Robb Stark

Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon and Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell in Season three of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Photo courtesy of Keith Bernstein.

As our government continues to fight a War on Drugs, HBO has quietly figured out the science of the televised equivalent of crack cocaine, and it’s called it “Game of Thrones.” Anyone who’s ever binged multiple episodes of the show, an adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, can speak to its addictive nature, and the show’s third season, premiering Sunday, is as compulsively watchable as ever.

Last season focused on a brewing war between several self-proclaimed Kings of Westeros, and this season deals with the aftermath of a major battle and the far-reaching effects of the royal struggle for power. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) licks his wounds and plans his next move, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) struggles to maintain his Northern kingdom while suffering betrayals from every angle and the despicable King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) continues his reign of terror in King’s Landing.

Those three story lines could probably drive a season of television by themselves, but “Game of Thrones” juggles a gargantuan cast of characters and a massive set of interlocking story lines, letting roughly a dozen narratives unfurl at once. Season Three also introduces a wealth of new characters, such as the savage Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) and cunning Olenna Redwyne (Dame Diana Rigg), making for a season premiere that often feels overstuffed with characters moving into place for the coming season.

Even as Sunday’s premiere jumps around Westeros, it’s hard to deny that “Game of Thrones” has expanded to a stunningly massive scale, something reflected in its globe-trotting story lines. The show bounces from one exotic locale to another, and the majestic imagery in each scene never fails to impress. The icy wastelands of the North are just as gorgeous as the sprawling King’s Landing, and the show even manages to find time for Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke’s) quickly growing dragons. There’s a real sense of a world communicated here that functions even when the cameras aren’t rolling, and it makes “Game of Thrones” an immersive experience.

In adapting “Game of Thrones” for television, producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have taken on a story so dense that the third book can’t possibly be condensed into a single season, but they still manage to make every character engaging. The sly Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is an easy fan favorite, and his scenes are dependable highlights in a cluttered landscape. More surprising are the adventures of Stark knight Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and her prisoner, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an exciting buddy comedy that gives the season some of its most surprising, intense moments. Other characters occasionally disappoint, especially Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), whose scenes in the opening episodes are oddly circular and disjointed. “Game of Thrones” has stacked its cast with dozens of compelling figures, each of them making their own argument for viewers to tune in next week.

Because the average episode spends less than 10 minutes with any given character, “Game of Thrones” works best when viewed in concentrated bursts, especially since every episode makes sure to end on a tantalizing cliffhanger. Even though episodes can feel distractingly scatterbrained, the show still knows how to sink its hooks in, and “Game of Thrones” returns to television with an entertaining premiere that promises a bloody, fascinating season to follow.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen is one of the many competitors in the Game of Thrones. Photo courtesy of Keith Bernstein.

The first two seasons of HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels included incestuous twins, pushing children out of windows, beheadings and terrifying ornithology. A recap of where we left off in each of the Seven Kingdoms is essential. Spoilers ahead for all who do not live and die under “Game of Thrones.”

King’s Landing
Stannis Baratheon’s army stormed King’s Landing. Tyrion Lannister’s clever use of “wildfire” kept much of the forces at bay, but a large portion of the fleet made it to shore, where cowardly King Joffrey fled to the safety of the throne room. When all hope seemed lost, Tywin Lannister and the remaining Tyrell forces galloped into King’s Landing and fought off Stannis Baratheon’s army, and the Battle of the Blackwater was won.

After sustaining major injuries, Tyrion woke to discover that he had been replaced by Tywin as the Hand of the King. As a repayment to House Tyrell for saving King’s Landing, King Joffrey agreed to marry Margaery Tyrell, therefore freeing Sansa Stark from their abusive engagement. Sansa was thrilled, but Littlefinger warned her that she would likely still be bound under Joffrey’s terror. 

Winterfell
Theon Greyjoy took control of Winterfell, and the little lords Bran and Rickon Stark are still on the run. Osha and Hodor snuck the boys to the Wall for safety. Five hundred of Stark’s bannermen surrounded the castle, prepared to take back Winterfell. Theon attempted to rally his troops but ended up embarrassing himself. His first mate knocked him unconscious just to end the madness of Theon’s rule, and Winterfell was burned to the ground.

Stark Camp
Robb Stark, the king of the North, has led his army to several victories against the Lannisters. Robb pledged to marry the daughter of the House Frey. In defiance of his mother, Catelyn, Robb married Talisa instead, and ruined the alliance between House Stark and House Frey.

In the East
Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, and her Dothraki followers found refuge in Qarth after being stranded in the Red Waste. She soon learned, however, that no one can be trusted in this city that saved her. Her people are attacked and her three beloved dragons are stolen and taken to the House of the Undying. 

Daenerys ventures into the House of the Undying and was haunted by strange visions. She was soon captured by the warlock Pyat Pree, who intended to keep her captive with her dragons in order to make them stronger and more powerful. Daenerys cleverly used her dragon’s newly developed breath of fire to kill Pyat Pree and escape from the House of the Undying. 

