For reasons that I'll explain later, it is pretty clear that Of Kings and Prophets is supposed to be a Christian Game of Thrones, but that would be unfair to say that this is all that it is. The Bible is filled with stories that are more epic than most epic fantasies of George R. R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien. Best of all, the story of Saul and David is full of drama which is a perfect for television, but it has been done before.
I'll start with a recap of the pilot episode. It is odd to see the text disclaimer of "Due to Adult Content, Viewer Discretion is Advised". Clearly, it is acknowledging that the Bible isn't G-rated, but since this is ABC, they probably won't show the sex and violence that Game of Thrones is both famous and infamous for. The next text of "1000 years Before Christ" definitely reminds the audience who the audience for this program is. (It's Christians.)
If you know the story, then you know that Saul was instrumental in defending Israel from the Philistines. Of Prophets and Kings seems to want to throw the viewer in the PTSD of this war as it starts out with a close-up of a bloody face along with an army massacre that looks like a sword-and-sandals version of the opening of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.
It is a gritty opening that introduces us to Saul (Ray Winstone), and then switches to another gritty opening with David (Olly Rix). David dreams of his sheep being devoured by a lion, and wakes up to find that this has happened to his heard in reality. David holds blood that drips down from his hand, which matches the title of the first episode with "Offerings of Blood".
What happens next is a shot of a map Israel coming together like puzzle pieces. This would be the title sequence for Of Prophets and Kings, and it looks like the opening of Game of Thrones, and the music is very reminiscent of it as well. I will have to give the creators negative points for what feels like a rip-off.
The scene shifts to Bethlehem as many are talking about...something. Many are angry about a tax collector, because the lion killed sheep that they are going to have to pay for, with floggings. David decides to take responsibility to try and kill the lion that killed his sheep.
There is a very impressive shot of Gibeah, the Capital of Israel, and it shows the dedication to make this ancient city come alive with 3D CG effects. At this point, I am giving the creators positive points. We are then introduced to Saul and his family, like his daughter Michal (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). Saul appears to be happy in spite of his life of war, and his daughter is about to be given away in an arranged marriage.
Somehow, Saul's wife and daughters get involved with David's vow to kill the lion. The point of view seems to shift focus again how Saul wants to unify the twelve tribes of Israel. It sounds like there was in-fighting between certain tribes, and I am not certain how biblical this is. However, the books of First and Second Samuel take place after Judges, so it could have been this way.
Saul then goes to see Samuel (Mohammad Bakri), who reminds him of the Amalekites. Samuel tells Saul to go after the Amalekites, who doesn't seem to want to do it, believing that the Philistines are the highest priority. In fact, Saul doesn't want to go at all, and his wife really encourages him not to go, but focus on the marriage of his daughter and uniting the twelve tribes.
Finally, the show gets back to David killing the lion, demonstrating his skill on sling as obvious foreshadowing. The backgrounds used here look amazing and epic. Again, it cuts away to show the conflict with Saul, who now wants to kill the Amalekites, and keeps cutting in between these storylines. I guess this is how you edit a biblical series for TV, with several storylines and constant editing.
The show goes out of its way to show Saul as a sympathetic character, wondering if he wants to be remembered as a warrior and king. It then shows Saul's wife stooping in front of him, and then it cuts away. It is very clear what this edit is implying, and if you can't figure it out, let's just say that Game of Thrones wouldn't have cut away.
Then it cuts to Gath, and most of us know who know the Saul/David/Samuel story know who was born there: Goliath. There is then a scene where Saul's daughter is "purified" by stepping into a pool unclothed, which is very reminiscent of a scene on the first episode of Game of Thrones when the audience is introduced to Daenerys Targaryen. By the way, Goliath kills the bride-to-be's husband, because...I guess it keeps things interesting. Needless to say, Saul has no trouble wanting to kill the Amalekites after that, at least for now.
Meanwhile, it gets epic as David goes up against the lion, and defeats it rather easily with a sling. There is a good shot of David being reflected in the lion's eyes, and the show gets more positive points.
After that one-on-one, Saul takes his army and goes up against the Amalekites, but he can't seem to bring himself to kill all of them, at first. Saul doesn't kill the king, which matches Scripture, and the reasoning on the show is so the king can be brought back to Israel and be made an example. What is surprising is hearing Saul say: "prophets be damned" when it comes to following the will of Samuel. It's a pretty good depiction.
Apparently, word spreads about David killing the lion, because the scene after that shows David at the palace. The queen talks about how David can play the harp for Saul. The poor Saul has to tell his daughter that she won't be married, but he tells her by not telling her, and it's pretty dramatic. Again, positive points.
Samuel then comes to see Saul and reminds him that he was supposed to kill all the Amalekites, and not to spare the king. Like the story in the bible, Samuel kills the Amalekite king himself, and they don't hold back on that one. It is somewhat reminiscent of the beheading of Sean Bean's character in the first season of Game of Thrones, and I swear that is the last comparison to Westros and Israel that I will make.
I have to admit that the show does a good job of depicting the Amalekite story, something that I haven't seen famously depicted anywhere else. Samuel then prophecies that the kingdom will be taken away from Saul, and this is when Saul meet David, who is just sitting playing his harp.
All in all, this is a good setup for a show that has a massive amount of potential. The drama of Saul feels very dramatic and biblical at the same time. Right now, this show is only receiving a 6.4 on imdb, which is quite low. There have been a lot of shows that had a mediocre pilot and yet had wonderful seasons after the first, such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It would be completely unfair to judge the entire series by the pilot, but rather how the show will portray the story of Saul and David as a whole.
The issue is that this is biblical series, and although I believe it is shooting for mainstream appeal, it might not get it. I've already talked about how much Of Prophets and Kings looks like Game of Thrones, so much so that audience could forget the books of the Bible were written first.
It should be said that the first commercial break is for a film known as Miracles from Heaven, a faith-based film from those who did Heaven is for Real. This would be a good place for that commercial. There is also an ad for The Young Messiah during the second break. Yeah, this is targeted at the church-going crowd as much as The Bible mini-series.
I mentioned that the story of Saul and David has been attempted before as a TV series. In 2009, NBC attempted a modern-day retelling of Saul and David with Kings. It starred Ian McShane as King Silas Benjamin (the Saul symbol) and Christopher Egan as David Shepherd (an obvious David symbol). Since it took place in an alternate history, the biblical story was loosely followed, but it was still there. The show only lasted one-half of a season, and I knew when I saw the first brilliant episode that the show was too good in its concept to last. Most shows that are high concept don't last too long.
The issue with Of Prophets and Kings is that it spares no expense to bring the Saul and David story to the viewer as a period piece. Nothing like this has really ever been tried, and it will be interesting to see if it will have a second season, because the story of Saul and David is too big for just one.