Game of Thrones: Features

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Reviewing The Ice Dragon

The final chapter in Telltales Games’s first Game of Thrones episodic game, “The Ice Dragon”, has been released, and we’ve played it through to the (rather bitter!) end. BEWARE: Spoilers follow!

Suffice it to say, Telltale takes a cue from its source materials to pull no punches… and to leave quite a lot of loose ends for potential future seasons. But we have to say, certain aspects of this finale left us a bit puzzled on a number of fronts, not least the sense that this episode felt somewhat rushed and not as fully produced as previous installments. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the game’s taken rather longer to come to its conclusion than originally intended by Telltale Games. Whatever the reason, facial animations felt rather broader and less convincing than in previous episodes, and certain segments seemed to show somewhat lax animation.

Season 5 Early Impressions

Last month, we posted our impressions from the world premiere, with a follow-up video regarding a particular aspect of that episode. Since then, we’ve received screeners of the first four episodes of the season, and as with previous seasons, we thought we’d offer early impressions based on those first four episodes. Regarding our remarks on the first episode, they remain largely unchanged: it’s a typical first episode, heavily packed with a lot of short scenes, and it doesn’t get much narrative momentum as it has the difficult job of catching up viewers to the current status quo.

Surprisingly, in many ways the second episode feels very similar, suggesting that the the growth of the story means that it now takes the better part of two episodes before significant advancement can take place. This may be a problem for the remaining seasons of the show, unless they become quite ruthless with some of their storylines.

Three particular areas of season 5 seem worth talking about in this discussion, and the first of these is the one that dominated our video: changes. This is a season with a host of changes, many minor, but a handful being among the most substantial deviations from the novels that the series has ever tried. In some cases, changes are presented as a means to simply close down one particular avenue of the story: we discuss one of those at some length in the video involving the death of a certain character in the first episode, and another change of this kind presents itself in the third episode as readers of the novels come to realize that a significant section of story for one popular character (a section that has implications for other, equally significant storylines, to boot) has been excised in its entirety to speed on a character’s journey.

This puts me in mind of one of the analogies George R.R. Martin has lately brought forward when asked about the different stories of the novels and the TV show. After asking how many children Scarlett O’Hara has in Gone with the Wind, GRRM notes that while she has 3 in the original novel, she only has 3 in the movie. This, George notes, is a significant storytelling difference in the case of Gone with the Wind, and yet the film (noted for a number other such differences) is considered a faithful adaptation of the novel, and one that is the highest grossing film in history once adjusted for inflation.

Deviations in “The Wars to Come”

After our return from the London premiere, we managed to film this video discussing a particular aspect of the first episode: some significant deviations from the novels. Unfortunately, shortly after filming it we both became rather violently ill, so it’s taken awhile to actually get it edited together.  This video goes along with our early impressions of the episode, though for reasons we explain there, neither of these items are proper reviews.

First Impressions from the World Premiere

A whirlwind visit to London—we spent less than 24 hours there, and got very little sleep indeed—saw Linda and I at the world premiere of season 5 of Game of Thrones at the historic Tower of London. As Dan Weiss would say in a specially prepared video (neither he nor David Benioff was in attendance, claiming too much work finishing up season 5), the Tower was the “throniest” place they could think of at which to have a premiere. Thanks to the good offices of Sky, it was a spectacular occasion, filled with projected displays, costumed caterers, a Dornish-themed party, an enormous group of actors (35 actors from the show, past and present, were in attendance according to HBO CEO Richard Plepler; we’re fairly sure that this was the largest public gathering of the show’s cast to date), and of course the first episode of season 5, “The Wars to Come”.

As it happens, this is not really a review. Various U.K. newspapers were very quick to scrape out reviews and commentary, some more spoiler-filled than others, and you can go look at them if you really want someone’s measured opinion (for the most part, it seems the press was enthusiastic). Because of the circumstances of our trip—very early flight, little time to get ready, little time to rest—for my part I think I was a bit too tired to really be fully attentive to the episode. My habit of checking my watch was at first an effort to just track the pace of the episode and try and help fix in memory sequences of events… but eventually it was simply the distraction of a wandering attention. Linda, on the other hand, was more well-rested, and she felt her attention wandering as well. Perhaps it was the experience of watching it in a packed theatre? That might be it, as it’d be a new experience and the novelty of it may have been distracting, but we’ve another thought.

Game of Thrones Exhibit in Stockholm Report

Thanks to the good graces of HBO Nordic, Linda and I travelled to Stockholm this past Friday to take a look at the Game of Thrones exhibit in Kungsträdgården. A quick train trip from Gothenburg and after checking in to our hotel we took a walk over to the park, where we meet our press contact who got us our press passes. We had arrived too late to take part in the panel with Coster-Waldau, but Nikolaj has been a frequent interviewee of our site already so not a big deal, we thought.

