Game of Thrones S2 and Other TV

April 25th, 2013

It’s pretty amazing, the way that TV has come to entirely replace film as my visual medium of interest.  It seems strange to imagine a time when TV was for soaps and gameshows, and the cinema was where you went for quality drama. There are still a few films that spark my interest, but generally they seem so conservative, repetitive, so dominated by franchises and the obvious.  The interesting stuff is happening on the small screen.  A little roundup of recent viewing, therefore:

Game of Thrones, season 2.  Yes, yes, I know you’re all watching season 3, you bastards, but I watch the box sets, so I’m way behind, and I just got through season 2. It’s hard for me to step back from this, in a sense, partly because it’s an adaptation of some material I’ve loved for a long time, partly because it’s a very big deal within my profession.  The impression I’m getting is that it’s becoming more and more successful, being talked about more and more widely – perhaps still with a slight sense of, ‘yes I’m watching this fantasy thing which surprises me as much as you but it’s actually quite good,’ but talked about even so – which can only be a good thing for the whole arena of gritty fantasy. Overall I continue to be very impressed, I must say.  I think it hits far, far more than it misses, is hugely professional and well realised, with great costume and design and just a very effective adaptation of challenging material – they’ve made a great TV series out of it.  A slightly uneven start to this season though, I felt.  In general they’re very good at juggling a lot of balls (hur hur), but the addition of new characters, and the steady spreading out of many of those they’ve got, makes things a little hard to follow initially – my main problem with the books, in so far as I have one.  Massive amount of sex early on, as well, which got more than a bit eye-rolley for me, but that settled down later.  I think I’d probably say the greatest strength is the casting – so many characters and the great majority of the actors are very good.  It almost seems unfair to pick anyone out but I think Iain Glen and Charles Dance were brilliant with characters who weren’t particularly memorable in the books.

Boardwalk Empire, season 2: Hmm, yeah, a powerful evocation of the period and all, and nicely made, and nicely acted, and some memorable moments but, I dunno, perhaps this will come as a little rich from me, but the bleakness, the lack of anyone to root for, the frequent really horrible violence, it got a bit wearing.  Everyone’s such a humourless bastard, I’m not really sure what the point of it all is.  There’s a sense of an exercise in futility.  Mad men is shiny and hard, full of meaningful lines in an ocean of silence and packed with period detail in a similar way, but Mad Men manages to produce really touching moments, and believable personalities, and offhand profundities that, for me, Boardwalk Empire doesn’t get anywhere near.

Friday Night Lights, seasons 1 and 2: A series about a high school football team in small-town Texas doesn’t sound like a winner, but this is absolutely brilliant.  So much of the relatively recent crop of great telly, from the Sopranos, through the Shield, the Wire, Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men, etc. has been bleak, cyncial, and highly violent with the aforementioned Boardwalk Empire being a good example.  They’re all fantastic series, but a little variety in the diet has to be a good thing, and Friday Night Lights is the exact opposite – everyday, small-scale, moving, involving, funny, tender (I’m tearing up right now), with great characters and performances.  If you described some of the plotlines it’d sound cheesy as all hell, but it totally transcends its ingredients through quality of script and ensemble playing.  Pretty much everyone in it is a fully realised character, with no villains to speak of, just folks motivated by their everyday hopes and petty disappointments, trying to do the best they can as they see it.  I love these people.  I’m tearing up again.  I wish I was one of them.  Never been much good at sports, though.  And 38 may be a little late for a High School running back.  Coaching staff, maybe…?

Try to avoid spoilers in the comments, if you please! 

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on April 25th, 2013.

45 comments so far

  • ColinJ says:

    I just watched episode 4 in the third season of GoT and it was amazing. Stunningly shot and emotionally very powerful. Emilia Clarke is amazing as Dany, and in this episode she really steps up.

    I think the true secret weapon of this show is the child actors. They’re all superb, and they’re subtle in the way that child actors are usually not. There’s been a few moments with Sophie Turner as Sansa where she has had to wrestle some intense emotions and she has nailed every single scene. Especially the one with Margaery and Lady Olenna from last week.

    Such a great show.

  • Diego Garcia Cruz says:

    Joe! I loved all 5 seasons of Friday Night Lights. It is quite uneven at some points, has lots of bumps (specially in later seasons) and what have you, but the moments it’s good it’s bloody brilliant. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!!

  • Luke Scull says:

    Having watched every episode of both (at least those broadcast in the UK), I’ve reached the conclusion that Spartacus is in fact a better *show* than Game of Thrones. I am admittedly somewhat discounting Spartacus: Vengeance, which didn’t quite live up to the first season and prequel. The third season is ace. On the other hand, the third season of GoT is in danger of creaking under the sheer number of characters and storylines.

