Take any praise heaped on the first season of "Game of Thrones"(8 p.m. Sunday, HBO; 4 stars) double it, and you'll know what's coming in Season 2.
With big-screen quality production values, dynamic acting and beautiful writing, the hit fantasy epic based on George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels vividly brings to life the distinct lands and peoples of Westeros and beyond, where power plays are made as often behind castle walls as they are on battlefields.
I don't want to spoil a moment of the new season for you, so I won't go into specific details. But rest assured that creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ramp up the political maneuvering, backstabbing, strange family dynamics, vengeance, sex and scheming that made the first season so much fun.
And I have to talk about Tyrion Lannister, the best player in the game. "The Imp" comes to King's Landing to help his paranoid sister, Queen Regent Cersei (Lena Headey), keep his nephew, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), in power. Peter Dinklage, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of the shrewd dwarf, has moved to the top position in the opening credits--and he deserves it. His Tyrion is a complicated mass of contradictions: a depraved sex machine who can be a sweet-hearted lover, and a bitter, wounded outcast who excels as an astute statesman.
Dinklage expertly hits all the notes, but he's just first among a magnificent cast that grows even larger this season. (Check out this gallery of the people vying to take the Iron Throne.)
Despite the show's huge cast (23 actors are named in the opening credits alone) and its numerous plotlines unfurling like the banners of the Westeros noble families, Benioff and Weiss manage to prevent bloating or confusion. If you haven't seen Season 1 yet, I urge you to do so because it's so good. If you dive right into Season 2 without viewing the first, it'll take awhile but you'll eventually figure things out thanks to the adaptors' deft handling of the source material.
And for those readers who continue to recoil at the idea of a "fantasy" series with castles, accents and men in leather jerkins, "GoT" is so much more than a sword-and-sorcery story. With all its harsh realism and attention to detail it feels more authentic than a lot of the actual historical dramas on TV.
If you look past the dragons and difficult-to-pronounce names, you'll see how relevant the story remains today. With each election cycle, voters witness new quests for political power, and we must choose whom to trust.
We may not see the same depravity of the power-mad players in the Seven Kingdoms, but as Cersei Lannister says in one particularly chilling scene, "Power is power"--no matter how it's achieved.
Check out this 22-minute feature from HBO that reviews Season 1 and teases Season 2:Copyright © 2015, RedEye