Winter is coming. You might say that’s our motto above the 60th parallel, but they’re also words to live by in Winterfell, the northernmost kingdom of imaginary Westeros. The Game of Thrones saga has unexpectedly surpassed cult status, but its mythology may have special appeal for northerners and not just for its keen sense of impending weather.
Based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the first four seasons of Game of Thrones, which airs on HBO, are available at Whitehorse Public Library. Martin’s series is a hybrid of history and fantasy, taking place on the pre-Magna Carta continents of Westeros and Essos where almost everyone is seeking either power or justice and the turn each strategy takes is usually violent. The great achievement of creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss is translating the novels to the small screen without sacrificing the sweep of the narrative or Martin’s rich detail.
Westeros is made up of seven kingdoms, ruled by whoever possesses the Iron Throne. When the claim to the throne falls into dispute – and apparently it rarely doesn’t – the game is on. All kinds of ambitious characters enter the fray, ranging from glamourous royals to witty renegades to a princess-in-exile, but Martin’s story also includes the innocents who are swept up by the tides of war, such as the children of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), ruler of Winterfell, and ordinary people unlucky enough to be in the path of battle.
Then there’s the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch, a motley crew of warriors stationed north of the north. They guard the Wall, a fortress of ice that’s 700 feet high – more than six times the height of the Whitehorse escarpment, just so you know – the last line of defence between Westeros and lands beyond the Wall. That territory, the size of Canada (according to Martin), is populated with wildlings, who refuse to bend to rule, and other inhabitants of the supernatural kind.
The White Walkers, who seem to be sentient zombies, present an apocalyptic threat to the world that only a few humans recognize and they’ll render moot any victory in the game of thrones.
It’s hard to get anyone’s attention, embattled as they are with other insurmountable obstacles. “He has more mammoths”, says Jon Snow (Kit Harington) of the Brotherhood of one foe, at the end of season four. “He has more giants. He has 1,000 times as many men.” Also, winter is coming.
Game of Thrones is huge in scope, filmed in multiple locations around the world, notably in Northern Ireland, Croatia and Norway, and brought to life by a brilliant cast. This is the first role for many of the younger actors and it’s exciting to see them inhabit Martin’s complicated characters, not to mention the excellent use they make of that swordplay training.
Benioff and Weiss have made some changes to the original, so surprises are in store even for people who have read the series. A Song of Ice and Fire is also available through the Yukon library system.