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Watch the throne


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By Patrick Beane



Pulp fantasy has landed on the small screen with big results.

HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” is exploding like wildfire. The show averages 10.3 million viewers per episode, including online and repeat viewers. It has won two Emmys and a Golden Globe, which is no small feat for a genre series.

As an epic high fantasy, “Thrones” delivers everything you could ever ask for and more: war, magic, politics, dragons and incest.

The show is based on the popular and critically acclaimed “A Song of Ice and Fire” series written by American author George R. R. Martin. The enormous books demand dense episodes that expertly juggle several plots and dozens of characters.

When the first season began, the episodes seemed saturated with endless characters, dumb violence and gratuitous nudity. The superficial campiness — swords that bisect foes, extended sex scenes in brothels, unabashed magical elements — was soon counteracted by dynamic characters and teleplays that knew when to be self-serious and when to have fun.

Like one of HBO’s other great dramas, “The Wire,” “Thrones” evades unambiguous, good-versus-evil storytelling and is unafraid to kill off major characters.

Because of this, every character deserves and demands attention. No one seems safe. The vulnerability of even the most central characters effectively raises the stakes for each episode, all the while emotionally grounding what could otherwise turn into ludicrous action and convoluted politicking.

One of the show’s main draws and defining traits is its exploration of multiple conflicting viewpoints. Few shows have heroes so vile and villains so heroic, or so many of either. Because the story and cast of characters are so large, there’s almost always someone on screen with whom to identify.

Even with the gross-out violence and needless objectification of women, the show’s complex characterization and nuanced storytelling make for rewarding television, which it delivers with Valyrian style week after week.

If you’ve been reluctant to start playing the game, now’s a good time to make your first move.

TV SPOILERS

“Blackwater,” the second season’s penultimate episode, was written by Martin himself and serves up the best climax of the series so far. The scale of the action was unmatched for a TV production, and the emotions ran high enough to qualify the spectacle.

Enormous green explosions don’t mean much unless they’re launched by an ingenious half-man or threaten a noble knight.

The series might make a seasonal tradition out of fatal ninth episodes. After the endless violence at the Battle of the Blackwater, the lives of Tyrion and Ser Davos are up in the air.

Could the series be so cruel? It has been before.

Though the last episode featured what was inarguably the season’s climax, plenty of loose ends still need tying up in the finale. That viewers can anticipate what otherwise might feel like a wrap-up episode is a testament to the show’s compelling storytelling.

Daenerys is being led on a wild dragon chase by warlocks, Jon Snow remains captive on the wrong side of the Wall, Arya might or might not escape Harrenhal and there are big messes to clean up in King’s Landing and Winterfell. The extended-length season finale “Valar Morghulis” airs on HBO at 9 p.m. Sunday.

It’s going to be a long winter before the third season, which will cover only the first half of third book “A Storm of Swords.” Good luck enduring the wait without reading ahead.

Gods be good!

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