The exhibit is housed in a large tent in the middle of the park, which extends down to one of the more scenic views of Stockholm’s glorious waterfront—though with the grey, windy weather, it wasn’t all that beautiful at the time. Ushered in, we were greeted first by a few heraldic banners, and then a mass of costumes, armor, weapons, and props that ran the gamut from all four seasons of HBO’s hit show… and even into the fifth season.  Naturally, we took many pictures.

While there, Nikolaj came in to do a series of television and radio interviews, but before they started he came by to chat with Linda (who he’d not met before, but evidently recognized) and I. He remarked that the Oculus Rift-driven Wall experience was particularly amazing and wondered if we’d tried it (we had.) And then back to interviews for him, and back to looking around for a bit more. During this time, Elana Loewenthal of HBO introduced herself, revealing that she was largely responsible with arranging the exhibit and its contents. She was particularly helpful, discussing some of the thinking behind the story of the exhibit—the way things were laid out in conjunction with one another—and the little hints of season 5 they were able to work into the show with the permission of executive producers David Benioff & Dan Weiss. Afterward, she said we’d see her again at the opening party held in a nearby gallery….

Review of Game of Thrones: Episode 2

The second episode of the Telltale Games Game of Thrones game was released today on PC. Titled “The Lost Lords”, the launch trailer can be seen below:

For the most part, our thoughts on the game based on the first episode hold—it’s a solid but (so far) unexceptional game, with some of the annoying Game of Thrones quirks present, like veritable teleportation between far-distant locations (made even more blatant in this episode, as a character makes his way to Yunkai from the North in what seems to be a span of a few days). So far the game seems to be moving around pieces on the board, not least because this episode introduces two additional point of view characters, but that seems reasonable in a six-episode series.

There are a few thematic notes that we’ll discuss beneath the cut, for those who (like us) are interested in how Telltale has worked the setting into its narrative.

Review of Game of Thrones: Episode 1

The newly released first episode of the Game of Thrones adventure game from Telltale Games—a company that’s been around since 2004, creating adventure games of all sorts, but which only fairly recently rose to prominence with the critical acclaim for its The Walking Dead game—has certainly drawn some attention. Reviews have varied (see Polygon at one end, IGN at another, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun is always worth reading) but everyone certainly seems to feel that they’ve captured something of the Game of Thrones TV series in its tone and style (even if, in certain areas—the sexual content, namely—it’s toned way down [so far]).

I myself have had a little experience of Telltales’ games, but from their pre-TWD period when the games they produced (such as the licensed Back to the Future and their first episodic title, Sam and Max: Season One). These were much more traditional adventure games, and were solid-to-pretty good. But the real boom of success that The Walking Dead brought—a success that has led to their Fables: A Wolf Among Us game based on Bill Willingham’s comic book series, and more recently Tales of the Borderland based on the popular FPS—was also paired with a very different approach to the adventure game. At the outset, Telltales Games made very traditional adventure games. No surprise there, really: several members of the company came there by way of Lucasarts, famous for its adventure games such as The Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, and the Secret of Monkey Island series among others. Those games generally featured a lot of puzzles, and while they had strong central narratives you had relatively little control over it. You might end up with two or three different end states, with some minor variations in the mechanics of how to get from point A to point B, but your character’s interactions would have little lasting impact in terms of the dynamics of character relationships. The characters would generally always think of you in the same way, regardless of what you did.

Osuna’s Bullring: Why Game of Thrones Shouldn’t Film There

It has been mooted about for awhile—ever since it was first announced that season 5 of Game of Thrones would film in Spain—that one of the locations that was under consideration was the Andalusian town of Osuna. Full of history, Osuna features some noteworthy buildings—the University of Osuna building was declared a monument, and the Colegiata church across from it is a noteworthy example of Renaissance architecture—and the arid landscape so common in Andalusia. It seems, on the face of it, an excellent location for filming scenes for the new season.

But speculation turned to one particular possible site for filming in Osuna: the Plaza de Toros of Osuna. Built in the early 1900s, it is a substantial bullring, capable of holding 6,500 specatators and has one of the largest diameters of any bullring in Spain. Many saw photos of it and immediately pronounced it a perfect location for a key sequence from A Dance with Dragons which many speculate will be part of this season. What we saw, however—and what, we think, a few others have seen—was a building whose sole reason for existence was the long-held tradition of the bullfight. Bullfighting has been romanticized by many notable persons over the years—Hemingway is an obvious example—and it continues to be a significant attraction in parts of Spain, particularly Andalusia.

Reports from Spanish language media and fan sites appear to confirm that the bullring will be used, and the mayor of Osuna is quoted remarking that the publicity the show will bring to their town “could not be bought”.  Even the official Facebook page of the bullring has remarked on the rumors regarding the filming of Game of Thrones:

On Season 5 Casting

With a number of fellow fans asking us to discuss the casting news from San Diego Comic-con, Linda and I have gone ahead and recorded a brand new Youtube video discussing just that. Note that it contains some spoilers for A Feast for Crows, and minor spoilers for A Dance with Dragons:

For more of our videos, see our Youtube channel. And yes, we’re planning at least a couple of more videos—we say as much in the video—but if there’s any other topics people are keen on hearing our thoughts on, do say in the comments!

