A Season of Swords

Once again, it's that splendid time of year when we get to cast aside human decency without a backward look. Let's savor ruthless ambition, revel in permanent war, and realize we don't give two hoots about the huddled masses being ground underfoot like cigarillos for conquest's sake. Kicking off its third season on Easter Sunday, and so much for piety, HBO's Game of Thrones may be the closest that high-minded lefties will ever come to experiencing the buzz Paul Ryan feels at CPAC.  Meanwhile, virtuous conservatives get to gorge guilt-free on rampant carnality and unrepentant paganism, and who says there's no such thing as common ground anymore? Try Westeros.

If you can believe it, GoT has gotten even more murky and brooding this season, creating an enjoyable illusion of depth where none exists. That's even true of the latest iteration of the title sequence, which is, as ever—thanks partly to Ramin Djawadi's theme music—among the most brilliant summonses to addiction in TV history.

Having saved the House of Lannister's unworthy butt last year by winning the Battle of Blackwater Bay on behalf of his ungrateful sister, Queen Regent Cersei (Lena Headey), and the sociopathic apple of Cersei's eye, young King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), everybody's favorite anti-Munchkin—Tyrion Lannister, played by series sine qua non Peter Dinklage—has been unfairly booted to the margins of power again. His old flippant effrontery is now darkened by an ever more pessimistic rue.

In happier news, now that she has her sacred dragons back—and those boys are getting bigger, too—Emilia Clarke's Daenerys has finally gotten out of Qarth along with her trusty lieutenant, Jorah (Iain Glen). Up in the wintry Far North, Kit Harington as Jon Snow—the bastard son of onetime Hand of The King Ned Stark, you'll recall, decapitated on Joffrey's orders way back in Season One—is brokering an alliance with Wilding leader Mance Rayder (cast newcomer Ciaran Hinds). Jon's legit half brother, Robb (Richard Madden), continues to lead his own insurgent armies against the Lannisters.  

Robb has apparently patched things up with his widowed mother, Catelyn—Michelle Fairley, who's such a champ that she could make you weep when her voice cracked as she got to "Brown" in the phone book—after he imprisoned Mom last year to punish her for releasing their prize hostage, Jaime Lannister (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau). Now making his way toward King's Landing in the redoubtable care of Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie, my lonesome vote for Sexiest Woman on Television), Jaime soon runs afoul of the anarchistic Bloody Mummers, who are pretty much GoT's idea of how the Sex Pistols might behave if they'd had broadswords instead of amplifiers.

As for Joffrey, having tossed over Ned Stark's daughter Sansa (Sophie Turner), he's growing increasingly smitten with Margaery (Natalie Dormer). Margaery's eyes-on-the-prize cunning—she's the Cheshire Cat turned sex kitten—just goes to show that every lad really does dream of marrying his mother. The April 7 episode's highlight is a courtship scene in which these two narcissists bond over the boy king's new crossbow. As marvelous as Jack Gleeson has always been, this is his big chance to show us that his monstrous character is still a teenage boy, as awkward as the rest of us were around our first crush. That doesn't make him less scary, but Joffrey's emotions are now closer to ballet.

The foregoing, as fans won't be surprised to hear, leaves out an awful lot of the multiple storylines' ever expanding underbrush. Keeping track of every last convolution of the duel between the Houses of Stark and Lannister—let alone the scads of subsidiary intrigues among scores of lesser characters—is beyond my brain's resources. A lot of the time, I couldn't tell you how whatever's going on fits into the elephantine narrative if you put a gun to my head.

That's in spite of the show runners' best efforts to help me sort out the maze. For my money, GoT is the best-edited series on television. Even so, I wonder how many other viewers depend, as I do, on a spouse who's read the George R.R. Martin novels to provide regular crib sheets to who the hell everybody is.  

No problem, though. I keep an eye out for my favorites: Tyrion, Joffrey, Cersei, and snide King's Landing lifer Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen), a man whose survival instincts Henry Kissinger might envy. Along with—this season, more than ever—John Bradley as Jon Snow's plump sidekick Samwell Tarly, GoT's version of Harry Potter's Neville Longbottom. As wasn't the case with Harry Potter, I get cranky whenever I'm deprived of gratuitous sex scenes, something Season 3 is short on until the third ep delivers what amounts to the show's ultimate parody (so far) of its own well-deserved reputation as a lonely lad's idea of heaven. I hum the damned theme music in my sleep.

But above all, I marvel at how George R.R. Martin has trash-compacted every origins story of what we used to call Western civilization—except, quite noticeably, the Christian one—into the ultimate extrapolation of Dallas. The Wars of the Roses, the Vikings, the Arthurian legends, Shakespeare's history plays, the Borgias—in one way or another, they've all been mulched into GoT. Sometimes I wonder whether the real reason I dote on the show is the heretical thought that, when it finally wraps up, we'll have to start over from scratch with new nonsense.

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