Who would watch a fantasy epic featuring dragons, a dwarf, warring families in cod-medieval garb, off-the-scale brutality and armies of the undead milling about in a not-benign way? Who ends up fancying the dwarf and wishing they too had dragons? Who starts calling their friends “Ser” and thinking there’s nothing odd or comical about the supernatural being a part of everyday life?
To anyone not a Tolkien obsessive, or who didn’t misspend their youth playing nerdy pretend-games, the idea of Game of Thrones is risible. Such people – me among them – would snort with derision at the notion of becoming so engrossed you would while away an hour wondering which kingdom you’d be from and what your sigil would be. And yet…
Game of Thrones is a great deal more than “just” fantasy (a genre I now see I have traduced foully). It presents fully realised worlds, rich and labyrinthine – worlds that live in your head. In terms of enormous themes – life, death, love, revenge, power – it makes Shakespeare’s history plays look a bit piecemeal. It makes history itself look piecemeal, actually, despite the fact that Thrones throws its bloodier bits – in particular the Hundred Years’ War – a knowing look. Thrillingly – because you realise how rarely this is the case in lesser TV shows – the series isn’t overly concerned with what is “good” and “bad”: sometimes the “good” die horribly, while the “bad” not only thrive, but start making you like them (no, not the odious Joffrey, but rather his incestuous father Jaime Lannister, a loathsome character you nevertheless find yourself guiltily rooting for).
Equally unusually, these worlds – there are seven kingdoms, which can ultimately have only one ruler – are rich in women. Admittedly, nothing nice happens to them – rape, bereavement, brutality, the slaughter of their loved ones, the eating of a horse’s heart – but still: there they are, magnificent in their wrath or their conniving, at one with their wiles. The women are as hard as nails made of Valyrian steel – even the ones who are still children. It makes a nice change.
And the violence! I’m normally of the eye-shielding persuasion, muttering, “There’s no need for that.” But not here. The violence is extreme, ugly and thrilling. As in The Wire or The Sopranos (and I’d place GoT in that exalted company), the violence is central, so you go from eye-shielding to leaping about making martial noises in sympathy.
Not only is this show genre-busting in the most startling and original way, but it’s proper. It’s grown-up. Its themes are huge and viscerally exciting. The sheer lavishness of its scale takes your breath away. It is, at its core, about everything that concerns us as human beings, and, oddly given its genre, addresses these themes more effectively than the bleakest, most wrist-slashingly depressing realism. In Thrones, nobody slashes a wrist. They chop the whole hand off instead. It’s magnificent. It needs to win.
India Knight writes for The Sunday Times
This article is the first in a series in which celebrity fans argue the case for their favourite Radio Times Bafta Audience Award nominee
See the shortlist and vote for your favourite here