Not that I want to foreswear rigorous analysis of the text or anything, but for this last day of discussion of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, I want to turn some attention to the HBO miniseries that got me interested in the books in the first place, specifically to the casting. I won’t put in a jump for this one, since it’s not about plot points, and will mostly be about characterization, rather than plot.
There have been some obvious good calls that lead me to hope for great things across the board. Peter Dinklage is an obvious choice for Tyrion Lannister, and it’s also a great, meaty role about what it’s like to be a person with dwarfism. Roles like that just aren’t that common, and of course Dinklage wouldn’t want to, and shouldn’t, given his talents, be confined to roles about or inflected by a medical condition that he happens to have. But roles that are in part about living with dwarfism and the rest about living in an intense, ambitious feudal family at a time of enormous upheaval are, um, essentially non-existent, so I can see why Dinklage would want this one in particular.
He’ll have at least one terrific opposite number to play off of. Lena Headey is an awesome choice to play Cersei Lannister, one of the characters I felt queasiest about in the books, and Tyrion’s sister. She’s honed a lot of energy and rage in playing Sarah Connor, and as Queen Gorgo, she was one of the only watchable things in 300. That’s actually been an unfortunate pattern in her movie career: she’s been in a lot of eccentric junk, and things like the dreadful Imagine Me & You, in which she plays a sexy lesbian seducer to not exceptionally good effect. It’ll be nice to see her in a role that will make awesome use of her skills, and maybe give her the prestige to go on to more intelligent and successful projects.
I’m less certain about Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie Lannister, if only because the only movie I’ve seen that IMDb says he was in was, um, Wimbeldon, as embarrassed as I am to admit that, and I definitely don’t remember him in it at all. I have different concerns about Sean Bean as Eddard. Lord of the Rings sure proves that he looks dandy in clothing of the era and does a decent job as a man struggling against core inner weakness. But I’ve never found the dude to be exceptionally peaceful or subtle, and I’ll be curious to see how he does anchoring a series of this magnitude. I’d feel a bit more comfortable if they’d cast someone I was more familiar with as Catelyn Tully Stark, since I just don’t know how Michelle Fairley will balance Bean out. She’s mostly done one-offs in television after a series of recurring parts in shows or miniseries in the late nineties and early aughts. One thing in her favor though, she’s been cast as Hermoine’s mother in the Deathly Hallows movies, which means two directors of big, freighted projects are banking on her chops.
Where I’m most concerned though is the casting of the series’ children. The actors playing Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, and Jon Snow have literally never acted before. The girl playing Dany has one television episode credit to her name. Alfie Allen, Lily’s little brother, is playing Theon Greyjoy. Casting children is an obvious and consistent challenge, but it’s especially freighted in projects like this because the children have to bear so much more emotional strain and witness things that are so much more dramatic than most child actors have to put up with. This is Dakota Fanning in Hounddog territory except the whole world is awful, way beyond Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass since the violence is constant, persistent, and much bloodier and direct, and because the characters knew other lives and dreamed other dreams. And these children are ultimately the center of the story. Sean Bean will be a nominal anchor, but if the kids fail, so does the series.
But I’m trying to stay optimistic. A series that’s casting the awesome and underrated Rory McCann (who plays Michael the trolly-boy in Hot Fuzz, and the great, gawky, charming detective in the first episode of State of Play) as a vicious swordsman with a maimed face and charred morals has some imagination and ambition.