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Game of Thrones Casts Quite a Spell

How many times have you heard your old pal Lars Beckerman babble on about how “casting is everything?”

Well, here I go again.

My first impression of HBO’s Game of Thrones was that it was little more than a well-calculated hybrid. I think my exact words were “Lord of the Rings meets Red Shoe Diaries.”

While I will stick with that assessment, somewhat, mostly due to the bombardment of nude vixens and Harlequin novel sexual trysts, I have come to seriously appreciate the overall production value and serial writing.

But what I have come to admire most in Game of Thrones – my wife and I are nearing the end of season two – is the exquisite casting.

I’ll start with the two actors who, for my money, anchor the dramatic narrative of the show.

Lena Headey plays ‘Cersei Lannister,’ the diabolical mother of the brutal boy ‘King Joffrey Baratheon.’  This actress first caught my attention in Zack Snyder’s sexy stylized Spartan tale 300. Sure, Gerard Butler’s ‘Leonidas’ gets to grunt “This…is…Sparta!” and kick the Persian into the abyss; but not until he checks off with his Queen. The look Headey gives him in that moment propels all of the virtuous battle action that follows, and you can understand why the Spartans refused to hand over their women and children.

Headey says so much with a simple look. She is obviously blessed in the beauty department, but she is such a smart actor. Her thought process is on full display through her eyes. So much to offer in her subtle smile or scowl. Every scene with ‘Cersei’ sizzles with suspense – an unpredictability that is the trademark of good dramatic acting.

Charles Dance plays ‘Tywin Lannister,’ the patriarch of this much-hated clan. This is an actor I was not familiar with; but man is he good. I would pay top dollar to see this guy take on King Lear. In a sprawling storyline of Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses, etc. this guy towers above the fray. When he speaks, I listen closer. His words seem to carry more weight than everyone else’sHe also manages to come across as a worthy father figure to his displaced servant girl.

Why does she need a father figure? *SPOILER ALERT – SPOILER ALERT* Because the casting choices in Game of Thrones were so substantive and captivating that the show’s creators were able to kill off the most recognizable face in the mix, her father, ‘Ned Stark,’ played by the reliable British actor Sean Bean. Fans of the show were shocked to see ‘Stark’s’ dome lopped off in the season one finale. The producers knew they had plenty more horses in the stable.

And what a stable.

Peter Dinklage, the sole Yankee in the cast, is now on the short list of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors. He is excellent as ‘Tyrion Lannister,’ brother of ‘Cersei’ and son of ‘Tywin,’ providing not only one of the better love story threads, but some of the only comedic elements.

Irish-born Aidan Gillen, a standout in HBO’s The Wire, plays ‘Peter Baelish,’ a crafty pimp of damsels in distress and Kingdom commerce. At first glance he felt out-of-place, his accent off, his hair too coiffed; but upon closer inspection his scenes are well-crafted high wire acts that give the show an extra dimension.

Then there’s the female factor. Suffice it to say it should come as no surprise that a strong majority of Game of Thrones disciples are men.

Emilia Clarke plays ‘Daenarys Targaryen.’ I’m still not really sure who she is or what her dilemma is. She always seems really desperate and exasperated; but she did give birth to baby dragons, and her peroxide blonde hair falls lusciously over her Miami Beach-quality sun tanned shoulders which rest neatly atop her I Dream of Jeanie bedouin outfit. Did I neglect to mention she’s also a pretty darn good actor? When she throws down her “I will return with my dragons and destroy your village!” gauntlet, I buy every yummy word of it.

German thesp Sibel Kekilli goes navel to nose with Dinklage, playing his concubine turned love interest, ‘Shae.’ Discovered after her strong work in Fatih Akin’s celebrated Turkish love tale, Head-OnKekilli dishes up a much-needed domestic softness to the landscape.

I could go on down the list. Episode after episode they are all in the zone in this fantasy land of demons and dragons, Lords and loons, Kings and Queens, pimps and imps.

Much like our beloved Mad Men, the writing is a cut above; but without spot on casting, we just might not care as much.

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