I have yet to see the first episode of Game of Thrones, though I have every intention of watching it in the near future.
That said, reading one review of the first episode, this sentence resonated with me:
“It’s so taken up with making sure everything is set in place that it largely forgets to do anything other than offer up a long series of stilted introductions.”
This was exactly why I was not able to get into the books when I tried to read it. I read about 150 pages and felt like I had met a bunch of people, but no one was actually doing anything yet. This problem crystallized for me when I was reading in public and some guy asked me, “What’s that about?” and I had no idea how to answer.
I will fully admit that I would probably give an HBO series a little more latitude along these lines than I would a book, which is probably a terrible thing for me to say, but there you go. And, quite possibly, after this season is over and the show does really hook me, I’ll give the book another go with a clearer sense of who the people are, and thus have an easier time investing myself in them.
One thing that occurred to me, after thinking about this for a bit, is how a book like this could not be picked up as an author’s first book, not any more. (Yes, I do know that when George R. R. Martin started this series, he was already a well established writer.) Same, of course, can be said for Lord of the Rings. In fantasy, from what I’ve seen and been told, you simply can’t get away with the “Let me paint a scene for you for a while before things really get going” approach. But it’s an approach that, again, from what I’ve seen and been told, a lot of early writers keep trying. (Raise your hand if you’ve heard someone say, or you yourself have said, “It really gets going at Chapter 10.”) But I can imagine it’s hard to convince someone NOT to take that approach when it’s exactly what several of their favorite works did.