An epic, thrilling and densely-plotted ensemble saga, the first season of Game Of Thrones established itself as the finest fantasy show on the box. Even though, largely speaking, it kept ‘fantasy’ on the horizon. Despite its Middle-Earth-like setting, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s acclaimed series had more in common with The Sopranos or Deadwood than it did Lord Of The Rings. An adult character drama which bulged with blood, boobs, and shocking what-the-f**k moments, HBO’s latest must-see was about power-plays and political throne-chasing, not goblins and magic. Boasting such a multitude of characters, the boxset felt the need to include a handy, fold-out family tree.
Happily, season two offers more of the same. Expanding Martin’s sprawling tapestry, the threads left dangling are continued seamlessly while new faces and arcs are inter-weaved. Like last time, it might take a few episodes to get to grips with the various relationships, locations and storylines (Game Of Thrones works best on DVD so instalments can be watched without a week in between), but the reward is engrossing television. Among the new faces are Stephen Dillane’s Stannis Baratheon, the heir to the throne (well, depending on your allegiance), and Liam Cunningham’s Davos (AKA, the Onion Knight), his loyal right-hand man. Both of whom prove excellent additions to a show which excels in the casting department, from the major roles right down to the smaller ones.
Of the existing players, Peter Dinklage continues to steal the show as half-man Tyrion, while Jack Gleeson is even more hateful (if you can believe that) as boy-King Joffrey. Given all the big deaths previously (if season one proved anything, it was that no one was safe), more time is afforded to the likes of Alfie Allen’s Theon Greyjoy, whose unredeemable descent is among the season’s most engaging threads. Game players like Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Varys (Conleth Hill) remain especially compelling due to their ambiguity, while many others flourish as part of an unusual partnership (see Arya and Tywin, Jaime and Brienne). Okay, so it lacks the first-time thrill of season one, but there’s more stunning location work, jaw-dropping moments and great dialogue (summing up Joffrey, Jerome Flynn’s Bronn muses “There’s no cure for being a cunt”). Season three can’t come quick enough.