Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Game of Thrones" returns for its second brutal season

While watching the second season premiere of HBO's dark, compelling fantasy series "Game of Thrones," (which airs Sunday at 9 p.m.) I was reminded of, believe it or not, the raucous FX sitcom "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

Yes, the shows are completely different in tone. However, there's a moment in the most recent season of "Sunny" where the characters are in the middle of a particularly appalling scheme, and one character turns to another and says "I think this is the darkest thing we've ever done."

Though "Game" is a relative child compared to the seasoned "Sunny," it already gave us a number of incredibly dark moments in its first season alone. Arguably the most upsetting was the show's decision to, like the books it's based on, kill off ostensible lead character Ned Stark (Sean Bean). That first season also gave us incest, a nursing pre-teen and death by molten metal. Yet there was a moment in Sunday night's premiere that was so violent, unfair and disturbing that it may actually top all that. No spoilers here, but, suffice it to say that "Game of Thrones" isn't for the faint-hearted.

It is, however, for those who cherish the kind of hard-edged, complex multi-character dramas that HBO has built its reputation on. Yes, if the first season announced "Game" as a possible successor to "The Sopranos," "The Wire" and the like, the second season seems bound and determined to cement that.

True, this is a fantasy series -- a genre that has a hard time being taken seriously. But "Game of Thrones" is, like many other HBO shows, basically a portrait of a world in flux. Like the mobsters of "The Sopranos," the characters of "Game of Thrones" are constantly jockeying for power (to the point where one character, Lena Headey's Cersei Lannister, witheringly points out that there are at least five people claiming to be king). Like "Deadwood," it's a world where some characters want to create a functioning society with responsible leaders, while others feel that those in charge should get to do whatever they want.

The season premiere presents many of the show's characters taking on new roles. For instance, Danerys (Emilia Clarke), last scene covered in dragon's, is attempting to lead her people out of waste land, while simultaneously dealing with her new maternal responsibilities (if, indeed, the word "maternal" applies to mothers of dragons. I guess "draternal" is more appropriate?). Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is still posing as a boy in an attempt to hide from the Lannister's in the wake of her dad's murder. Tyrion Lannister (Emmy winner Peter Dinklage -- still the show's standout actor), has delved into his new job as hand of the king, while Cersei, the mother of that king, is quickly realized that her son is out of control. Ah, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Yes, in case you were wondering, he is still awful. In fact, he's the one who orders that heinous act I alluded to earlier.

It's all fascinating stuff, and, as someone who's not read the books, I'm looking forward to seeing how this all plays out. Though it's still too early to determine whether "Game of Thrones" will eventually take its place in the HBO pantheon of exceptional dramas, it definitely seems headed in that direction.


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