HBO’s new series, Game of Thrones, premieres on Sunday. In the days ahead, we’ll feature five different takes on the show, which is the first foray into fantasy for a network that has built its programming on grimly realistic stories like The Sopranos and The Wire. Atlantic correspondent Alyssa Rosenberg begins the conversation:
Fantasy fiction lets us dwell, however briefly, in days of miracles and wonder. The wonders can be anything from swords in churchyards that inspire the reunification of fractured countries to a British boarding school with a delightfully unorthodox curriculum. But the miracle is the same: magic amplifies good and evil equally, heightening conflicts, but making sure things turn out all right in the end. It's as much an act of wishful thinking to dream that right will always triumph as it is to want a wand or a magic sword. It's for that reason that fantasy sometimes lingers around the edges of high art, a sense that there's something unserious about a form that offers metaphors for real concerns and an unrealistic guarantee that everything will work out fine.
It'll be intriguing to see what skeptics of the genre make of HBO’s Game of Thrones. The show, based on George R. R. Martin’s epic novels, gets compared repeatedly to The Sopranos—and less frequently though perhaps more accurately to The Wire—for its complicated moral canvas and vast cast of characters. The comparisons are apt: Game of Thrones is deftly and movingly acted, visually lush, and tremendously exciting. But they're also a signal that Game of Thrones means fantasy is not in the land of Harry Potter or Bella Swan anymore. This is an unflinching political and familial drama where the fantastical, which appears only fleetingly in early episodes, may be as much a threat as a promise.