After escaping, Daenerys locked the king of Qarth, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, into his empty vault to slowly die. Her soldiers gathered as much precious material as they could in order to buy a ship that would take her across the sea, and to her destiny as queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

On the Wall
Ygritte, a Wildling, took Jon Snow captive north of the Wall. Jon found that his fellow night watchman, Qhorin Halfhand, had also become a prisoner. Halfhand determined that the best course of action was to get the Wildlings to trust one of them.  The only way to do this is for one to kill the other. Halfhand sprang loose and attacked Jon, and forced Jon to slay him. In turn Jon gained the Wildlings’ trust. Jon is now off to meet the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder, at the Wildling camp. At the Wall, an army of White Walkers attacks.

Spoiler warning: This article contains major spoilers from the first season of “Game of Thrones.”

Illustrations by Holly Hansel.

It can be downright intimidating to parse out the immense character ensemble of the epic HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” Here’s The Daily Texan’s guide to the major players you should know going into the season two premiere this Sunday.

 

THE STARKS OF WINTERFELL

Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark (deceased) — Former Lord of Winterfell and Hand of King Robert Baratheon, who was executed by Joffrey Baratheon following the king’s death when he discovered that Joffrey was a product of incest and an illegitimate ruler. Honest, noble and heroic, Ned was the one obvious hero of the story.

Catelyn Stark — Cat is the wife of Lord Eddard and Lady of Winterfell. She suspects that Tyrion Lannister was behind the assassination attempt against her son Bran, and arrested him on the Kingsroad.

Robb Stark — Robb is the son of Ned and the heir to Winterfell. Almost as nobly earnest as his father, Robb is in the midst of fighting for Northern independence from the kingdom.

Sansa Stark — The girly-girl of Eddard’s two daughters, Sansa dreams of becoming a princess and is somewhat insufferably snobby at first, but her father’s death and her subsequent betrothal to Joffrey and imprisonment at King’s Landing transforms her into a tragic and sympathetic figure.

Arya Stark — A fiercely independent tomboy, Arya runs away from King’s Landing after her father’s death. Masquerading as a boy, she takes up with a group of men headed for the Northern fortress, the Wall — which happens to include Gendry, a “bastard” son of the deceased king.

Bran Stark — The second-youngest son of Ned, who has eerily prophetic dreams, the crippled 8-year-old is forced to act as the Lord of Winterfell in his mother and older brother’s absence as they fight for Northern independence.

Jon Snow — Ned Stark’s bastard son Jon Snow has taken a lifelong oath to protect the kingdom from the dangers north of the Wall. Strange and supernatural happenings in the wilderness have led him to accompany his fellow brothers of the Night’s Watch on a dangerous expedition beyond the safety of the Wall.

THE LANNISTERS OF CASTERLY ROCK

Tyrion Lannister — One of the three Lannister children, Tyrion is a dwarf and a fan favorite. Unable to prove his mettle through battle or physical strength, Tyrion is extremely intelligent and cunning.

Jaime Lannister — Brother to Tyrion and Cersei and a knight of the Kingsguard, Jaime is known as the Kingslayer for his murder of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, from whom Robert Baratheon wrested the throne. Jaime has been sexually involved with his sister from adolescence and fathered all three of her children.

Joffrey Lannister — After the death of his father King Robert, Joffrey Baratheon sits in the Iron Throne in King’s Landing. Joffrey is proud, impulsive and petulant, and it remains to be seen whether his family will keep him in line and check his destructive tendencies.

Tywin Lannister — Lord of Casterly Rock and former Hand of the King under Aerys Targaryen, Tywin is ruthless, calculating and spiteful, and loves Jaime and Cersei, although he despises Tyrion.

THE BARATHEONS OF KING’S LANDING, DRAGONSTONE AND STONE’S END

King Robert Baratheon (deceased) — Once a great warrior who overthrew the Mad King, Robert grew into a lazy, inefficent king who loved drinking, eating and womanizing. Robert was killed in a hunting accident engineered by his wife Cersei.

Cersei Baratheon, formerly Lannister — She is the ambitious, scheming, bitter and impetuous Queen Regent of Westeros.

Stannis Baratheon — Lord of Dragonstone and the eldest of Robert’s two brothers, Stannis is stern, humorless and brooding, and seeks to claim possession of the throne with the help of the sorceress Melisandre, who proclaims Stannis to be a messianistic figure.

Renly Baratheon — Robert and Stannis’ youngest brother and Lord of Stone’s End, Renly is handsome and charismatic and also seeks the throne.

Brienne of Tarth ­— A female knight who dedicates herself to Renly’s battle for the throne, Brienne is mocked for her homeliness, although she’s loyal, brave and idealistic.

TARGARYENS

Danaerys Targaryen — An exiled princess and daughter of the overthrown Mad King, Danaerys was married off to a vicious Dothraki horselord. At the start of the season, Dany’s husband has died and she’s gained possession of three dragons, a species previously thought extinct and which have unimaginable power. Dany’s goal is to return to Westeros to reclaim the throne for the Targaryens.

THE GREYJOYS OF THE IRON ISLANDS

Theon Greyjoy — A handsome, arrogant ward of Eddard Stark, Theon was raised like a brother to Ned’s children. In season two, Theon returns to the Iron Islands to offer his father Balon kingship over the islands in return for his assistance in Robb Stark’s effort for independence. Much to his dismay, Theon is rebuffed by his proud father, who resents that his son has been raised like a northerner.

Yara Greyjoy — Called Asha in the novels, Yara is Theon’s sister and the pride of her father. Yara is bold, tough, and a skilled warrior and sailor.

Printed on Friday, March 30, 2012 as: Game of Thrones