Ever since HBO changed the landscape of television dramas back in the late 90s, a dozen other networks have stepped up to try to follow in their footsteps with their own challenging, original programming. So how does the pay cable network stay ahead of the pack? By taking risks that no other network can afford to take (literally). Many of the recent dramas in their stable have come from showrunners who have shepherded previous hits -- “Luck” from “Deadwood” creator David Milch; “True Blood” from “Six Feet Under” creator Alan Ball; “Boardwalk Empire” from “The Sopranos” vet Terrence Winter; “Treme” from “The Wire” creator David Simon -- but their medieval epic “Game of Thrones” is a beast all its own. Adapted from George R. R. Martin’s popular fantasy series “A Song of Ice And Fire” by novelist D.B. Weiss and writer/screenwriter David Benioff (“25th Hour,” “Troy”), the series aims to break up each massive 800+ page book into a 10 episode season. Though sci-fi, action and even horror have made their way to the small screen, fantasy has rarely been attempted and putting the series in the hands of two writers who had no television experience was, putting it lightly, a risky move.
The season opener once again has the difficult task of catching the audience up with at least a dozen central characters spread out across the Seven Kingdoms. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) -- last seen fulfilling her prophecy as the Mother Of Dragons -- is leading her people across the Red Waste, a vast desert wasteland surrounded on all sides by tribes who would surely slaughter her people if they were to intrude. Meanwhile, the Stark family is divided. Robb Stark (Richard Madden) has been crowned King of the North and proposes a trade with King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) for return of his two sisters Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner). He offers Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in exchange for his sisters and acknowledgement that the North are now free from Lannister rule. Because he knows his offer will be refused, matriarch Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) attempts to gather an army for impending war against the Lannisters. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is still keeping watch of The Wall that protects the North from the White Walkers glimpsed in the first episode and whatever other evils await. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) is losing her grip on the kingdom while her brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) discovers that someone has ordered all of the Baratheon bastard children to be executed so that none may try to claim the throne.
With so many pieces on the board new viewers will likely be completely lost and indeed this writer was, at times, a little behind. But a show that demands a second viewing to take in all the details is always preferable to one that overloads the audience with exposition. (It’s still probably recommended everyone who hasn’t read the novels to watch this 22 minute recap just to refamiliarize themselves with the characters.) Most of the time ‘GoT’ plays like a medieval drama (or occasionally high-end soap opera) so when fantasy elements intrude -- like the dragon birth at the end of season 1 or the “holy shit” moment that concludes episode 4 -- it makes it all the more exciting. Featuring instantly quotable dialogue like “The night is dark and full of terrors” and “Power resides where men believe it resides,” season 2 should delight fans who worshipped the first season. While it may not achieve the depth of a show like “The Sopranos,” the intricate plotting and epic scope continue to make “Game of Thrones” really unlike really anything else on TV. [B]
"Game Of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.