Season 2 in 14 steps
Need a refresher? Here's a bare-bones skinny of what went down last season
1. Four kings fight for control of Westeros.
2. Arya Stark flees King's Landing.
3. Daenerys Targaryen wanders the desert and finds shelter in Qarth.
4. Theon Greyjoy betrays his adopted family.
5. Jon Snow faces a harsh existence beyond the Wall.
6. Stannis employs dark magic to murder his brother.
7. Joffrey's cruelty worries the Lannisters.
8. Theon captures Winterfell.
9. Stannis launches a full assault on King's Landing.
10. The Battle of the Blackwater explodes. Stannis' navy is annihilated.
11. Arya escapes Harrenhal with an assassin's help.
12. Jon kills his hero to infiltrate the wildlings.
13. Robb Stark is betrayed by his mother Catelyn.
14. Daenerys lays waste to the traitors who stole her dragons.
Location, location, location
While Game of Thrones has crafted thrilling CGI and special effects — in particular the flaming emerald annihilation of Stannis Baratheon's naval armada by alchemists' "wildfire" in the Battle of the Blackwater — producers prefer to spend their cash on the most scenic eye candy to be found on Earth.
This year's stunning locations include: Dubrovnik, Croatia on the Mediterranean Sea as the sunny, summery King's Landing; the verdant rural landscapes around Belfast, Ireland for forest scenes; the steamy volcanic vents and rocky snowy ruggedness of Iceland for North scenes; and the medieval, mysterious charms of Morocco for desert vistas.
"This is just natural beauty. It looks incredible. This is actually here," says Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) of the awe she feels on breathtaking locations.
These sharp geographical contrasts "make the world seem so vast and immense — and that's what we need to make this show work," says executive producer Frank Doelger.
That really bites
Both The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones boast zombies who devour viewers en masse — now that the White Walkers are leading an army of the undead down from the snowy mountain.
But the network number-crunchers are wondering aloud who would win the ratings war when AMC's season finale of The Walking Dead went head to head with HBO's third-season premiere of Game of Thrones last night (March 31) in North America.
Last season, Game of Thrones averaged 11.6 million viewers in North America, while the zombie apocalypse thriller The Walking Dead has so far bested every network show in its current season — and pulled in an astounding 12.3 million viewers in its premiere.
The smart money's on Game of Thrones, but all we can say is this — thank goodness for recorders!
"Shocking Deaths! Wild Weddings! One Angry Bear! Prepare yourself for the most thrilling season yet!"
So hum the headlines on the March 22 cover of Entertainment Weekly, with its promise of sweet cinematic relief for Game of Thrones fans after eight long months of waiting.
"You may think you know how brutal HBO's beautiful dark twisted fantasy Game of Thrones can get, but to paraphrase wildling temptress Ygritte: 'You know nothing about Season 3'," states EW.
"In geek terms: It's The Empire Strikes Back of the Thrones-verse."
Ol' blue eyes is back
The coolest jump-off-the-couch moment came in the dying seconds of Season 2, when the craggy-faced, blue-eyed White Walker — with a battle shriek that turns blood into icy gel — emerges from a howling blizzard astride a corpse horse, leading an army of Wights, the reanimated dead of his fallen foes.
Absent for thousands of years, this mysterious and ancient race was driven to the north in the War for Dawn. White Walkers are the reason the Wall was built — to prevent their return to Westeros.
The pretenders for the Iron Throne may soon wish they had only each other to fight — and not these aggressive, fast demons who speak the Old Tongue — which crackles like the icy wastelands — and who wield superior skills in combat.
No one is safe
"It's a season where no one is safe," says executive producer David Benioff. "That's one of the things that drew us to these books is that normally, in this kind of story, you have the heroes and they might face perils — but ultimately they're going to overcome. Good will overcome evil and triumph in the end.
"And that's not the case in George Martin's world and the world we've created here. Often the best people don't make it to the end and the worst people will prosper. That's the way it is real life — so why not on this show."
"Death is coming for everyone and everything — a darkness that will swallow the dawn. Show them how it feels to lose what they love" — Catelyn Stark, the Lady of Winterfell (Michelle Fairley), the wife of the beheaded Lord Eddard Stark
"We've had vicious kings, and we've had idiot kings - but I don't know if we've ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king!" — Tyrion Lannister on King Joffrey
"You're not half as clever as you think you are" — Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) to her dwarf brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage)
"That still makes me more clever than you" — Tyrion's reply to Cersei
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