Winter is coming and with it, Christmas, the promise of longer days to come, and a new year in pop culture. For dedicated fans of George R.R. Martin, 2011 particularly means that his sweeping, sophisticated fantasy series, A Game of Thrones, is finally coming to the small screen as a lush HBO show. Given Martin's slow progress towards the finale of what's supposed to be a seven-book series, the series will tide them over. And HBO's expansion into a new genre is good for television as the medium slugs it out with film for preeminence.
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In this astonishing age of television, the three channels that have made the boldest, most sophisticated shows—HBO, AMC, and Showtime—have largely set them in the world we live in. The recreations and interpretations of history vary. A New York advertising executive embodies the greatness of an era and the depth of its fall; in New Jersey, murder is not incompatible with raising a terrific daughter and sending her off to Columbia; a Kansas City housewife tries to balance her multiple personalities.
And when magic enters into our world, it's usually in the form of minor alterations. A mystic brings miracles to a surfing community, or a teenage girl finds a second life as a Grim Reaper, but the facts and rules of the universe remain the same. AMC's new hit zombie series The Walking Dead is set in a world discernibly our own: law enforcement still signals competence and respect, the Centers for Disease Control still represent hope, and even zombieism is rooted in our current understandings of viral disease.