Let’s look back on some of the early, negative reviews for Game of Thrones


When Game of Thrones premiered six years ago, not every critic was impressed. In fact, some were outright hostile. Now that the show has proven itself with a Targaryen armada’s worth of accolades and awards, let’s take a look back at some of the less-than-kind early reviews.

The most famous of the early pans may be Ginia Bellafante’s review in The New York Times. While she acknowledged the show’s ambition, she worried that the sexual aspects were “tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise…“Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.”

"Game of Thrones serves up a lot of confusion in the name of no larger or really relevant idea beyond sketchily fleshed-out notions that war is ugly, families are insidious, and power is hot."

Looking back, it’s pretty hard to argue that the show didn’t tackle these themes well, but things may have looked different when the story was still taking shape.

Elsewhere, Nancy deWolf Smith at The Wall Street Journal came out swinging with a total skewering. The headline? “Servants, Swords and Sad Sex.”

"We’re back to the familiar favorites of the infantile, e.g. spurting blood and gore, bastard sons, evil vixens, blond nymphets, quasi-lesbian action, crude talk among men about their private parts, incest, rough couplings, and more random bare breasts than any other contender in the adolescent-boy-action-show contest this month."

Clearly, Smith didn’t think much of the show’s tone or its audience. Interestingly, she was much kinder to Game of Thrones a year later when she reviewed season 2, which she called “gorgeous and hypnotic.”

"Each week the story unfolds like a tapestry, its intricate stitches slowly creating not just a scene but a whole world. It’s a world to get lost in, but not always easy to endure."

Did the show’s popularity change her mind, or was it watching more than the few season 1 episodes available for review? Questions for the ages.

Others were unsure of the show’s scope. Reviewing the first two episodes for The Boston Herald, Mark A. Perigard worried that “[k]eeping track of people—much less learning their names—is the biggest hurdle in this competent if sometimes trying adaptation.” Making his thoughts pretty clear, Hank Stuever simply titled his review for The Washington Post, “A lot to sword out.”

Negative reviews were the exception, though. A sampling:

  • James Peniewozik of TIME: “Watching Game of Thrones is like falling into a gorgeous, stained tapestry. This epic, unflinching fantasy noir takes our preconceptions of chivalry, nobility, and magic and gets medieval on them.”
  • Linda Stasi of The New York Post: “The art direction, acting, and incredible sets are as breathtaking as the massive scope of the series. A bit slow at first, but it’s a grabber once you get into it.”
  • Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly: “Stick with it. Free your eyes to take in the spectacle, and your brain will magically start following the intricate storytelling. And there’s a magical realism to Game of Thrones.”
  • Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times: “Game of Thrones … quickly becomes a great and thundering series of political and psychological intrigue bristling with vivid characters, cross-hatched with tantalizing plotlines and seasoned with a splash of fantasy … [The show] finds that rare alchemy of action, motivation, and explanation, proving, once again, that the epic mythology remains the Holy Grail of almost any medium.”

You can find even more old reviews cataloged at Wetpaint.

To put all this in perspective, let’s remember this quote from the food critic Anton Ego, in the movie Ratatouille:

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends."