updated 04/05/2013 AT 3:00 PM ET
•originally published 04/07/2013 AT 4:20 PM ET
HBO’s Game of Thrones, now at the start of its third season, seems to have been weighted into a catapult and sent soaring through the air: What was already a massive hit has become a buzzed-about, addictive phenomenon.
The show is – as one says, of such epic productions – teeming with characters. It swarms with plots, subplots and side-plots. If you missed the first two seasons, you might be afraid to just jump in. Don’t be.
Just remember that everyone’s motive is essentially the same: Win the Iron Throne and control all the kingdoms. (Think of Jerry Seinfeld chasing down the marble rye, but there are hundred of Jerrys and only one loaf.)
Oh, and everyone wants to avoid being brutally slaughtered.
You’ll be hooked fast enough, and you’ll develop your own set of obsessions to anticipate each week. These are mine:
1. The dragons
There are three of them, advanced into what I would roughly describe as adolescence, and they are faithful to the woman who raised them: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the exiled warrior queen with a fierce heart but a delicate, white-blonde beauty that would make her an ideal muesli spokesmodel. Thrones, unlike The Lord of the Rings, is a mostly human story – the mythical element is used sparingly, and that makes the dragons all the more exciting. Once they grow, we’re made to understand, they will be the ultimate weapon.
It would be nice if HBO could develop a live minicam, so that we could watch them like kittens or puppies, playfully scorching the walls.
2. Tyrion Lannister
One thing lacking from Games is humor – plenty of portents of doom, very few punchlines – which is why Emmy-winner Peter Dinklage is so welcome as the dwarf Tyrion. Smarter than everyone, Tyrion is also underestimated, mistrusted and mistreated. Dinklage plays him with a tongue-in-cheek Shakespearean swagger and, often, a look of injury in his eyes that betrays how much Tyrion has been hurt throughout his life. He’s the one character who could do many, many bad things, and you would forgive and probably still like him.
3. Lady Olenna Tyrell
A character new to this season, she is grandmother to Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), who is expected to wed rotten little King Joffrey, the current, illegitimate occupant of the Iron Throne. Lady Olenna is a crafty, sarcastic expert at extracting information and – this is what matters – played by Diana Rigg. A tremendously entertaining actress still best known for her sexy panther slink on the ’60s spy show The Avengers, she’s virtually the only Revered Old British Actor or Actress who didn’t appear in the Harry Potter movies. May she reap the rewards of Game of Thrones.
Not having read George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones novels, I can’t figure out just how large or decisive a role will be played by this menacing red-haired priestess (the Dutch actress Carice van Houten). But in season 2 she went off into a cave and gave birth to a smoke creature, and it was fabulous.
5. The ‘Game of Thrones’ music
The best opening-credits theme on any current television show: rousing, pulsing, Celtic, big. Every time I hear Ramin Djawadi’s, score, I know that winter is coming. I throw on all my furs, pull on my mud-caked boots, set down my sword where I can easily reach it, and watch the show.