LONDON | HBO’s new series “Game of Thrones” has power struggles, family friction, sibling rivalry and sex — plus hairy men on horseback, sword fights and the supernatural.
The show is a departure for the network best known for character-rich dramas such as “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” It’s a fantasy-adventure saga — but not your typical fantasy-adventure saga. Earthy and explicit, it has been described as fantasy for people who don’t like that sort of thing. Executive producer David Benioff has called it “The Sopranos in Middle Earth.”
“It’s a bit like ‘Lord of the Rings’ for grown-ups,” says Mark Addy, who plays King Robert Baratheon, embattled ruler of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. “This is definitely not one that you can watch with your kids.”
Adapted from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of novels, the show charts the bloody struggle for control of Westeros, a rough-and-tumble land where the seasons last for decades. The books’ many fans are already in a high state of online excitement about the series, but HBO also hopes to attract an audience not usually drawn to sword-and-sorcery stories.
The 10-part series, which debuts Sunday at 9 p.m., is set in a world that mixes medieval Europe — England’s fratricidal Wars of the Roses were one inspiration — with elements of chivalric legend and Norse saga.
The early action revolves around Robert and his longtime friend Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean), who is recalled from his northern fiefdom to become “Hand of the King,” the monarch’s chief adviser, and to fight off challenges to the throne. The conspirators include the king’s conniving wife and her beloved — possibly too beloved — twin brother.
Mr. Martin’s sprawling saga also includes a rival claimant to the throne, a band of fierce nomadic warriors and a monklike order of knights charged with protecting the kingdom’s icy northern frontier.
Mr. Addy, whose roles have ranged from steelworker turned stripper in “The Full Monty” to Friar Tuck opposite Russell Crowe’s “Robin Hood,” plays Robert as a good man gone slightly to seed — Richard Lionheart crossed with Henry VIII.
“He’s discovered too late that he’s surrounded by enemies, and the only person he can trust is Ned,” Mr. Addy says. “But he also knows that by making Ned ‘Hand of the King,’ he’s putting him in danger. It’s a hard one for Robert to call, but he has no choice.”
Fans of the books love them for their complexity, pace and a level of realism unusual in the genre — something the series has tried to retain.
“It’s a fantasy world, but I think they’ve made it look and feel so realistic that you go, ‘All right, I buy that this is them and this is where they are,’” Mr. Addy said.
He said it’s not a stereotypical action saga — “big fight, big fight, little scene where people chitchat, then a bit more fighting.”
“This is more about the characters and their story,” he said. “There are some battles that take place that will be big set pieces, but in the main, it’s the political intrigue.”
For Mr. Bean, an actor best known for action roles, that was a welcome change.
“There are so many battles in films you just become anesthetized to it,” says Mr. Bean, who has fought in quite a few himself, including the Napoleonic wars of the “Sharpe” TV series and Middle Earth showdowns in “The Lord of the Rings.”
“Game of Thrones” has an element increasingly unusual in television — surprise. For those unfamiliar with the books, the story provides some real shocks.
“George Martin writes such a vast number of fascinating characters that he’s not afraid to kill people off,” Mr. Addy said. “There are people who appear to be kind of hovering on the periphery that later come very clearly into focus and become the main player in the big picture.”
It also has — even by HBO’s frank standards — quite a bit of sex.
“I was surprised when I read some of the scenes,” Mr. Bean said. “I thought, ‘Can he get away with this?’
“But it’s not gratuitous in any way, the violence and the sex. If you didn’t have that, you wouldn’t have the story. It would be a very sanitized version.”
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