There's something to like about a show that sets a high standard for itself and refuses to compromise. Game of Thrones is based on the best-selling books by George R.R. Martin about several kingdoms in an ancient fantasy world all vying for power and domination amidst a growing, unseen threat that is readying to destroy them all.
Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) rules the district of Winterfell as Warden of the North along with his wife and five children, one of which is the bastard Jon Snow (Kit Harington) who cannot claim the Stark surname and has no claim to any of its privileges. Eddard is soon approached by his good friend and current King of the Seven Kingdoms Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), who tasks him as his personal Hand in an effort to strengthen his crumbling rule. His wife, the Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) secretly schemes from behind the scenes to install her son Joffrey onto the throne, a child born of incestuous affair with her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). When one of the Stark children discovers the sexual affair between Cersei and Jaime, he is pushed from a high window and paralyzed from the waist down, setting off a chain of events that puts House Stark and House Lannister at each other's throats. Meanwhile in the south, the prince Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) seeks to gather an army to strike back against King Robert following Robert's victory over Aerys II Targaryen, the so-called "Mad King." He gives his gentle sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) to the vicious warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) of the Dothraki people in exchange for their swords in battle. As Daenerys suffers to adapt to Drogo's harsh sex and the Dothraki's militaristic way of life, she eventually begins to understand their culture and become deeply interwoven with it. She keeps 3 petrified dragon's eggs (a wedding gift) close to her at all times, becoming increasingly obsessed with them as time goes on. Meanwhile, to the far north, a strange force has been brewing past the Wall, a great siege of ice that stretches for miles. Jon Snow arrives to take the oath of the Night Watch and protect the realm from threats that many believe are simply the stuff of legend. But, as political turmoil grows within the kingdom and the approaching "long night" of lasting darkness, that threat may be ready to strike out from the shadows and cast darkness over the land.
Game of Thrones is highly complex. It tackles a bucketload of characters and plot twists and makes careful use of screen time to maximize the presentation of story and keep everything relatively understandable. This isn't as easy as it is within the confines of a book, where historic events can be more properly explained. For the most part however, it's somewhat easy to keep track of. What Game of Thrones does so well is utilize pace to its advantage. There isn't much combat in the show, and it's certainly not all about clashing swords and sorcery. Instead, it's somewhat of a mystery/thriller that plays itself out by using ominous and dark forebodings to create a sense of urgency. It also builds its characters beautifully, right down to the secondary characters like Arya Stark. With a 60 minute running time, each episode feels like it ends far too quickly, leaving the viewer with a sense of pained impatience to see what is going to happen next time. The writing team makes clever (and mostly obvious) use of cliffhangers to generate buzz, but really, without the characters, nobody would care. The dynamic range of the cast is such that everyone can find a character they can relate to on a personal level, from the maternal Catelyn Tully to the ridiculed Tyrion Lannister (played with astounding excellence by Peter Dinklage).
As an HBO show, there's bound to be adult content. Game of Thrones is no exception. Graphic violence and disturbing imagery is there in spades, from brutal decapitations to young children nailed to trees before a snow floor of severed limbs and heads. Sex is also quite prevalent in the show, and the majority is used for shameless titillation, but a few key scenes are meant to progress the story. There are also other adult themes including incest (a rather common thing in ancient times). It is absolutely in no way a show meant for children, or even young teenagers. This is strictly adult material with distinctly mature overtones. Unlike Spartacus, which can't see past its own target demographic of horny skateboarding 14 year olds, Game of Thrones never feels like it is out to craft a name for itself by using controversial material. Instead, it feels like the natural byproduct of an ancient time period.
The cliffhanger at the end of Season 1 has certainly made fans salivate for the April 2012 debut of Season 2. If you haven't had the chance to watch Game of Thrones for yourself, I'd suggest you take the time. If you can stomach the brutality, you'll be introduced to a fascinating storyline, memorable characters, and a hint of greater things to come.