Yes, we just endured Mad Men return mania, but we're afraid it's time to get excited about a show coming back on the air all over again. On Sunday night, HBO will premiere the second season of Game of Thrones, a knotty and richly satisfying fantasy series based on George R.R. Martin's masterful tomes. (He's published five of a planned seven, and these things are long.) Game of Thrones is the ultimate example of what premium cable can do — it's as lavish and ornate as it is brutal and shocking. Your schedule may be crowded, but this is must-see TV of the highest order.
First things first, if you haven't seen season one yet, go watch it immediately. (Mild season one spoilers ahead.) Over ten stuffed episodes, show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss did a beautiful and respectably thorough job of establishing the world of the story — the bulk of which takes place in the kingdom of Westeros, a medieval land once ruled by magic and dragons — and cluing us in, in ways both subtle and booming, to the many characters' struggles, plans, machinations, etc. The joy, for us, and challenge, for them, of the second season is that this world is ever expanding yet never loses sight of its core, it has to feel expansive and intimate at the same time. Based on the episodes we've already seen (jealoussss?) Benioff and Weiss once again beguilingly pull it off. That fans of the books, and most importantly Martin himself, give this show such ringing endorsements should tell you something about how carefully these two have preserved the essential themes and plotlines while also streamlining them for television. It's delicate and painstaking work that rarely feels rushed or off course. So, well done, you two.