When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die; there is no middle ground.
This Sunday the awesome-sauce that is Game of Thrones returns for its second season on HBO. I am practically giddy with anticipation. I can think of no better way to wrap up the weekend than the double header of Mad Men and Game of Thrones. That right there is some good television.
What makes Games of Thrones so great is that it has a little bit of everything. The main thrust of the story is the quest for the Iron Throne. He who sits upon it rules the Seven Kingdoms as their King. But the person in power can never rest on their laurels. You, or your family, had to fight and claw to ascend to the throne and you have to fight and claw to stay there. If you think the 2012 Presidential election is going to get dirty, that is child’s play compared to the Game of Thrones. It is literally a blood sport.
But the fight over the throne isn’t just waged on the battlefield. In many ways Game of Thrones is a chess match where the participants must try to predict the moves of the other players. This results in a lot of espionage, uneasy alliances and general scheming and subterfuge. And I love me some diabolical plotting. I am fascinated by the Anne Boleyn period of history and in a lot of ways the Game of Thrones reminds me of that. Everyone is always working an angle. Fail to figure out how to play the game and you’ll pay with your life. This is no place for morals and decency.
This is not to give the impression that Game of Thrones is all gloom and doom. It is also very funny, with most of the comedy coming from Tyrion Lannister (deftly played by Peter Dinklage). He brings some much needed levity to what would otherwise be a pretty dour landscape. There are also aspects of a family drama as much of the plot is driven by the different families that are vying for the throne who have their own baggage and dynamics. Throw in some illegitimate children, sex, the supernatural and dragons and that is quite a show.
Though I haven’t finished the George M. M. Martin books that the show is based on (I’m about ¾ of the way through book 1), most fans of the book have been very happy with the adaptation. Book fans are notoriously tough to please and the fact that most have given the show their stamp of approval should not be taken lightly. From my limited experience, the show is incredibly loyal to the source material, which is no small feat as the books are quite descriptive and have a lot going on. This also means that Game of Thrones, unlike some other adaptations *cough cough Walking Dead cough,* is willing to kill off characters. Any character. No one is safe, which adds another exciting element to the show. You don’t know what to expect.
Some people were initially turned off by what they say as the objectification of the female characters in the early episodes. There certainly is a lot of nudity in the show and 99% of it is female. But without giving too much away, part of what I enjoyed most over the course of season 1 was the evolution and empowerment of some of the women. They showed some of the greatest growth and certainly were not mere pawns in the game. In many ways they are the most interesting characters because they are more three dimensional.
If you need a crash course in the events of season 1, HBO has put together a handy refresher video:
I’m very excited to see where the action will take us in season 2. Alas, since I am not a “real” critic (at least not yet), I haven’t seen advance copies of any of the episodes. But if you are interested in the opinion of a reviewer that has seen them and whom I respect, check out Alan Sepinwall’s post here. If you are thinking of checking out the show, I’d definitely recommend starting from the beginning (there are only 10 episodes in the first season). There are a lot of moving pieces to keep track of, but it is worth the effort you put in. Winter is coming….and that is never good.
Season 2 of Game of Thrones debuts on HBO at 9 pm EST Sunday April 1st.