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The ‘Game of Thrones’ world pulls in another new viewer

DRAGON LADY
Three little winged sidekicks might help “Dany” Targaryen (EmiliClarke) escape exile return lher family once ruled.

DRAGON LADY Three little winged sidekicks might help “Dany” Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) escape exile and return to the land her family once ruled.

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‘GAME OF THRONES’ ★★★★

8 to 9 p.m. Sundays on HBO

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Updated: April 30, 2012 8:30AM



Maybe you’re like me, and you didn’t immediately hop aboard HBO’s mythology-drenched fantasy series “Game of Thrones” when it debuted last year.

(My defense: I hadn’t yet taken over as the paper’s TV critic.)

I’d heard good things about the big-budget medieval epic, so I halfheartedly tried parachuting in a couple of times once the season was well under way. But it felt like tackling War and Peace. In Russian. In the dark.

The expansive cast, multiple story lines and complex back story — not to mention my lack of familiarity with the Dothraki language, White Walkers and direwolves — seemed too intimidating. Might as well flip the channel and see what those Kardashians were up to …

Fast forward a few months, and now it’s my job to review television shows. When the screener for hotly anticipated season two landed in my mailbox, I figured I’d try an experiment: Could a “Thrones” virgin jump in at the start of the second season and a) have any idea what’s going on and b) become hooked?

The answer to “a” is kind of; for “b,” definitely.

After watching the season two premiere, I camped out on my couch that weekend and plowed through season one. Not because I had to, although it certainly cleared up a lot of questions. I did it because I wanted to, because this season’s premiere was so engrossing I had to know the narrative that led up to it.

Everything from the acting and writing to the sumptuous sets and creative storytelling is top-notch in this sprawling series, based on A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels by Northwestern University journalism grad George R.R. Martin.

“Thrones” is like “The Sopranos” — with swords. It’s about family and the pursuit of power. Instead of modern-day New Jersey, we’re transported to a mythical land called Westeros, where a multitude of dueling factions scramble for a seat upon the Iron Throne while outside threats lurk from afar. (And instead of the Sopranos’ strip club Bada Bing!, we have brothels where the naughty goings-on would make Tony blush.)

“Thrones” has its fair share of fantasy elements: omnipotent dragons and supernatural White Walkers with the power to take over corpses, to name a few. But the writers do a masterful job balancing the out-there stuff with enough realism to avoid alienating an audience that might otherwise be turned off by the fantasy genre.

“Thrones” is a show that’s not afraid to take risks. In season one’s penultimate episode, the evil teenage King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) gave the green light to decapitate the protagonist, Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark. The Stark role had been played by Sean Bean, a fine actor who suffered more misfortune when he got blown to bits in the pilot for ABC’s “Missing.”

Season one of “Thrones” debuted to 2.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen. By the time the finale rolled around 10 episodes later, it had picked up another 1 million fans. HBO says the program averaged an impressive 9.3 million viewers per episode when you factor in on-demand and DVR playback.

The freshman series snagged Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for best drama. Peter Dinklage, who plays the sharp-witted and increasingly powerful dwarf Tyrion Lannister, walked away from both award ceremonies clutching a statuette for best supporting actor.

Bottom line on “Thrones:” Better late than never. This is a show worth watching, and worth the effort it might take for newbies to get up to speed. (The season one boxed set is for sale and HBO Go subscribers can watch the series on demand. HBO2 is running season one’s final four episodes Thursday and Friday night.)

If you’re diving into “Game of Thrones” for the first time, here’s a primer on some of the characters you’ll see in Sunday’s season two premiere:

King Joffrey: This ruthless teen took over the Iron Throne after the recent death of his father, King Robert Baratheon. Joffrey doesn’t know it yet but Robert wasn’t his father. The real baby daddy is golden-haired Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who also happens to be the twin brother of Joffrey’s mother, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Eeewww.

Tyrion Lannister: The less tall, less attractive brother of Jaime and Cersei, Tyrion is a party boy from a crazy-rich family. He now has the unenviable task of keeping Joffrey in line.

Robb Stark (Richard Madden): This righteous son of decapitated Lord Stark is leading the North’s rebellion. He’s pretty ticked off about what happened to his dad.

Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright): Robb’s younger brother can’t walk. That’s because Jaime pushed him from a castle window after Bran caught Jaime and his sister in flagrante.

Daenerys “Dany” Targaryen (Emilia Clarke): Her family used to hold all the power until the now-dead King Robert snatched it away. She’s been living across the Narrow Sea in exile, but the newly widowed Dany hopes to return to Westeros and claim what’s hers. A trio of baby dragons has her back.

Jon Snow (Kit Harington): Another one of Lord Stark’s kids, although he’s technically a bastard. As a result, he’s treated like a second-class citizen. Jon is part of the Night’s Watch, the border patrol agents stationed along a massive wall that separates the north end of the kingdom from the feral folks, White Walkers and other scary stuff lurking outside.

Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane): The late King Robert’s brother thinks the Iron Throne belongs to him, and he plans to take it. So does his younger brother, Renly (Gethin Anthony).



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