A few years ago, while browsing a bookstore in Toronto together, a friend recommended George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. It was summer, I was looking for something to read, and we had similar tastes in fantasy and science-fiction, so I bought the first novel, titled A Game of Thrones, on the spot. I quickly fell in love with the rich world that Martin had created, full of unexpected plot twists and morally ambiguous characters. The four published books of a planned seven novel series are some of the best I have ever read, and Martin has become one of my favourite authors.
‘Ice and Fire’ is set in a fictional world that resembles medieval Europe but has extended seasons, meaning summers can last a decade. Martin has said that he was influenced by the English Wars of the Roses but that “there’s really no one-for-one character-for-character correspondence”. The series revolves around the seven noble houses of Westeros, particularly Houses Stark and Lannister, and the struggle for power over the Seven Kingdoms.
When Martin announced on his livejournal, titled Not a Blog, that HBO had optioned the rights to turn the books into a series it was great news for fans, but optioning the rights does not always mean that a film or television show will ever be created. So when James Hibberd, a senior writer at The Hollywood Reporter, announced on his blog that HBO had green lit a pilot for the series, I was ecstatic. As he noted, high fantasy is a popular enough genre for film, but has not been tackled on television before, despite the recent increase in science-fiction and genre-themed programing. But if anyone can do it, it’s HBO, who have worked with expansive period pieces before in Rome, Deadwood and Carnivale.
The involvement of HBO is a good sign for fans who hope that the more adult content involved in the series won’t be watered down or cut completely. Additionally, a television series consisting of a speculated 10 to 12 episodes per season, is more likely to remain faithful to the lengthy books, which average 1000 pages each. The series itself has been named after the first novel, A Game of Thrones.
Even before the pilot was ordered, fans had begun compiling lists and discussing which actors would appear in their ideal casts. Who should bring the honourable but cold Eddard Stark to life on screen, and which actress had the ability to transform from a meek girl to a powerful young woman, as Daenerys Targaryen does over the course of Martin’s novels. The characters in ‘Ice and Fire’ are so complicated, and in many cases so young, that even with great writing and special effects the casting will likely make or break the series.
So when it was announced in May that the first actor cast was Peter Dinklage (Death at a Funeral), who was not only the fans’ choice, but also Martin’s pick to play the role of Tyrion Lannister, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Other bits of information were slowly released as well, including the name of the pilot’s director, Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) and that filming would be conducted in Northern Ireland in October.
Through casting sides and a leaked early script, fans have had the chance to see how scriptwriters have adapted the first novel into a workable pilot, but there were no further casting announcements until this Monday, when the rumour that Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) had signed on to play Ned Stark was confirmed. Both a fan favourite for the role and a terrific actor, Bean is a fantastic addition to the cast. Adding a ‘name’ actor like Bean to the project also gives it credibility and perhaps will draw in fans of the actor who might not have watched otherwise. On a personal note, I’ve long thought that Sean Bean deserved more leading roles.
Although news of Bean’s role was the biggest and best piece of casting information for the series, sources including Martin himself reported that Mark Addy had been chosen to play King Robert Baratheon I, an old friend of Ned’s and the ruler of the realm. Fans who remembered him for his comedic turns in A Knight’s Tale and Still Standing were apprehensive about the news, but Martin’s wife Parris reassured fans that they had both seen his audition tape and “liked him immediately.”
For many fans, the casting of Harry Lloyd to play Daenerys’ brother Viserys Targaryen meant very little. But for those who remembered him as Baines from the brilliant Doctor Who episodes “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood”, he was an inspired choice. I’ve included a video clip at the end of this post of his role in the episode. The actor, who also played Will Scarlett in the BBC drama Robin Hood is able to pull off the taint of madness that is often a Targaryen trait and I expect he’ll be a fantastic Beggar King.
The casting of lesser known actors to play two of the many younger roles in the series was expected and encouraged by fans. Jack Gleeson (Batman Begins) was announced as the Crown Prince Joffrey Baratheon, while stage actor Kit Harrington has been cast as Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard son. Harrington certainly has the look for the role, and George R.R. Martin commented in his blog, “You probably haven’t heard of him yet… but you will, we’re confident. [writers/producers] David and Dan can’t say enough about his talent and intensity.”
There is still a great deal of casting to be done, including the pivotal roles of twins Jaime and Cersei Lannister, Ned’s wife Catelyn Stark, Council treasurer Petyr Baelish, and exiled Princess Daenerys Targaryen. Martin recently wrote that casting has already taken place in New York, Los Angeles, London, Dublin, and most recently Australia, in order to find the right actors for the roles. So far the casting process is off to a great start. As some have pointed out, the calibre of actors already cast is a good sign that HBO will order a full first season of Game of Thrones and give it a try. I really hope they’re right, because at this point I’m hugely excited about seeing a visual adaptation of such a fantastic series of novels.
One worry that has come to mind though is the fear that Martin may not finish all his novels before the television series (if it is picked up and renewed each year) catches up to him. When planned fourth novel A Dance With Dragons became too long to print in one volume, Martin opted to split the book into two parts, dividing the limited third person character viewpoints by their geographical location. This meant that characters from the South of the Seven Kingdoms were featured in the first part of the book, published as A Feast For Crows, while other characters will reappear in the forthcoming fifth book. When A Feast for Crows was released in October 2005, it went straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and led to the Time calling Martin “the American Tolkein.” Although it was hoped that A Dance With Dragons would be published the following year, it is now more than three years later and the book remains unfinished.
While the wait for the fifth book is a difficult one, the continuing casting news updates for Game of Thrones are filling the void admirably and I hope that more news will be announced soon. If you’d like to keep updated on the HBO series, the excellent blog Winter Is Coming was the first to post the rumour that Bean had been cast and is always quick to update when new information is released. If you haven’t read the novels but are planning to, or if you would like to avoid spoiling the plot of the television series for yourself, be careful when reading the blog entry comments, as many assume anyone on the site has already read the novels and they may contain plot and character details.
Harry Lloyd in Doctor Who: