Tuned In: 'Game of Thrones' returns in fascinating form

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So "Luck" didn't live up to its title, drawing too few viewers and too much scrutiny after three horses died on (or near) the show's set, leading HBO execs to cancel the drama after a single, little-watched season.

But the premium network will get its mojo back this weekend with the second-season premiere of "Game of Thrones" (9 p.m. Sunday). The fantasy-drama, based on the book series "A Song of Fire and Ice" by George R.R. Martin, grew into a solid hit through its first season, culminating in a shocking turn of events. (Season one spoilers ahead.)

"Game of Thrones" returns in fantastic form, reconfiguring itself after last season's denouement -- when young, petulant King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) beheaded the show's nominal lead, Ned Stark (Sean Bean). If the show has a lead anymore -- and I'm not convinced it does -- that role surely belongs to Peter Dinklage as the cunning, often hilarious Tyrion Lannister.

Tyrion returns to King's Landing where born-of-incest Joffrey rules without strategy. Joffrey's tyranny is matched only by his carelessness.

"That bit of theater will haunt our family for a generation," Tyrion scolds Joffrey over Ned Stark's execution. Later Tyrion offers faint praise to Joffrey's mother, the devious Queen Regent Cersei (Lena Headey): "You love your children; it's your one redeeming quality -- that and your cheekbones."

Cersei seems terrified of her son, largely because her brother/lover Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a captive of Robb Stark (Richard Madden), who is waging war against the Lannisters to avenge his father's death.

There's no question that "Game of Thrones" weaves a tangled, intricate web of relationships and intrigue. It probably helps to have someone who's read the "Game of Thrones" books sitting on the couch next to you to act as a living, breathing Wikipedia reference guide. Alternatively, the TV show's actual Wikipedia entry can help viewers detangle the intrigue.

But even without such guidance, the TV series does a pretty good job of setting the stage for viewers, from its opening credits that zoom over all the geographic lands featured in each episode -- Dragonstone and Pyke are among the new additions -- to on-screen labels when viewers are plopped into a new location in the season premiere.

At Dragonstone, the brother of King Baratheon, who died in season one allowing Joffrey to ascend to the throne, plots to take back what he believes is rightfully his. Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) has heard the ever-growing rumors that Joffrey is not of Baratheon blood. (Joffrey takes his own drastic measures to wipe out potential possible heirs.)

Beyond The Wall to the north, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Samwell (John Bradley) encounter a nasty abuser of women.

Across the sea in The Red Waste, Daenerys Targaryen (Emila Clarke) has a rough go of it as she and adviser Joran Mormont (Iain Glen, who played Sir Richard Carlisle in season two of "Downton Abbey") try to escape the desert as Daenerys' dragons grow in size.

To the uninitiated, this surely all sounds like gibberish. "GOT" is easily television's most ambitious drama for expansive storytelling, but it doesn't shirk its duty to tell smaller stories about individual characters. That the series manages to excel at both is rewarding and breathtaking in its achievement.

Perhaps HBO's only concern about the second season of "GOT" should be an event that recalls the network's recent troubles: A horse keels over in The Red Waste in Sunday's premiere.

'Spartacus' ends season

Starz's "Spartacus: Vengeance" ends its second season tonight at 10 with an episode full of death and mayhem as Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) and his rebels are cornered atop a mountain and Glaber's army awaits them below.

The episode is full of battles and plot twists that clear the decks for a third season (the show already has been renewed).

One character dies in a particularly shocking way, which isn't entirely true to the character. But the larger story must move forward, so the character's demise isn't altogether surprising.

Keep or Cancel?

Do you feel like any show you get attached to gets canceled? But you also feel like everything else on TV is junk?

You're not alone.

And that's why for 14 years the Post-Gazette has offered readers the chance to vote in the annual Keep or Cancel? poll.

Over the years we've added networks as more cable channels have expanded into original, scripted cable programming. And at the end of the poll there's an opportunity to have your say on what you love and hate about TV.

Voting in the Post-Gazette's annual Keep or Cancel? poll is now under way at post-gazette.com/tv.

Channel surfing

A new season of Discovery's "Deadliest Catch" premieres with the show's 100th episode at 9 p.m. April 10. ... If you can't wait for that, this weekend National Geographic Channel debuts its own fishermen series, "Wicked Tuna" (10 p.m. Sunday), set in Gloucester, Mass. ... Sunday's two-hour season premiere of "Mad Men" drew 3.5 million viewers, the most-watched episode in the show's history. ... The New York Post reports Mark Steines will leave "Entertainment Tonight" at the end of his current contract. ... Sofia Vergara ("Modern Family") will host NBC's "Saturday Night Live" April 7 with musical guest One Direction; Josh Brolin hosts April 14 with Gotye. ... Jimmy Kimmel will host the Emmy Awards on Sept. 23. ... BBC America has renewed the British "Being Human" for a fifth season. ... The other Borgia TV series, "Borgia: Faith and Fear," not to be confused with Showtime's "The Borgias," was available via Netflix streaming, released on DVD and now has been renewed for a second season. So far no American distributor is on board for season two, per Deadline.com. ... Univision's "Q'Viva: The Chosen" hasn't done well in the ratings Saturday night on Fox. So it's getting shipped to late-night Saturday (11 p.m.). ... Fox has set some summer reality series premiere dates, including "So You Think You Can Dance" (May 24), "Hell's Kitchen" and "Masterchef" (May 29) and "Hotel Hell" (June 4), which is basically "Kitchen Nightmares" in a hotel. ... This summer FX will air six installments of a late-night show executive produced by Chris Rock and hosted by standup comedian W. Kamau Bell. ... Oprah Winfrey will stop by "CBS This Morning" (7 a.m., KDKA-TV) Monday to visit with best friend Gayle King. ... Beth Thompson-Grealy, a 2000 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School, will be featured in a segment today on "Dr. Phil" (3 p.m., KDKA-TV), where she's been a producer for five years. The show has been showing the work that goes into its production, including the contributions of its nine producers. Ms. Thompson-Grealy will be seen talking about growing up in Pittsburgh in the last segment of the show.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Glee," cable channel Investigation Discovery and "This Old House." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Hemlock Grove," "True Justice," "Mad Men," "Punk'd" and "The Pauly D Project." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "Mad Men," "The Walking Dead" and "Dance Moms." Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.


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