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NatGeo Documents a Feast of Another Sort
November 25, 2016  | By David Hinckley

Once we’ve all enjoyed our Thanksgiving feasts, National Geographic Wild will remind us how food consumption works elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

Savage Kingdom, a three-part miniseries that kicks off Friday at 9 p.m. ET, reinforces National Geographic’s reputation for stunning nature photography.

It also fully lives up to its title, reminding us that when it comes to nature’s “survival of the fittest” rule, Nat Geo has never shied away from the cold hard truth.

Out there in nature, most of the bigger animals stay alive by eating smaller or weaker animals. Not by going to the supermarket and buying a shrink-wrapped package of ground meat, but by killing that other animal and ripping it apart.

In a feat of stunning camerawork, Savage Kingdom chronicles dozens of those lethal encounters.

Thankfully, however, the series is not simply another documentary on the killing fields.

Rather, Savage Kingdom is framed as an epic battle for territory and a measure of security for those who would live within that territory.

That is to say, this is a real-life Game of Thrones, with lions and hyenas and leopards and water buffalo and wild dogs instead of fictional human beings.

Lest anyone miss the point, the series is narrated by Charles Dance, who is best known of late for playing Tywin Lannister on, yes, Game of Thrones.

His rich, foreboding voice enhances the often ominous tone of the story, which at times flirts with melodrama as it identifies and follows our main characters.

Right up front we meet Matsumi, a lioness who controls the territory around the Great Marsh. That’s the alpha position in this African kingdom, because whoever controls access to water controls life and death. For one thing, everyone needs water. For another, that includes potential prey, who make the marsh a rich hunting ground.

Matsumi has teamed up with Sekekama (top), the alpha lion of the Great Marsh, to fend off intruders and potential rivals. For Sekekama, who is not a sentimental kind of guy, that includes any lion cub who is not his own and maybe some who are.

Matsumi doesn’t even get much security for her own two cubs, which she needs because a well-stocked pride is essential to defend her turf.

Other protagonists include Saba the leopard, another great hunter who must try to protect her own cubs, and Zalika the hyena.

Hyenas don’t get much respect. They’re scavengers, sneaky little devils. No one would create a Broadway show called The Hyena King.

But they’re an important part of the ecosystem, albeit not a particularly benign part, and as the lions struggle to defend their turf, the hyenas build strength and try to move in.

Nature proves very cooperative in rolling out this real-life Game of Thrones script. All the Nat Geo Wild camera crews had to do, under the direction of filmmaker Brad Bestelink, was lurk in the wild for a year or so, staying safely out of the way while not missing any of the critical action scenes.

Sounds simple, right?

Well, maybe. In any case, they accomplished their mission. Visually, Savage Kingdom meets all the expectations it has created, and while that means a level of graphic violence that not every viewer will find comfortable, anyone who wants to witness what really happens in the wild will come away from Savage Kingdom in awe.

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