Many of my favorite HBO dramas had to grow on me. Shows like Rome, Deadwood and The Wire had rich, complex stories and it took me a while to fully understand and appreciate all of them. That’s exactly how I feel about HBO’s newest show, Game of Thrones.

The epic fantasy show based on a popular book series tried to cram one hour of exposition and about two or three dozen characters into the premiere, and while I felt confused at times (how can I be expected to keep track of all of Ned Stark’s children?), I started to get a grasp on everything as the episode ended. Like the other great HBO shows, this one will have to give me time to catch up.

As you may have guessed, I have not read the books. If I had, I’d probably have an easier time understanding all of the intrigue and the purpose of the Pentos subplot, but even without that knowledge, Game of Thrones worked.

Ned Stark: The Hand of the King

The story centers largely on Ned Stark (which sounds more like an accountant than an ancient warrior). He’s old friends with the king and is asked to take over as the Hand of the King following the suspicious death of the job’s previous owner. While his tale is interesting, it’s his children who provide plenty of potential storylines, and not just because they adopt adorable pet wolves. One of his daughters is a major tomboy, the other wants to marry the prince despite being 13, and his sons and their friends are all equally hot, even the bastard. He also has a young son, but since he gets shoved out of a window at the end of the episode, there isn’t much point in caring about him.

The Queen’s Family

The King’s wife, Cersei, seems nice at first, except for the episode-ending revelation that she’s having an affair with her twin brother, Jaime. Having him then throw a kid out a window to keep their secret is the kind of gloriously twisted drama I want to see from Game of Thrones. Between them and the Targaryens, it’s clear that in the world of this show, people with blonde hair are all evil, and the only decent one is the queen’s drunken, whoring dwarf brother (the delightful Peter Dinklage).

The Targaryens

Perhaps the most distracting part of Game of Thrones was the addition of a completely separate subplot centering around the son of the former king, who is across the sea and plotting his revenge, a plan which involves marrying his sister to a barbarian to get his army. The show needs a good villain (I suppose incestuous twins aren’t enough), and while I briefly understood their connection to the main plot, it all felt very isolated from the real action. There are two different shows, and I hope the war comes sooner rather than later, because there’s only so much time I’ll be willing to spend watching a creepy guy with platinum blonde hair explain how he’s willing to let 40,000 soldiers and their horses all have sex with his sister if it gets him what he wants.

The White Walkers

By the end of the episode, I got up to speed on the characters and plots, but there’s one thing that left me very confused: what the heck is a White Walker? The episode began with a horror scene as a group of soldiers were attacked by some weird, undead creatures, myths known as the White Walkers, but then they and any mention of them vanished for the rest of the episode. I’m sure fans of the books know all about these creatures, but I was left feeling like the opening scene had nothing to do with the rest of the episode and was designed merely for people who’ve read the books.

Regardless, the production values alone are enough to keep me coming back, and I expect that by the end of the first season, I’ll have a firm grasp on who’s who in this magical kingdom. But Game of Thrones needs to remember that not everyone has read the books, so you can’t just throw in random references to White Walkers and expect viewers to know what the heck you’re talking about.

Sure, I could go online and read about the books (or read the books themselves), but a TV show has to work independently from the books. Right now most of it does, but the White Walkers still leave a sour taste in my mouth, the weak point in an otherwise strong premiere.

(Image courtesy of HBO)

John Kubicek

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

John watches nearly every show on TV, but he specializes in sci-fi/fantasy like The Vampire DiariesSupernatural and True Blood. However, he can also be found writing about everything from Survivor and Glee to One Tree Hill and Smallville.