While the season premiere of A Game of Thrones wasn't the action-packed debut most viewers have come to expect from a television show, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Most scenes were full of exposition, setting the stage for what is bound to be the most controversial season, and I must say, the actors brought their A game for every scene.
Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister surpasses my own imagination as to how I perceived the character, and I was captivated by his scene with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). His delivery was flawless; I hinged on every word, and when in a room with his dwarf son, I sympathized with Tyrion. I understood both characters at once, and the Halfman, who I already cheered for, became even more endearing as he yearned for his father's acceptance.
Another star of last night's episode was Ciaran Hands as Mance Rayder. I admit when I read the novels I always pictured Mance younger, despite knowing he was older and around the same age as Halfhand. It was just the way my mind decided it should be, yet I was convinced shortly after the introduction of Giantsbane and Mance that once again the show had been cast without flaw. Even Davos, who I was still up in the air about, evolved to closely resemble my vision of him after being stranded; the scene with Davos and Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati) was also noteworthy--that pirate cracks me up.
I had also wondered how the giants beyond the wall would be depicted, if they were to even be in the show. Some part of me expected HBO to either eliminate them or make the giants tall men but somewhat normal to save money. I was wrong, and I was excited when the giant lumbered past Jon Snow.
As with every adaptation, there were changes from the source material, and the choice to completely skip the Battle of the Fist and give us a dark screen with sounds of war was a bit of a head-scratcher. I do hope there are flashbacks or a dream sequence giving us visuals as the Crows march back to the Wall, but that's probably wishful thinking, as HBO is prone to skip the lesser battles from the books--I would venture a guess that it's monetary restraints. I'm not quite sure why Ghost, Jon Snow's direwolf, is hanging out with Sam instead of with his master though...
Barristan Selmy also declared himself outright and was alone, though I do understand why his character's name was not kept a secret; it might have become distracting for the audience at home who recognized the actor. If they hadn't read the books, they could have been confused, thinking the actor had been cast to play two different roles. Whether Strong Belwas has been completely eliminated as a character remains to be seen. He was noticeably absent, and there are a couple of important scenes for him later on in the story. It could be we'll be surprised by him this season, or he could have been slated to appear next season due to the introduction of so many new characters, the way the Reeds were pushed back. As a favorite of mine (probably many other readers), I'm hoping he hasn't been scrapped.
For us readers, we know the destination of all the clever lines, nuances, and glances the characters deliver; we know the weight of their words, so when I read on fan sites that people found the opener boring, I laughed a little. Soon enough, they'll understand the set-ups, and if they should re-watch earlier episodes after the season has fully aired, they'll see the hints and foreshadowing the writers carefully plotted along the way.
I also won't be surprised if next week's episode has as much exposition as the opener, for a lot is going to happen this season into next season, and when it does, it's going to unfold rapidly. There are stories, such as the whereabouts of the Hound, Arya, Brienne, the Mountain, Gendry, Brann, Theon, and Jaime that haven't been shown, but as promised by HBO to those that complained season 2 was too condensed, they are taking their time. I appreciate the care, despite any changes. After all, if George R.R. Martin doesn't mind the alterations, why should I?