    Boardwalk Empire season 3 ratchets up the grimdark and over-the-top violence even further, but it has a wonderful villain and sacrifices a little realism for entertainment. It’s best enjoyed with an arched eyebrow – though based on your season 2 review, I’m not sure you’d enjoy it.

  • ‘Game of Thrones’? Can’t say I’ve heard of it…

  • Anne Lyle says:

    I too am on the GoT boxed sets – can’t justify a change to Sky just for one show, however good! Overall I really enjoyed S2, though having read “A Clash of Kings” it meant I wasn’t on the edge of my seat over certain events, the way I was when reading the book. I also didn’t like that they invented an incident in episode 4 for shock value – overall the TV show is less harrowing than the books, for me at least, and I prefer it that way.

    On a rewatch, some of the sex’n’nudity felt justified to some extent (Ros instructing the whores the way Littlefinger once did with her, showing her rise to power) but other places it did feel completely gratuitous, in the sense that it had zero plot/character relevance (e.g. Bronn in the tavern).

    I’m now sticking my fingers in my ears on Twitter (figuratively speaking) as I haven’t read “A Storm of Swords” and don’t plan on doing so. I wish HBO would release the boxed sets a bit sooner!

  • Frank Fitzpatrick says:

    YES JOE! I’m so glad you’re watching Friday Night Lights. I’m also going to take credit for it – even if I’m not due any – as I posted how *said in an American accent* AWESOME it is. So unbelievably well written and moving.

    In fact, it is funny that you’ve only watched the first two seasons, as the second second was made during the writing strike a few years back, so much of the story lines are somewhat conventionally teen-drama, but that changes in the final 3rd.

    Matt Saracen and Coach are such well developed characters. It has also gave me a serious man crush on Taylor Kitsch too. But who couldn’t fall for Riggins?

  • ColinJ says:

    Yes, Anne, HBO do hold off until the latest possible date to release their box-sets. Usually until about a couple of weeks before the next season starts to air.

    Very frustrating indeed.

  • Can I join the “Fantasy Author Without Sky” club? Whilst I loved Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings felt a bit showy to me (“Now with 15 extra POV”) and The Red Woman just didn’t work for me. Consequently I didn’t enjoy the book. However, season 2 did a good job of adapting the book. I enjoyed it much more than it’s literature counter-part. As a result I read Book 3 and loved it. I plan to keep a year ahead of the series (they are such big books and I’m a slow reader) but I just wish HBO would do something and allow non-sky users to see the series a bit quicker.

  • Carl3875 says:

    I am a great fan of GOT, and find the series as you say ‘hits more than misses’ also agree with what you say about the characters moving vastly apparent within the books and show, but for me each chapter or episode, is keeping the suspense running high as they move closer to the inevitable convergences in the individual plot lines and leaves me salivating on the prospect of an eventual, culmination of all of these lines. Broad walk empire is bleak and dark but beautifully shot and obviously high budget, with often memorable characters, I find myself watching and rooting for Nucky as opposed to the others as he is world weathered and sceptical, and uses humour to deflect what a dark creature he really is. Look forward to Gyp in the next series, he’s a real sick puppy lol. Never seen Friday night lights, and new to this blogging malarkey too, read your books after reading the Got series so far, and must say they are excellent books and done right would make an epic tv series

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Tim Riggins is a flipping brilliant character, and a brilliant performance. Do you know of any support groups, because I think my wife may have a bit of a problem in that direction.

  • Deb E says:

    Agree wholeheartedly at the eye-rolleyness of the first few episodes of Season to GoT. It settled down into a good show, though. I’m liking how season 3 is going, too. I’ll stick with it.

    I enjoyed first season BE. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why season 2 lost me, but I think you might be onto something.

    I think we *may* get Friday Night Lights here in New Zealand… the name rings a bell. Might have to find a moment… But, then, we have our own shows, too, and if we don’t watch them, who will?

  • Frank Fitzpatrick says:

    😛 Honestly Joe, buy a crate full of Kleenex because I can assure you that Riggins and Saracens stories only get better and better.

    I’m not a crier, but there is one scene with Saracen in the 4th season (I think) – you’ll know it when you watch it – which nearly gave me a breakdown. Incredibly sad and moving. Poor guy just can’t get a break.

    Unbelievable show. Instantly breezed into my top 5.

