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Review: Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire Series 1

This is a bit of a crazy review, as everyone else is on about series twenty of these two, but when they first came out in 2010/2011, I wasn’t really interested enough in television to realise that good things existed.

It wasn’t planned, but it was pretty interesting watching these Boardwalk and Thrones in close succession.  I started off with Boardwalk Empire, set in Prohibition era New Jersey, about the gangsterism and corruption that exist in all strata of society, from the lowest to the very top.  The star of the show is Steve Buscemi as top politician Enoch “Nucky” Thompson – based on real life New Jersey.

I just couldn’t get into it though 😦 I watched three episodes, and then asked my friend Jane whether it gets any better.  She said No, and as all the rest of the episodes were clogging up my 3-discs-a-month LoveFilm package, I decided to give the rest of them a miss.

The problems to me were:

– It’s very male. Not just all the shooting and posturing, but the female characters are either downtrodden or frivolous.  Having a good strong female character in a story has always been quite important to me.

– The look of it.  It’s too glossy!  Sure, there is a place for some serious opulence among the political corruption settings, but even the interiors of the rough clapboard houses owned by the drunken labourers looked like something out of a hand crafted goods brochure, and everyone’s clothes were far too clean.

– It’s ve-e-e-ry sl-o-o-ow.  I’m not used to this pace of drama.  I can see that it’s quality stuff, with serious things to say about how society works, but there’s no layering of plot for me to admire.

– Although it has intriguing characters, with conflicting, realistic interior drives, they don’t get me, in the heart, where it matters.  And I think this is where the problem lies.

Jane wasn’t too taken with Game of Thrones, either: “It’s just lots of killing.”  She wasn’t wrong; the opening scene was eye poppingly gory, with all sorts of gristly bits.   I looked away from the screen for most of this part.

Thereafter, we reverted to ye olde mediaeval/fantasy world, with lords and kings and fights and honour or otherwise.  I quite enjoyed it; it was basically children’s television for grown ups, long on action, short on subtlety.  I wouldn’t say I can see myself loving it, although I’m only two episodes in, so I’m giving myself time.

Unlike Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones is very grubby!  Characters wandering around with mud all over them.  Probably very expensively placed mud, and I imagine a nightmare for continuity, but I like it, it shows a sense of willing.

Some of the female characters are pretty good too, although it does seem that all televisual/filmic high caste families seem to be moulded from one cast.  From Downton Abbey to Brave to Game of Thrones your Head of Household always loves his wife, who, while wedded to duty, will be equally torn by her own suppressed desires, and his children, who will be of various number and gender, but of whom one will be a feisty daughter and another a bit of a sly, slippery character.   Sometimes it’s HoH’s duty to perform unpleasant tasks, for the sake of machinations bigger than himself, although I don’t think Downton’s Hugh Bonneville has yet stabbed a dog or beheaded a man, unless I missed those episodes.

I’m still undecided though on the sexual politics of it though.  For example, one of the characters is exploited by her creepy brother, who first gropes her and then marries her off to the grunting leader of a tribe he wants to get in with.  I’m not sure whether Dothraki bedroom technique (or lack of) needs to be quite so graphically illustrated.  It’s all a bit Miley Cyrus – who’s being exploited here?

I’m sure I’m feeling a bit pre-menstrual, because on driving back from the leisure centre today, I suddenly felt tearful remembering the ending of episode 2, where a lovely children’s game on a river bank suddenly turns very dark indeed due to the appearance of one of the baddies, the spoilt and dangerous Prince Joffrey, and something very bad happens to one of the children 😦 You only see him for about two minutes!  But I still cared about him and wished that someone would run a sword through that horrid little Prince.






  1. I’ve never seen Game of Thrones described as “children’s television for grown ups”, or short on subtlety. I urge you to keep watching.

    But I really enjoyed your reviews of both Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones. They both represent a certain aspect of feudal culture (classical ye olde medieval and modern gangland.)

    It’s nice to hear the perspective of someone watching the shows, and hasn’t read the books (in regards to the Song of Ice and Fire series.)

