'Game of Thrones': It's like Tolkien, but with naughty bits

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It's back on the box from tomorrow and Tim Lott explains why its blend of swords, sorcery and sex is such a winner

In my part of north-west London, the return of Mad Men caused many a French wooden shutter to tremble in anticipation. Me, I've got off-the-peg curtains – my tastes are more basic. Give me a sword, a dragon and a zombie any day – hence my excitement is reserved for the return of George R R Martin's Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic tomorrow.

I will now put myself further to shame among my sophisticated neighbours by confessing that my all-time most enjoyable novel is not Sartre's Iron in the Soul, or Pynchon's V, but Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Yes, it is badly written. I agree that the characters are paper-thin and the women sexist stereotypes. But what a plot! What a spectacle! What simple, innocent, Boy's Own excitement!

Ever since I read Tolkien's masterpiece – at the age of 14, five times, actually – I have been hoping for a worthy successor. It has never arrived. Harry Potter is not fit to groom Gandalf's beard. But when I tuned into the first series of Game of Thrones last autumn, I knew my search had ended.

For those not aware of the story – well, it's complicated and involves a series of feuding families, notably the Lannisters, the Starks and the Baratheons, in an imagined world called Westeros. They compete for power from a series of seats inprovincial stronghold empires. Meanwhile, across the sea, with the Dothraki, vicious horse-riding ur-Mongols, the usurped Queen Daenyris Targaryen, plots her return to the throne vacated by the usurper, the late King Robert Baratheon (who died, not unexpectedly, in suspicious circumstances). What's more she has dragons –albeit only three very small ones.

The dragons, although not an afterthought, have not yet been central to the plot.Magic and the supernatural are mentioned and occasionally hinted at, but otherwise George R R Martin is naturalistic in his approach. The subject of the series is not magic, but politics, and rarely will you see a more cynical take on the machinations of power outside The Sopranos.

The Lord of the Rings was about good and evil. Game of Thrones is largely about evil. Practically every character is treacherous, vicious or untrustworthy. The only clan member who isn't an anti-hero, the principled Lord Eddard Stark, had his head – shockingly – chopped off by Joffrey, the psychopathic son of the dazzling beautiful but evil Queen Cersei Lannister at the end of the first series. All that are left now are sullied or impotent characters.

Presumably Martin is going to have to find himself at least one hero for us to identify with, but it's quite hard to work out who it's going to be. The bastard son of Eddard may play the part – but he is in exile and cannot participate without breaking his sacred knightly vows.

What else makes Game of Thrones so compulsive? Well, sex, for a start. The scheming Lord Littlefinger runs a tidy franchise of brothels, and the boudoir scenes in which he trains his charges are as good as TV soft porn gets. And the impish dwarf, Tyrion Lannister – who has all the best lines – is a sex addict in a world where helplines have yet to be invented.

The violence is brutally, brilliantly choreographed, and the sense of spectacle overpowering. If you, like me, think a zombie with a big sword beats the slow unfolding of plot and gentle nuance of character every time, then this is the series for you.

Tim Lott's novel, 'Under the Same Stars', is published by Simon & Schuster. 'Games of Thrones' is aired on Sky Atlantic from tomorrow

Battling for the throne...

Verily, you have not experienced convolution until you've taken a televisual wander around Game of Thrones' mythical Westeros, a continent of endless internecine warfare and men in furs. But for those non-fanboys nervous about entering the fantasy fray with series two, we arm you with a rundown of the show's main families:

House of Baratheon

Aka, the ruling ones. The untimely death of Mark Addy's burly King Robert means the all-important Iron Throne is now occupied by his less burly son, tyrannical stripling Joffrey. Who is not in fact his son but the incestuous spawn of Robert's wife, Queen Cersei Lannister, and her brother Jaime. As is the way.

House of Lannister

Aka, the scheming ones. Having seen off her husband via a hunting "accident", the malevolently-eyebrowed Queen Cersei is now free to impose her will via her teenage son – she hopes. Her dwarf half-brother, flagrant scene-stealer Tyrion, looks set to get power, too, after he wangles a role as the King's chief counsel.

House of Targaryen

Aka, the slighted ones. Fledgling warrior Queen Daenerys Targaryen is set to invade Westeros to reclaim the Seven Kingdoms so rudely snatched away from her dad by Robert Baratheon. And you wouldn't bet against her, as she's got three newborn dragons and a platinumblonde coiffure on her side.

House of Stark

Aka, the noble ones. The Starks paid for their aberrant integrity with the beheading of King Robert's right-hand man and protagonist Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in the first series. Son Robb is out for vengeance, as he mobilises a rebellion.

Hugh Montgomery

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick