Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Like a circle in a circle, like a wheel within a wheel...

Game of ThronesI realize that I'm coming rather late to the Game of Thrones party that's been going on the last two months, but given the major plot developments in this past Sunday's episode, it seems like a good time to talk about my favorite part of the series--the opening credit sequence.

This isn't to say that I don't enjoy the rest of the show--I do.  The costumes and scenery are amazing, the story is engaging, and the acting is well done.  My one complaint is that I never really felt connected to any particular character in George R. R. Martin's series, and that feeling continues for me in the TV adaptation.

But, as the opening credits make abundantly clear, that is the point.

The point of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire, and subsequently HBO's Game of Thrones, is not to tell the story of any one person, but to tell the interlocking stories of multiple families, dynasties, and kingdoms.  Designed by Angus Wall, the opening credits of the show make this point on multiple levels, the most obvious of which is the way the sequence portrays a map of the kingdoms of Westeros and Essos, rather than clips of any of the characters, as many shows do.  For me, this move simultaneous captures the epic scale of the series and connects the show to epic works of fantasy such as The Lord of the Rings and The Kingkiller Chronicles.

Rather than just being a map, however, the credits also show cities and towns rising up from the map, with buildings being constructed out of interlocking gears--a great way of emphasizing the interconnected nature of each place without even showing the characters who are involved in these connections.  Now, one part of the credits that I didn't see on my own is that the whole map apparently exists within a sphere--Wall's way of taking the standard fantasy trope of the map and revitalizing it.  I only know this, though, thanks to this interview with Wall over at The Hollywood Reporter, and even after watching the sequence multiple times, I'm still not sure I see it.  Wall's comments did make me pay closer attention to the glowing orb, and I appreciate how the rings surrounding the orb reinforce the theme of interconnectivity suggested by the gears of the cities.

For me, though, the coolest part of the opening credits is the way the map and the gear-buildings work together to evoke one of the greatest strategy games of all time--Risk.  When I first saw the credits, I was surprised that Wall hadn't done anything with a chess board, since that would have been my first instinct with a title like Game of Thrones.  But the way the credits are currently designed allows for the connection with the maps at the beginning of epic fantasies while also evoking the ideas of conquest and strategy that are associated with the game of Risk.  Simply brilliant.

My only concern about the credits is why the camera angle shifts as it pans toward Penthos.  For the rest of the sequence, the camera is oriented so that the lettering on the map is right-side up.  But when heading toward Essos, the camera turns 90 degrees, so that it is now oriented at a right angle to the lettering.  Sure, it could be coincidence, but at some point, someone made a conscious choice to do this--why?  After thinking about this for a while, I wonder if it has something to do with the noticeable difference in race between the people of Westeros and Essos, specifically the Dothraki.  As several critics have pointed out, the portrayal of the Dothraki reinforces stereotypes that associate darker skin with savagery/exotic sexuality/etc.  The shift in camera angle might be a very subtle way of saying this same thing--that the people of Essos are not aligned in the same way that the civilized, literate societies are.  It might be a bit of a stretch, but it's the only thing that I could come up with--I'd be interested in hearing other thoughts on this part of the sequence.

Overall, though, I love it.  It depicts the main theme of the series on multiple levels in an amazingly artistic way, and together with the music, provides the perfect introduction to an epic series.