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‘Game of Thrones’ Returns And It’s Still Awesome

Game of Thrones

The immensely likable Lord Eddard Stark may be dead, but long live Game of Thrones.

HBO’s epic fantasy about warring houses in a strange land, medieval sex, gnarly swordplay, incestuous sex, fur-clad warriors guarding a very large wall, charismatic little people, beings known as white walkers, hooker sex, sadistic boy kings, guys-with-eyeliner sex, horses that also might wear eyeliner, and tiny baby dragons is back this Sunday. Along with Mad Men, there’s no question that it is the year’s most anticipated series’ return. Why do we love Game of Thrones so much?

Because Peter Dinklage deserves every award he gets as the scheming “imp” Tyrion Lannister. Because, while all the sex and violence doesn’t hurt, as a people whose government hasn’t ever been as glamorous as some, we are suckers for palace intrigue and operatic lives. And, brilliantly, the show has largely avoided cheesy CGI effects in favor of a gritty tangibility. (Please keep the dragons elsewhere.)

And, finally, because it’s the ballsiest show on TV. It’s impossible to think of another series that straight-up killed its POV character and highest billed actor at the end of Season 1, a move that probably freaked people in the actual TV industry as much as regular viewers. With Sean Bean as Ned Stark gone, we are in Westeros without a guide, at the mercy of competing interests, unsure who has our best intentions in mind, just like real life.

Season two gets right to it: War wages and it is not going as well for the Lannisters as one might assume. Elsewhere, the remains of the Dothraki khalasar led by Daenerys Targaryen (say it Da-nair-ee-us Tar-gair-ee-en — once only huge nerds had to know this stuff, but now we seem five minutes away from a mixtape title), is trying to figure out what the next move is, while a new religion threatens long-held beliefs among key players. Winter is coming. Also: Joffrey Baratheon? Still nuts.