By Lee Cole–

It takes a lot of courage to kill off your main character at the end of a show’s first season. Imagine if Frasier Crane was killed in a psychiatric accident at the end of the first season of the show with his namesake, or if Seinfeld suffered a similar fate. While “Game of Thrones” wasn’t titled after main character Ned Stark, it still came as a tremendous surprise when Sean Bean’s king of Winterfell was executed at the end of the first season. With the premiere of the second season on April 1, “Game of Thrones” is one of the most talked about shows on television and, despite losing its main character, seems to be set up for an outrageously good second season.

Set in a fantasy realm, and based on the best-selling books by George R.R. Martin, “Game of Thrones” is about the struggle for the Iron Throne. Seven kings from seven kingdoms are competing for control, and only one family, the Lannisters, seems to be in a secure position. Though set in a fantasy world, the landscape George R.R. Martin has created is vaguely familiar to Britain, making it relatable.

The show’s most obvious protagonist may be Rob Stark, who is fighting to avenge his father’s death and win freedom for his northern kingdom. He also seems doomed to fail, much like his father. The boy king Joffrey and his mother, Queen Cersei, are the clear villains. One of the most interesting figures is the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, played masterfully by Peter Dinklage. Always bawdy and cunning, Tyrion is easily the most likable character, and at the start of the second season, he has been asked to rule in Joffrey’s stead, as he is only 14. All of this is occurring while winter is approaching. In Martin’s world, winter is a terrible time, often several years long, and filled with creatures and inhuman “white walkers” from beyond the northern wall.

“Game of Thrones” has the same epic storyline you’d expect out of a “Lord of the Rings” film, but transferred onto the small screen. In many ways, Martin’s episodic novel structure works better as a television show than it would as a movie. There are simply too many characters and story lines to fit into a feature film. Instead, the show’s creators get plenty of time to tell the story; it doesn’t end up feeling unrealistically hurried.

The show’s success is derived largely from the atmosphere it creates. While it is similar to Tolkien’s work, Martin’s world is much darker, and the mythological framework, rather than being Christian, is pagan and savage. The mood of the show is like the mood of Beowulf; it would be best enjoyed in a dark, beerhall with a glass of mead, surrounded by mounted stag antlers in the glow of a roaring fire. The show is decidedly Medieval, and there are knights and dragons aplenty. As the title suggests, the primary conflict of the series is the struggle for ultimate power, and the difficulty in attaining it. As Varys, one of the King’s advisors points out, “Power is a curious thing. Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall.” At the beginning of the second season, no one faction appears to be securely in control, and it seems to be anyone’s game.

“Game of Thrones” is finding its way into pop culture, evidenced by the recent explosion of “winter is coming” memes. Peter Dinklage has received critical acclaim for his role as Tyrion, and the show is poised to become HBO’s flagship series. “Game of Thrones” airs on Sunday nights at 9 p.m.

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Photos courtesy HBO Television