    Game of Thrones in particular takes several episodes before the pace picks up and the depth of all of the characters (and the secondary characters) starts to shine. (If depth is something that shines. I’m nothing but a metaphor mixer.)

    • You have a great blog too! I think you’ve done a particularly good job of intelligent discussion while consciously avoiding spoilers. It’s interesting having a peek into the world of thrones and seeing what there is there. I’m quickly beginning to understand why people get into this programme so much, and I am going to tell my friend that it is definitely not just killing.

      • I really appreciate your gracious comments about my blog, thank you so much!

        I hope you enjoy the show. (There is a fair amount of killing, I do admit. But there’s some amazing storylines that get built up. And characters. Really complicated characters, I promise.)

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever read you write a bad review. But it’s a very good, bad review. I shall avoid Boardwalk and look out for Game of Thrones which sounds like it might be interesting.

    • I try not to write bad reviews because honestly, I think when I don’t enjoy stuff there are plenty of people who have, so it must just be me! The things I really think are bad, as opposed to I don’t like them, are when something I see is lazily done. Then it doesn’t merit a review because it’s all about what they haven’t done rather than what they have.

  3. I have to say that I loved Boardwalk Empire. It was actually my OH choice of viewing and I admit that it wouldn’t usually be my kind of thing to sit down and watch for an hour at a time. Gangster type films and tv shows I’ve never normally been into but with Boardwalk something just clicked. I guess it was a bit of a slow burner but it’s never been unwatchable, for me at least and now I rank it as one of the best shows on. I haven’t really thought about it too in depth as you did, about the female characters in it but I guess you are right on some level. However,is that down to the screen writers or just a reflection of American society in that era? I loved the main character of Nucky and he does go on quite a journey from where he sits in series one, basically running the city and having all consuming power, to where he is left at the end of series 4. Also, the last season at the moment stars Patricia Arquette, she plays a very strong woman compared to the rest.
    As for Game of Thrones, I’ve heard mixed reviews and haven’t watched any to comment. I know people who absolutely LOVE it and others (usually who have read the books) say it’s not so good and doesn’t follow the original written storyline.

    • I will get back into Boardwalk now! I think if it had been something I was watching on the TV, it’s definitely worth it from that point of view. But when you are waiting for discs, that’s where it’s lack of pace made it difficult for me to stick with. I’ll wait till I get through some of my back catalogue and then give it another go.

      It does sound a different type of thing and that’s a good point about female characters. Sometimes I think scripts romanticise how easy it really was for women to go against the grain in the past.

      Especially interesting having an inkling of Nucky’s trajectory – makes him a more compellling character for me to watch knowing that.

      • I would definitely give it another shot when you have time. Like I said, not usually my cup of tea but my OH was desperate to watch! We actually got series 1&2 as a boxset then followed up with the rest on TV. Nucky’s journey is a good one, it is not so much that major things keep happening to him, more like a slow snowball effect that builds. You’ll have to let me know what you think if you watch 🙂

  4. Well Denise, now it’s my turn to read your post title in amazement as I love and watch both Boardwalk and GOT!!!

    Boardwalk’s recent series is recorded on Sky so yet to watch, apart from the first couple of episodes, so behind at the moment but I would say that if you stick with it (and I do understand just what you say as I felt this way at first) you will really enjoy the way the character’s develop and the story-line. It is does get quite gripping. Aspie D and I watch it, Hubby sometimes.

    As for GOT, we have been wading our way through the entire series, just about to finish season 4 before the new one starts again in April. If you hated Joffrey after just a few episodes, you will despise him as time goes on. Again, the story lines develop well (although there are one or two annoying characters but in case you do watch it, I won’t say who) and sometimes there are some very eye-popping sex scenes without any warning!!! And I’m no prude!!!! Also lots of shocks and twists and turns.

    Eldest son read all the books (he is an avid book reader) and he said the books are definitely better than the show but he loves the show too!

    Oh, and the way Danarius (the young blonde who is married off to the Dothraki king) develops into her role and her story and what happens along the way is something worth watching GOT for if nothing else.