  • Nina says:

    I’m glad you found FNL and with your approval I might actually get my husband to watch it. I watched all 5 seasons a few years ago and still think it’s one of the best shows ever made. The premise sounds like a some soapy teen drama but the stories, the writing, the way it’s filmed but especially the actors make it something else entirely.
    I agree with BE being almost too grim, which is the reason I haven’t watched the next series (also because on character isn’t there any more…).
    One recent show that isn’t bad (although some of the story lines are a bit over the top, I wish they’d kept them low key) is The Americans.

  • Sword1001 says:

    Let me just recommend a couple of comedy shows – “Community” and “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”.

    Quality stuff.

    Season two of BE is good, but I feared that without certain characters the third season would be a let down . . . but I was wrong, it’s even better (still pretty grim though)

    Need to get FNL on boxset of *ahem* by other means *ahem* . . been meaning to watch it for a while, but the setting always put me off

  • AO says:

    Have you seen any of the Bryan Fuller shows (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies)? If you’ve not, then they might appeal, especially as they bring a good mix of comedy and drama, as well as a lot more.

  • Markz says:

    Joe i’ve said it before but you have to hunt down an american program called Banshee. A mix of heist movie/the harisson ford film/witness. And all with a sam peckinpah vibe.

  • HeroineOfCanton says:

    Please tell me you’re watching Hannibal. Sooo good.

    (And of all the topics to lure me out for my first comment–I think this is my first comment–I wonder why this one? Anyhow, love First Law, Joe; I’ve got Heroes sitting on my table waiting for me as soon as I finish Wuthering Heights, which has somehow become a much worse book since I read it 15 years ago.)

  • SgtPluck says:

    I agree – I think TV is going through a real renaissance. I’ve been devouring series after series over the past couple of years. Breaking Bad is the best of the current crop (or, I say current, I mean over the last three years – the 5th and final series will conclude this summer. But, Spartacus, GoT have been brilliant. The Following, currently airing – which sees two heavy hitters in Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy, Touch with Kiefer Sutherland, Nikita, Red Widow, Thandie Newton has just popped up in Rogue. There was The Wire a while back, The Shield. man, there has been some great stuff. The Borgias (with Jeremy Irons) into it’s 3rd(?) season now. Great new show called The Vikings on the History Channel too, that you’d probably like.

    Thre are more and more big-name actors getting it on on the small screen these days, and a cinema visit for me is getting rarer and rarer.

    You mention Boardwalk Empire is very dark and I have to here make the observation about bleakness, which has been cooking inme for a while. It’s one of the problems (well, THE problem) I had with Best Served Cold. Well, problem is a strong word, but something that occured to me while reading it is that it could benefit from some light. In the same way that a renaissance painter – say, Caravaggio – uses the concept of chiaroscuro, I think a writer needs to balance the dark with the light. A dark novel can be made darker with the existence of light, as the light serves to amplify the grimness of it all. As I was getting through BSC, it was so unremittingly dark that it started to become a struggle, and you get numbed with it. Put a bit of lght in there and I think it actually adds to the depths of darkeness.

  • SgtPluck says:

    Banshee was great – that fight with the cage fighter in one episode was brutal, man!

  • Slogra says:

    So when Game of Thrones eventually ends, HBO will need another gritty fantasy series to replace it. Hm…

  • Prez says:

    I too enjoy GoT immensely and agree with all your comments Joe. I don’t care for the period in which Boardwalk Empire is set, so haven’t watched it. I am a huge fan of Sons of Anarchy. Being a biker myself, it struck some chords. I know you reviewed it a while back. Latest series is coming to a close on SKY. I’ve found this latest series (five I think) very disappointing, with people violently killed in every episode. The police appear to have left town and the “hero” is slaughtering all and sundry, whilst the perceived bad guy who has committed far less serious offences is kicked out of the club! Too much violence (with apparently no threat of leagl action!) has stretched the show’s credibility to breaking point and if Ron Perlman leaves, I doubt if I’ll bother viewing the next series, should there be one.

  • Kyle Loechner says:

    I predict that Joe’s next trilogy will be about a motley mercenary crew that loses its commander to a horrible battle injury. The baggage man will have his opportunity to shine and will lead the crew to great victory with the guidance of a wise gandalf figure. Small village prejudice and political machinations will be overcome in this rousing tale of a crippled man learning to walk again, both literally and metaphorically.

  • FarmerMonkey says:

    With you on all counts. I started to watch season 3 of Boardwalk Empire with my wife. After the end of episode 1, we essentially gave up. Nucky lost the Tony Soprano-esque charm somewhere along the way. All of the major players seem to be sociopaths. I have no emotional stake in the outcome anymore, because the only characters I sympathize with are the innocent bystanders. Contrast with Deadwood, a brilliant show that ended too soon, whose villains, while also ruthless/violent, were colorful and multifaceted, and who wrestled with their place in the world.

    Friday Night Lights is a great, underrated show. It finally got some Emmy nominations in its final season, I believe. And it’s one of the few shows that I’ve ever seen where I left the series finale feeling satisfied. There’s one season, I can’t remember which, that introduces a truly bizarre subplot with Landry…soldier through it. The rest of the show is excellent and heartwarming. (My wife, oddly, talked more about Matt Saracen than Tim Riggins. Perhaps I’m fortunate she has a taste for nerds.)

  • Morrigan says:

    ” It almost seems unfair to pick anyone out but I think Iain Glen and Charles Dance were brilliant with characters who weren’t particularly memorable in the books.”

    Mr. Abercrombie sir…. sorry to call you on this, but… Are you saying Tywin is not a memorable character? I mean… really? :O

  • Mab says:

    “perhaps this will come as a little rich from me, but the bleakness, the lack of anyone to root for, the frequent really horrible violence, it got a bit wearing. Everyone’s such a humourless bastard, I’m not really sure what the point of it all is. There’s a sense of an exercise in futility.”

    Yes, I did smile a bit as I read this – it’s as if you are paraphrasing some of your own critical reviews. (The ones that were complete hogwash of course.) Could it be that even the Witch King of Nihilism / Dark Lord himself has his grim limits? Bah. Or is it that the writers of BE are not quite as adept at making their humourless bastard characters compelling? I think I’ll go with that.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    It’s a while since I’ve read the books, so you’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t remember Tywin being in them all that much. I guess I’d say Dinklage is fantastic, but Tyrion’s a fantastic character. Whereas Tywin and Jorah are much more two dimensional in the books, but given real depth in the TV versions by the performances.

    Well, mileage may vary, of course, but I’d like to think I maintain the sense of humour… [walks off grumbling]

  • Chad says:

    A demerit for not liking Boardwalk. Shame.

  • Dav says:

    Richard Madden rocks as Robb Stark. I don’t care how much everyone hates the Young Wolf, Madden plays him extraordinarily well. It doesn’t hurt the fact the lad is sex on legs.

    Any thoughts on Davos and Stannis?

  • I don’t remember Jorah being even slightly two dimensional in the books. I always thought he was an incredibly interesting character. Completely agree that Iain Glen and Charles Dance stand out, even amongst the impressive array of acting talent they have on that show.

  • Aaron Tomey says:

    Hey, Joe, I’d recommend Southland. It is the most realistic cop show around (several former police officers have praised it). It’s a very refreshing, character-based drama. It’s also episodic, lacking any major overarching stories, so it’s easily digested.

  • TheFourthHorseman says:

    I agree on Boardwalk Empire, especially the second season. I haven’t watched anything since, it just feels kind of done. Likable characters aren’t needed as such, but there should at least be intriguing ones. The motivations of the people in BE just don’t come off as all that interesting…I love watching Steve Buschemi as Nucky Thompson, but that’s about it for that series. Kelly McDonald is a wonderful actor, but not BE. And if there was anything bringing the ‘humanity factor’ into the series, it’s certainly gone at the end of the second season.

    Game of Thrones often had some really rubbish dialogue in the second season, and since it’s a series that builds quite a lot on the whole ‘knowledge is power’ concept, that really sucks. Then again it was quite a lot like A Clash of Kings, preparing for the big stuff of the next book…the most jarring thing was that sub-par writing and some of the changes that felt like they didn’t make any sense. Season 3 has so far been a massive boost in quality, back to the season 1/Blackwater episode level.

  • Markus Krämer says:

    first a bit of arselicking for joe: you are my absolute favorite author in the fantasy literature genre:
    i have three questions:

    1.will there some day be a tv series of first law? i mean like you said after the success of game of thrones there is the likely possiblity for other fantasy adaptions for tv
    the fantasy series about locke lamorra will be filmed as well according to new yorks time SO WHEN IN HELLS NAME WILL FIRST LAW BEEN ADAPTED???

    2. i heard rumors that there will be a new abercrombie triology in the next year, is this likely or unlikely?

    3.can anybody tell me where i can get a hardcover edition of the first law triology?

    best regards to joe and the rest of the block

  • Lewis says:

    Dexter, the Walking Dead, GOT, the Following. That is all.

  • Frank Fitzpatrick says:


    Dexter is a bit of a roller coaster ride. Some seasons are great – especially the first – then others vary too much in quality. I think they’ve made the right decision deciding to end it after the next season. It was becoming repetitive and without direction, which is a shame as the concept is so original.

