Throwing more grime and grim realism on screen than 99 percent of TV shows rooted in true history, the second season of the fantasy epic Game of Thrones once again plunges us into a universe of dynasties thwarted and vengeance unlimited. As they would not say on Game of Thrones: Yee-haw!
As you'd imagine, the reverberations are still being felt from last season's killing of Lord of Winterfell Ned Stark at the order of the weaselly boy king Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). The kid's overweening arrogance and the paranoid plotting of his mother, the Queen Regent Cersei (Lena Headey), threaten to weaken their hold over King's Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms.
To an already large cast GoT now adds more, more, more, without suffering from bloat. Among the prominent new faces: Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon, Cersei's brother-in-law and yet another contender for the Iron Throne. And he in turn teams up with Carice van Houten's Melisandre, a dynamic ''red priestess,'' to aid him in his ruthless ambition.
Of course, jockeying for power is only one aspect of GoT's entertainment factor. The series abounds with juicy questions. How will Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) use her freshly hatched trio of dragons as she pursues her own path to dominance? How many wenches and how many warriors will Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister continue to skewer verbally, while seeming to consume more wine than any man possibly could without keeling over? Will Kit Harington's Jon Snow and his filthy fellow Night's Watchmen ever come in out of the cold for a nice hot bath somewhere?
I've tried a little experiment: I had read the first volume of George R.R. Martin's saga A Song of Ice and Fire (the source material for this series) before I watched the first season of GoT so I would be familiar with the vast array of characters and plots that would develop. But I intentionally did not read the epic's second volume, A Clash of Kings, before watching the start of GoT season 2, because I wanted to see if I'd have trouble following the new intricacies.
And I'm here to report that my lack of homework in no way prevented me from becoming enthralled with this series all over again. That's a testament to what adapters David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have accomplished in whittling down and reshaping Martin's novels for weekly TV. It's difficult enough to hook a viewer like me, who resists sprawling, noncontemporary narratives; it's another level of pop culture wizardry to make such storytelling seem so vivid, so vital, and just plain fun. A-