Yes, the title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but having seen several reviews, both positive and negative, as well as the first episode itself, I'm starting to feel like there's an elephant in the room. My Twitter friend Noel Kirkpatrick hits upon it to some degree with his generally negative review, in describing Game of Thrones' issues with the big three of race, class, and gender, but it also touches upon the discussion of the series as a representative on the fantasy genre, and even bigger than that, what makes for successful, classic television and storytelling.
It can be summed up as this: what is the point of the story?
In fantasy literature, in general, the point is the plot. It is meant to describe an interesting, entertaining, set of events. There are very few popular fantasy novels where nothing happens. It's not necessarily earth-shattering (although it often is), but the main characters are important participants in some kind of important event.
In more well-respected storytelling, or high-brow, or snotty artsy-fartsy crap, depending on how you want to describe it, plot is much less important than theme. Great stories are supposed to reveal something about the nature of the world or humanity or America or suburbia or men or women or what-have-you. While major events could happen, having the characters as the main participants in them is a sign of genre fiction, and frowned upon to some degree. Fantasy, where that's the entire point, thus exists at arguably the lowest level of that hierarchy, as that goddamn New York Times review demonstrated.
Which brings us to television. Interestingly, television, despite almost all of its series being "genre" stories (with the possible exceptions of Mad Men and Treme), television, or "quality television," is quite strong thematically. When you look at the shows which are considered part of the canon, such as it is, they almost all have tremendous thematic relevance. The critical king of television, The Wire, is all about theme, most notably, the crushing weight of institutions. But it doesn't stop there. The Sopranos is about the corruption of humanity. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is about growing up and dealing with responsibility. Even the great comedies have strong thematic elements. Arrested Development is about living with family. Seinfeld and later Curb Your Enthusiasm are about societal norms. Even The Simpsons has strong thematic elements, like its tendency to make fun of mob mentality in small towns.
On the other hand, you have shows that are considered trashy fun, like Glee or True Blood currently, where they're best described, as The Simpsons once famously said, as "just a bunch of stuff that happens." Glee of course tries to tack on morality, but it's so inconsistent that it undercuts its own ideals from scene to scene, let alone episode to episode. There are also the CBS-style procedurals, which occasionally have insulting theme descriptions (fascistic, hegemonic, etc) attached to them, but don't try to do much more than blandly entertain.
Here is Game of Thrones' problem: it is a story that is all plot. It's a great plot, to be sure, and some of the events can and will shatter your expectations of how plots are supposed to work (in a sense, it's somewhat similar to Joss Whedon's stuff, but we'll get there when we get there). But it's being treated as if it's a prestige series, to be placed in the HBO pantheon alongside Deadwood and Rome if not quite The Wire. But it doesn't have a strong theme. The theme might be emergent, that is, it slowly develops over the course of the show, and it will likely be subjective, changing from person to person. But that's not what makes for "quality television." And this may be Game of Thrones' biggest problem moving forward.
Note: my essential breakdown of story components is as such: all stories need good characters. Setting is where the characters live. Plot is what happens to the characters. Theme is what the characters learn/are supposed to teach the audience. Game of Thrones the book certainly has strong characters, which doesn't necessarily show up in the pilot, so there's plenty of hope yet.
Second note: I am not covering Game of Thrones in any official, paid, or week-to-week capacity. I would like to. If you know of anyplace that would be interested in taking me on to do it, let me know!