Even knowing what was coming in the series, the end left me pleased and stunned as I was when I first started reading the books. The characters were visualized and brought to life in amazing ways and I was blown away at how lean and mean the storytelling was. The series highlights just what a powerful contribution a great set of writers and directors can make to a series. I'm not one of those fans who feels unhappy because their favorite character wasn't featured enough. The breath of the story itself meant that there was just no way every character could be touched on and they obviously had some hard decisions about who to feature and how. Given the realities of what they had to film I think the obviously painful choices were good ones.
Even given the lean nature of the storytelling there is a long list of standout characters for me in the series already. Danny and Drogo, Tyrion, Jon and Jamie were just brilliant and it's only in Game of Thrones that that would seem like a short list of stand-out characters. Pulling that off in any series would be amazing, here it's just a miracle.
Some thing else the series really highlighted for me was the just how telling the story on screen drove the need for different decisions than telling it in the book. Most obvious to me is the fact that in print there is no background, everything is foreground in writing. You don't accidentally see a sentence in a novel so every detail, character and event is right there in the front of your mind. The series instead was unafraid to let many things play out in the background, which gave readers of the book a special treat while watching the series instead of making the whole thing feel reduced. I could look around a scene and squee "Look that's Hodor!" or speculate that the guy Ned gave Stannis' letter to was Davos. Having a background on television just made everything much more tasty to me.
I really have to say I'm looking forward to season 2 and a year seems far too long. In the meantime Dance of Dragons is hitting shelves around my birthday and that's exactly the kind of present I can look forward to. I definitely hope the series is going to kick Mr. Martin into high gear with his writing, because if he waits as long for the next book as he did for Dance the entire series will have had it's run and be well over before Winds of Winter comes out.
Going to conclude by going "bullet time" on some other random observations about the show:
Renly and Ser Loras were perhaps the only big mistake in terms of character portrayal in the series. I thought they came off as too effeminate which in turn I felt insulted the characters and did an injustice to the portrayal of gay characters. The characters in the book are portrayed as every bit as dangerous as everyone else in the world and Renly himself likened to a young Robert at his most fierce. This I thought was lost on the character and I think it was a missed opportunity to have a storyline with characters who just happened to be gay without having to have "gay" characters. They could have shown a relationship and instead I felt like they showed a caricature.
The choice to flesh out Jamie as a character right from the start was overall a good one, though I felt his exchange with Ned about killing Arys "feeling like justice" was too contrived. It's not that facts about that get revealed later in the book for him that bothers me but more than Jamie didn't need anyone's approval, he was remorseless about his choices and very accepting of himself. I think setting him up as more self doubting early will reduce the power of his character arc in the long term. Though I do have to say his capture by Rob was exactly the Ser Jamie I wanted to see so at least they returned to it in some fashion.
The Lisa and Robin (Robert) thing was… well over the top for me. It creeped me out though I suppose it needed to. Still it seemed a bit forced or contrived to me and can anyone imagine them being able to continue with that kind of story for Robin 3 seasons (years) from now when the actor is 15?
All the kids I thought were great but the year between seasons thing makes it hard to see how they're going to pull of the younger characters. As with Robin can anyone work out a 13 year old Bran? 15 or 16 year old Arya? I'm curious to see what they'll do with those actors. I hate the thought of them being replace because, DAMN are they doing a great job. Not my problem though so fingers crossed it comes off well.
The Hound is a character I really enjoy from the books. I thought choosing to move the exchange about what happened to him at the hands of his brother to Little Finger was a missed opportunity. It didn't build anything between Little Finger and Sansa and I think might reduce the development of the Hound as a character later on.
Drogo for me was even better than he was in the book and I hope Jason Moma gets appropriate credit for his work there. One thing I didn't like however was the shift in how Drogo got the wound that eventually killed him. Choosing to move it to him letting someone cut him seemed to make the character less intelligent to me, not dramatically but it was something I found annoying.
I could go on and on but I'm running out of energy here. Needless to say I'll probably give the series another watch before next year and I'm looking forward to Spring 2012. Winter can't come soon enough!