'Game of Thrones' returns — and it's spellbinding

HBO's medieval fantasy series continues to prove addictive

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass and reporter Jenniffer Weigel riff on the upcoming season of HBO's "Game of Thrones." (Posted on March 29)

The wildly popular epic fantasy series "Game of Thrones" opens its third season on HBO on Sunday.

And now those of us who are hooked on the medieval fantasy must ask ourselves:

Are we nerds? And do we really care if we're nerds?

No. And no.

"I'm doing a series at HBO," said one of the series' creators, David Benioff, a few years ago. "A crappy way of describing it would be 'The Sopranos' in Middle Earth."

There's nothing crappy about it. I've just seen the first four episodes of the new season — my colleague Old School got the review discs first and he watched them in one night. Once I got them, I hoped to spread the viewing over four nights, but watched them in one.

It's like ginger ale and vinegar chips with sea salt. You just can't stop yourself.

(AND DON'T WORRY — I WON'T SPOIL IT, SO THERE'S NO NEED FOR A SPOILER ALERT).

This year, we're drawn deeper into the schemes of the master manipulators of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, compelled by ambition to lead nations into war. But those blue-eyed devils (literally) coming from behind the great ice wall in the north might force southern enemies to reconcile.

My recommendation? Use the magic of video technology — like On Demand — and catch up by watching the first two seasons before you watch this one. There are too many characters to juggle otherwise.

And you'll need context to understand the nobility of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) before you can truly appreciate the loathsome evil of his betrayers, like the bald eunuch spymaster Lord Varys (Conleth Hill).

Yes, almost everyone has a British accent, and yes, there are dragons and warlocks, countless decrepit back-stabbing intriguers, craven gossips and thieves. There are also honorable folk who speak the truth and are beset by knaves, and have their heads lopped off.

In many ways, the universe of "Game of Thrones" is remarkably like our own, except perhaps for the dragons.

Sadly, there aren't any journalists in the Seven Kingdoms, so there isn't even one devilishly attractive columnist who speaks South Side as if he were born on 52nd and Peoria in Chicago.

But there was a foolish minstrel who dabbled in political satire. The evil young King Joffrey made the minstrel an offer: either his hands or his tongue. The minstrel kept his hands.

"I really like Joffrey, the psycho teenage king" said Toni, a young woman who works behind the counter at the Argo Tea shop in the Tribune Tower.

"I mean, how many shows give you a true teenaged sociopath like Joffrey?"

There were sociopaths aplenty in "The Sopranos" as well, and that was fantasy too, a fantasy for Americans who work from cubicles living vicariously through a TV mob boss suffering from panic attacks.

This one is "Lord of the Rings With Sex," and absolutely not for children. There seems to be less romping with the milkmaids this year, but I'll endure the occasional romping to enjoy the rest of the drama.

Though South Side isn't spoken, I've always liked the fact that the producers have invented entirely new languages, like the tongue of the barbarian Dothraki horse lords that my wife refuses to use when addressing me. The sets and locations are extravagantly expensive — Iceland one day, Morocco the next. But sumptuousness doesn't guarantee victory with an audience. The clearance bin is full of expensive but lousy programming.

What makes this one work are the characters. The face of the franchise is the tragic imp Tyrion Lannister, played by the great Peter Dinklage, who is loathed by his father and blamed for his mother's death at his birth.

"All dwarves are bastards in their father's eyes," the imp tells the bastard Jon Snow (just watch it) in the first season.

Dinklage, who won an Emmy for "Game of Thrones" in 2011, was also outstanding in "The Station Agent" (2003), a story of emotionally wounded strangers who meet at an abandoned railroad station. He could play just about anything, except perhaps a basketball player.

In "Game of Thrones," he has the meatiest role, and is the only one with an American accent in the group.

For the past two seasons now I've thought that if a film of the novel "The Dwarf" by Nobel laureate Par Lagerkvist is ever made — about a misanthropic Italian Renaissance prince — Dinklage would win an Oscar, opening with these lines.

"My bodily strength is considerable, particularly if I am annoyed. When the wrestling match was arranged between Jehoshaphat and myself, I forced him onto his back after 20 minutes and strangled him. Since then I have been the only dwarf at this court."

But let's hope he has a few more years at least as a Lannister.

America's other favorite characters include the Khaleesi (Emilia Clarke). She walks naked from a burning funeral pyre, emerging with nothing but baby dragons draped carefully over her milky white skin. She even looked OK while eating a raw horse's heart.

And an emerging favorite at this column is the gigantic female knight, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), a virtuous woman serving another virtuous woman.

Brienne is an expert swordswoman. At 6 feet 3 inches, she could knock a horse out with one punch. So why does Old School like her so much?

"She's a badass," he said.

Indeed.

It might be springtime, but we all know that winter is coming.

jskass@tribune.com Twitter @John_Kass

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