(On Cable TV, February 2012) The fact that this ten-episode television series exists at all is remarkable: Few would have predicted that the first volume of George R.R. Martin’s sprawling epic fantasy series could have been adaptable to the screen with any degree of faithfulness –let alone become a compulsively watchable success in the process. Featuring a credible fantasy world, continent-spanning intrigue, scores of characters, nudity, gore and complex family backstories on a TV series’ limited budget, this first season of Game of Thrones sets the stage for epic developments, keeps the essence of the book and manages to deliver a striking ten hours’ worth of entertainment in the process. Sean Bean makes for a compelling anchor as Ned Stark, a good man woefully out of his depth once thrown in the capital’s palace intrigue, but it’s Peter Dinklage who steals the show as Tyrion, perhaps the most self-aware character in a cast of a hundred. The amount of sex and violence is such that the series could only come from HBO, as is the patience through which the story is developed. The flip-side of such faithfulness to the 700-page book are a few pacing lulls, especially for viewer unwilling or impatient to piece together the slowly-developed back-story. Still, the result is worth the sit. The limits of the budget sometime show, especially in large-scale sequences, but the result on-screen still works well. The nudity, gore and sexual content often straddle the line from gratuitous to essential: It does affirm Game of Thrones‘ more adult scope, but some sequences combine nudity with exposition in ways that may be more audacious than successful. Still, the overall result is the beginning chapter of a fantasy series with scope and power. I hope ratings and DVD sales will be good enough to warrant enough latter installments to do justice to the rest of Martin’s as-of-yet-uncompleted series.