Season 4 Impressions

In past seasons of Game of Thrones, we’ve posted impressions based on the screeners we received from HBO. This year, we’ve decided to change things up a bit, however, by turning to our Youtube channel to discuss some very early thoughts—not a review, thoughts!—on the first three episodes of the upcoming fourth season. You can find that video below:

Power Games: An Exhibit

That Game of Thrones is a global phenomenon is without a doubt. It appears in scores of foreign markets, has events around the world where actors are eagerly sought after as guests, and the fan base reaches to some of the remotest places in the world. So it’s no surprise that the exhibitions of the show’s props and costumes have ranged widely, across both hemispheres. Usually, these have been specifically tied to promoting the TV show, but in at least one case they have been used for quite a different purpose: educational. At Stockholm’s Royal Armory, Sweden’s oldest museum and part of the royal palace complex (which happens to be one of the largest royal palaces still in use as a royal residence), a new exhibition titled Power Games (Maktspel) was launched last week exploring depictions of power in television and cinema. Set alongside costumes and artifacts from Sweden’s 16th century were costumes from the films Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age as well as Game of Thrones.

Linda and I were invited by the armory to take part, and so off to beautiful Stockholm we went! Given early admittance, we had the Iron Throne to ourselves for awhile. Besides the opportunity to take a shot on the Iron Throne, the exhibit features a terrific array of costumes. The gowns from Elizabeth are, suffice it to say, truly amazing… but a major part of the focus is on Game of Thrones, and with the help of HBO Nordic the museum delivers. Eleven costumes from show, as well as props, make their appearance, beginning with a look at one of Cersei’s gowns and Joffrey’s outfits.

Reviewing Season 3

Early Impressions on Season 3

Last week, we received the first four episodes of season 3 of Game of Thrones to review, courtesy of HBO. While our individual episode reviews and coverage will be held until the corresponding episodes air, it has become something of a tradition to share our general impressions of those early episodes. We did it for the first season, and we did it for the second season, so it seemed only right to do it again. The process of discussing even vague impressions will probably reveal some semi-spoilers, so reading on isn’t going to be a good idea if you prefer to stay unspoiled!

But lets just give a general summing up first, and get into the nitty gritty after: these four episodes are on the whole quite good; not perfect, but they may well be the strongest first four episodes as a whole for the series to date (certainly, they’re stronger as a unit than last season’s first four, though none of them are as good as “What is Dead May Never Die”). Some of our biggest fears going into this season seem, so far, to be unfounded. But there are some issues, such as the fact that a number of the anticipated new characters are rather underwhelming when they finally hit the screen and that there are one or two (largely invented) storylines that don’t really feel like they’re gelling for us.  Still, each subsequent episode goes from strength to strength, each one better than the last. So why do we feel cautiously optimistic? We recall that last season, too, the third and fourth episodes impressed us the most and left us pretty excited about what was to come… and then the cracks started to show and real problems developed that led to some major disappointments. Four episodes in a show like this is not enough to really gauge how the rest of the season will be, especially in terms of how well they’ll translate what’s in the novels to the screen.

Now, on to some more specifics.


Reviewing Season 2

Over at our Youtube channel, we’ve been posting various videos since last year—first discussing the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and then, this year, sharing our thoughts on each episode after they aired (plus a bit of A Song of Ice and Fire stuff, as well). Now that season 2 is a wrap, Linda and I have put together a long, two-part video covering each section of the story in rough, geographic area (very rough in some cases), and have discussed what we liked and disliked, what the differences in our reactions were from season to season, or hopes for the next season, and more.


First Thoughts on Season Two

Late last month, I had the privilege of attending the screening for international press of the first episode of the new season of Game of Thrones, “The North Remembers”. It was my first ever screening of anything—last season we received DVD screeners nearer to the premiere—and doubltess that added to my excitement when I saw it. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to rewatch this episode and also see the next three episodes on screeners.

I do go into some detail as this review goes on, so if you prefer to be utterly unspoiled, I’d skip it (for you, I’ll just say: the visual and musical scope of the show has expanded to epic levels, as has the story, which is well-acted, but I do have a handful of quibbles and concerns)

Watching the sharply directed, beautifully shot first episode on a big screen, with a professional audio system in the screening room, was quite an experience, I have to say. It’s a show made for the big screen, to paint a lush image on that big canvas and fill your eyes with wonders. If HBO decided to premiere each new episode in cinemas in selected cities, I’m pretty sure they could sell out every single screening. Of course, part of the marketing promotion for the show entails early sneak peeks in theatres, so if you get wind of it taking place in an area where you reside, I really recommend trying to get in to one of those, if you can.