"Game of Thrones": what to watch for

As "Game of Thrones," Book One of George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series, comes to HBO, the biggest question is how the show will compare with the books.

Nick Briggs/AP
HBO's 10-part portrayal of "Game of Thrones" involves 162 speaking parts; 1,800 invented vocabulary words; 150 full suits of armor; and four beheadings.

Fans of George R.R. Martin are long-suffering souls. We know this because they live in thrall to an author who makes them wait years between installments of the series that they crave. And they are hearty souls as well. They must be, because reading all four of the first books of Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series means devouring 3,188 pages.

But will they have the stamina to endure seeing the translation of their beloved series to the small screen? Yes, suggest most of the critics who have seen the 10-part televised version, which starts on HBO this Sunday night. All but the most finicky fans will be pleased by the HBO version, they predict. Perhaps the only pang they will experience will be having to share their love of the "Song of Ice and Fire" story with so many others.

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TV Guide, in fact – which offers a blog called "5 Reasons to Watch Game of Thrones (and Skip the Books!)" – says that the TV series is "obviously a less daunting time-commitment and the show offers certain benefits the books do not."

The Houston Chronicle predicts that "the series shouldn't cause great offense to any but the most unwavering of readers."

Possible challenges: "There are minor condensed portions and some of the narrative has been shuffled from its original sequence. Some ages have been nudged up a few years, and a few physical characteristics have been modified." Newcomers may struggle to keep up at first, the Chronicle suggests, but the last three episodes "simply put, are gripping television."

Even New York Magazine, which worries that "the very thing that made fans love George R.R. Martin's 'Song of Ice and Fire' books – a ruthless narrative structure that takes the reader deep into the minds of the many complicated characters and their interlocking motives – is fiendishly tricky to translate to the small screen," ultimately concludes that, "The show stands on its own as a compelling story that shows signs of potential greatness.

And what about viewers who have not yet read the books? What should they be worried about?

For one thing, there is the fact that the series – in print or on the page – is overwhelming. The Hollywood Reporter did a " 'Game of Thrones' by the Numbers" piece, in which they calculated that the HBO series involves 162 speaking parts; 1,800 invented vocabulary words; 150 full suits of armor; and four beheadings.

But diehard Martin fans – who insist that the series is at least as habit-forming as nicotine – may warn newbies that the most significant number on the Hollywood Report list is 294: the number of weeks (more than six years) between the publishing of Book No. 4 and the upcoming Book No. 5 ("A Dance with Dragons," scheduled for release this July).

As Martin projects that the story will not be complete until he has finished a seven-book cycle, there's no telling how much his fans will have to endure before they reach the end.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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