    Fantastic stuff and well worth sticking to if you can, I think you would be pleasantly surprised if you did 🙂 But yes, it is very violent in parts 😦

    • I was quite disappointed that I didn’t love Boardwalk, because people really do rave about it. I think I will pick it up again once I have got through all the GOT series, now that I know it is worth it.

      I’m beginning to understand that GOT is a massive world with its own internal logic and that fans can have discussions for hours about the appeal or otherwise of the characters, the pluses and minuses of their various decisions… I’ve got a feeling I’m in for a fascinating journey and really looking forward to it!

      I don’t mind the violence, although I don’t like watching it, I will just put my hands in front of my face (I used to hide behind the sofa when Dr Who came on as a child!)

      • Ha Ha! Me too with Dr Who Denise, just the same! I was terrified of the Daleks, still am…and the Cybermen 😉

        Go for it with GOT…yay, something else we can discuss 🙂

      • So embarrassing… I was afraid of *the title music*.

        I think I mentioned I was a little over sensitive as a child.

        I will review episodes 3 and 4 when they arrive!

  5. Ha ha, you write a great review. I was curious about Game of Thrones because of all the publicity, and my brother was absolutely obsessed with it. He did warn me about the violence though. Seeing as how you had to turn your head away half the time, I know that this is not for me.

    • It’s quite clever, the violence is used sparingly so it really has a shock value and stays with you… in fact, I have just realised that just makes it worse doesn’t it???

  6. I am glad you wrote such a very descriptive and opinionated review. If I ever come across this, I don’t think I will watch it. I like slow, I like nice surroundings, but I like characters to be real and I get from your review that they are not believable! Good review! Oh and I also got that you disappointed yourself by being sucked in! 🙂

    • I’ve been told I should watch on with Boardwalk Empire! In fact I almost wrote a post last week saying “Should I carry on watching?” I think if it were on the TV one episode a week, I’d watch, however the problem is that catching up further potentially wastes one of my discs. I did feel disappointed about not liking the beginning. It is complex and interesting enough, but I didn’t feel any emotional pull, just saw a lot of people being unpleasant to each other.

  7. I appreciate your honest review, Denise. I haven’t seen either program. I suppose I’m stuck where you used to be, not really interested in television. I’m sure there is a lot of great stuff that I’m missing, but time is an issue for me when it comes to television viewing. When I do have free time, I want to read…I know, I’m a nerd. 🙂

    • I’m with Jill–I hardly ever watch television, (another nerdy book worm, I am). And if it’s very violent at all, I just don’t want to see it. But I enjoy your reviews. They keep me feeling like I’m not entirely out of the loop (which, of course, I am–I just like to pretend to myself I am not, although I’m not fooling myself or anyone else).

      One show I enjoyed watching on Netflix last year, wondering whether you’ve seen it? Lie to Me, American Crime Drama. Seasons 1 & 3 were quite good, I thought. Season 2 I figured was in response to some hotshot’s idea–who believed that by upping the violence they’d raise the ratings. Instead, they dumbed down the content. The non-violent parts mostly made me yawn. And at a certain level of violence, I switched them off. Never saw the half of many of season 2 episodes.

      If you saw any of the series, I’d be interested in what you thought.

      • Oooh – Lie to Me is on LoveFilm! I will put that on my list, and I haven’t got too many series to catch up on in this case either.

    • Time was always an issue for me before too. Tv does take up a lot of time, so I always want to feel I have got value for my viewing money.

  8. Haha, I’m going to save you an essay on how I feel about Game of Thrones here, because I probably couldn’t stop once I start, but I think that the gory and explicit details on the show is what makes the audience feel what the characters must have been going through in those situations. Sure, I guess we would have understood the gist of the story if those were emitted too, but I don’t think we would have been able to empathise with/hate/admire, etc. those characters without those details. And believe me, I am definitely not a fan of gory/horror productions in general!

    • Yeah horror generally turns me right off. I think you are right about the explicit details making us empathise more – I think it’s clever as it’s not gory all the time, so the moments that are stand out and are emphatic.

  9. It’s always good to get your take on a TV show or film Denise, as you usually rave about the ones I end up really enjoying. I’ve been wondering about Boardwalk Empire for a while now… think I’ll give it a miss though 😉

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