  • Nick D. says:

    Friday Night Lights is great, though I fell off somewhere around the fourth season.

    I’ve only seen clips of GoT, but this video captured how I feel about the series generally.

  • Cyle Anderson says:

    I agree about Boardwalk Empire. Could have found a better lead than Steve Buscemi too. Joe check out Breaking Bad if you haven’t already, it’s the best show on TV (other than GoT of course).

    I heard GRRM has signed on to develop new shows for HBO. Guess we’ll never see books 6 & 7 now. Pity.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    1. TV series and films are made by TV and film producers, directors, and financiers, not by book writers. Go talk to those guys…
    2. There will be another trilogy, but not for some time.
    3. On E-Bay. But it’ll cost you about £1,000.

    I’ve talked about Dexter and Breaking Bad elsewhere.

    I expect we’ll see books 6 & 7. I expect it’ll take a while. But then it always was going to.

  • Markus says:

    hey joe
    yeah i know that its not highly likely that you are doing a film production from first law by yourselve but you as the author must have some influence in this regard or not?
    i mean when you would contact lets say starz for example dont you think this would have more impact than some fan?
    yeah yeah i know its not very likely but it would be so great, have you any infromation for a movie adaption of first law or are you going to do something about that?
    best regards to all

  • Simon/Troll/H says:

    GoT. Hmm. Read all the GRRM books so far (reading them again before I watched season 1)and I approve of the changes that they have made from the books to the televising of the series.

    However, I felt some of the GoT book content was a bit dragged out in places. I too have only got to season 2 on DVD, currently up to episode 7. Walking Dead is another great transfer from comic book (sorry graphic novel) to the screen that I have enjoyed so far.

    Now we just need First Law series and Erikson’s Malazan Empire series to be brought to life on screen. What are the chances … ?


  • nick givent says:

    Hey Joe… I have a question about Red Country… Did you get the names Pitt and Row from Radiata Stories? 🙂

  • James Webster says:

    Charles Dance is the bomb. Just oozes character and gravitas. And in the very first scene we saw him up to his armpits in deer guts. No idea if he is a hunter in real life, but seriously appeared to know what he was doing!

    Many people have talked about FNL over the years, so guess I will have to take the plunge.

    I have plugged Banshee endlessly to Joe already: it really is a corker, class product. The makers seem somewhat surprised by its popularity; and have committed to a second series.

    The new Vikings series is also really shaping up; you are there enjoying the ambience, rooting for them, then something terrible happens and you realise in fact just how alien their culture was. Much like when in Robert Low’s Norse-based Oathsworn books we suddenly get an inside look at Finn Horsehead’s character; hugely shocking and once again so alien to our modern sensibilities. Nice to see the History Channel actually producing something about history instead of the current range of Bigfoot/Haunted House dross.

    The new Da Vinci’s Demons show is interesting, probably a bit less accurate than Spartacus in terms of historical reliability, but some nice scenery and costumes and interesting (problably hugely simplified!) political machinations.

  • NobodyCris says:

    The Show Vinkings in the History Chanel !!! Real good

  • Adam A. says:

    I’m going to cosign with NobodyCris.

    Vikings is awesome. Great show – this first season was a little too short for my liking, but the fact that I’m hungry for more by the season’s conclusion confirms for me that television is definitely stealing the thunder from theatrical releases.

    I believe you can find Vikings episodes on as well.

  • jan says:

    Hey Joe, just thought to drop by and ask you what you think of the new History channel series Vikings?
    If you havent seen it yet, i recommmend;)

  • Jeff says:

    Hi Joe,

    I was a little behind on your blog do to my nose being burried in your books. Just finished Red Country and its another winner. Anyway I digress, have you ever heard of Sons of Anarchy? It’s really an amazing show, with a Brit as the lead character although he plays an American. The premise, an outlaw motorcycle club, may not sound overly exciting but they really make it work. Katy Segal, and Ron Pearlman are astounding in their rolls and really carry some of the weaker actors along at points but you tend not to notice once your really into it. It is rather violent and dark a good portion of the time but unlike Boardwalk Empire, which I love also, this show adds a great dark humor to the story that has me bursting out laughing at times. It also has a real sense of emotional connection with the characters that I feel Boardwalk is lacking. I know that Amazon Prime had season’s 1 and 2 for free with your membership if your interested in checking it out.


    PS- I think whiskey showdown did wonders for your career! Or at least got me interested in a few scotch’s I’d not heard of but am planning to try based on your in depth reviews. I’m excited for the next one.

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