramatic scene made all the more poignant by the deaths of two of the best characters in the episode.
It is probably a little unfair to compare Camelot’s opening shot against Game of Thrones with it’s fully developed story arc that seems to be approaching some sort of conclusion, and I must say that I will be sticking with Camelot for the time being. However, it is only due to it’s being one of the few fantasy shows on TV at the moment. If it doesn’t catch my interest soon I will probably drop it!