Thursday 23 November 2017

Couchsurfer... Not just a game

As season five of Game of Thrones begins, Emily Hourican looks at a fantasy epic that became one of the most talked-about TV shows ever (yes, there are some spoilers)

Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Emily Hourican

Barak Obama is a fan. So is historian William Dalrymple. And Madonna (who tweeted a snap of herself dressed as Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen recently). Acclaimed novelist Margaret Atwood has also been sucked into Game of Thrones fever, describing it as "that mesmerisingly popular television series that surely draws its inspiration from so many fictional sources it's hard to keep track," before naming some of them: "The Iliad, the Odyssey, Beowulf, ancient Egypt, H Rider Haggard, The Sword in the Stone, the Ring Cycle, Tolkien, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Mabinogion, Harry Potter, The Jungle Book, Ursula K Le Guin, Hans Christian Andersen, Idylls of the King, Conan the Barbarian and The Wind In the Willows."

With that kind of a pedigree, its no wonder the series, based on the books by George RR Martin (although less so as the seasons roll on), about the families of the Seven Kingdoms, locked in battle for the Iron Throne, has become one of the most-watched and most-obsessed-over, ever. Because despite the fantasy landscapes, the winters that can last a lifetime, the sky-high body count, graphic violence, shameless nudity and sex of every description, from loving to coercive and illicit, what really grips is the intrigue. The power-plays, the alliances made and unmade, the webs of intrigue and influence, delivered by characters so well drawn, despite their often over-the-top costumes, that we believe them completely. Even Aidan Gillen's strange insistence on changing his accent from episode to episode can't take away from the fascinating character of his scheming Littlefinger. Neither does the fact that we hate Jamie Lannister for being a cruel, incestuous villain one minute, prevent us from feeling that he is an honourable knight who we are rooting for, the next.

The permeation of Game of Thrones into popular culture has happened at every level, from the inane (every time Channel 4 newsman Jon Snow tweets, you can be certain someone will tweet back 'You know nothing, John Snow', one of the series' oft-repeated lines), to the more intellectual; this week, former Newsnight economics correspondent, Paul Mason had an article comparing the plot of GoT to the economic crisis facing Europe. There have been Marxist interpretations, Medieval interpretations, many monarchist interpretations, and a long-running riff on the theme of climate change as personified by the cold, pale Others.

So what can we expect from Season Five? Stronger female characters, apparently. Not that they are not already impressive - despite living in a fundamentally sexist universe (the sexual violence has been frequently denounced as misogynistic), they fight, kill, scheme and torture with the best - but it seems there is more, and better to come. A revival in the fortunes of the Starks of Winterfell, apparently, along with an even more pivotal role for Aidan Gillen's Littlefinger. And "massive change," according to Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark. Really though, what we want is for Game of Thrones to hold its nerve and hold its course.

The great fear with Season Five - recently launched with a red carpet premiere in London - is that it won't, can't, match up to what has gone before. My personal worry? That the two elements I like least, Khalessi's advance and the coming of the creatures from Beyond The Wall may take up time that would be better spent following the wonderful scheming and betrayal of King's Landing. Also that there won't be more of Tyrion Lannister aka The Imp, brilliantly played by Peter Dinklage. Meanwhile, Cersei Lannister (played by Lena Headey, pictured), now without her father, badly needs to make a powerful new alliance to hold off her enemies, both within and outside the family. Other than that, more wolf heads grafted onto human bodies please.

Game of Thrones Season 5, Sky Atlantic, April 13th at 9pm

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