The Light from the TV Shows: “Game of Thrones” begins anew (and so does “The Killing”)

As we enter into the final quarter of the traditional broadcast TV season, where many of the mid-season entries are already beginning to wrap up their runs (“Alcatraz,” for example, aired its two-hour finale on Monday) and most of the series that kicked off way back in the fall are in that depressing twilight period just prior to their last run of new episodes before season’s end, many of your favorite premium cable programs are taking advantage of the semi-lull by coming back with a vengeance.

This past Sunday, of course, AMC brought us the return of “Mad Men,” which you probably already knew, since it managed to pull in 3.5 million viewers, a none-too-shabby increase of 21 percent over the series’ previous season premiere. This Sunday, the network has another series coming back, though it’s probably safe to presume that the numbers won’t be nearly as impressive for this one. But, look, if your excuse for not liking “The Killing” is that they didn’t resolve Rosie Larsen’s murder by the end of the season, go peddle your wares somewhere else, because I’m tired of hearing people whine about that. So what if it hasn’t been resolved yet? A show’s allowed to keep its viewers in suspense, isn’t it? If you didn’t like it because you thought it was boring, that’s one thing. If you’re really complaining because the producers promised “a very, very satisfying ending to Season 1” and reneged on that promise, though, I say that you may be well within your rights to be frustrated, but don’t say, “Ugh, they lied, therefore the show sucks,” because that’s just lame.

The Killing Season 2 poster

I do think AMC must be resigned to the return of “The Killing” being slaughtered both by the critics and in the ratings, however, since even though it’s coming back this Sunday night at 8 PM for a two-hour season premiere, the homepage of the network’s press resource center is still busy trumpeting last week’s return of “Mad Men.” For my part, while I do think the series dragged quite a bit in places and reached the point of ridiculousness with how many times Sarah Linden bailed on her planned departure (if I was Ray McDeere, I probably would’ve broken off my engagement to Sarah somewhere around Episode 1.3), I was perpetually gripped whenever Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton were portraying parental grief, and I am steadfast in my disagreement with anyone who says that Episode 1.11 (“Missing”) was an unnecessary detour away from the case, because that may have been my favorite episode since the pilot. If you didn’t like that episode, you probably also watched “Twin Peaks” and complained about how they spent too much time focusing on Audrey Horne when they could’ve been figuring out who killed Laura Palmer…and I’m here to tell you that you can never spend too much time focusing on Audrey Horne.

Quick sidebar: if you didn’t watch “Twin Peaks,” this is Audrey Horne.

This concludes your moment of Sherilyn Fenn zen. We now return to our regularly scheduled column…provided we can all get our concentration back.

Oh, right, now I remember where I was…

“The Killing” isn’t the only series coming back on Sunday. Hell, it’s not even the most anticipated series coming back on Sunday, and I’m pretty sure the ratings will bear that out, because while I’m sure “The Killing” has more fans than just myself, the only real buzz going on at the moment – and, boy, is it a big-ass buzz – is for the return of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

Alas, unlike Season 1, where the January TCA tour provided me with the opportunity to participate in roundtable discussions with executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and author George R.R. Martin, I haven’t been able to chat with anyone from the show this time around. I did, however, put together a piece for the Vancouver-based magazine TV Week about the return of the series, and since it’s only available via the print edition of the magazine, I thought I’d share it with you here, in order to help get you as jazzed as I am for Season 2 of the show.

Here goes…

“Assuming we get a second season…” “Unless we get a second season…” “Maybe if we get a second season…”

Given that Game of Thrones, HBO’s epic fantasy / sword & sorcery series, earned itself a sophomore year a mere two days after its very first episode earned a gross audience of 4.2 million viewers, it’s almost quaint to look back on interviews with the cast and creators and see how many times their uncertainty about the future rose to the surface. Less uncertainty, perhaps, than a lack of desire to have their swagger come back to bite them (witness CBC’s Camelot, which came and went in but a single year), but with the benefit of hindsight, their past tentativeness still inspires a smile.

Executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the duo entrusted by author George R.R. Martin to adapt his novel series A Song of Fire and Ice into a TV series, copped to their first-season anxiety during a recent UK press blitz in advance of Thrones’ second season.

“I think this time last year I was much more nervous, because you just didn’t know how people were going to react,” said Benioff. “You had the fan base, of course, which is one powerful constituency, but also we had the people who had never read the books, and one of the things we were worried about was, ‘Will anyone who hasn’t read the books care about this, or even understand what the hell’s going on?’”

Weiss seconded his collaborator’s earlier uncertainties. “You don’t know until it’s aired,” he said. “It could be we’re writing it and producing it for a very small group of people, and it could just disappear.”

Now that the pressure’s off, however, Benioff and Weiss are in a far better position to discuss what the second season of Thrones, which premieres on April 1, is all about.

“We’re going to see what happens when a power vacuum opens up and more than one person decides that they’re the best person to fill it,” said Weiss. “That’s probably the simplest way to put the overarching thrust of Season Two.”

During the course of the first episode of Game of Thrones, viewers met Ned Stark (Sean Bean), Lord of Winterfall, and were introduced to his family, including his wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), their children Robb (Richard Madden), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), Brann (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), and Rickon (Art Parkinson), and, lest we forget, Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow (Kit Harington). By the end of the season, however, Ned was dead, following the footsteps of his king, Robert of Westeros, played by Mark Addy.

“Their deaths…cast a shadow over Season Two,” said Benioff. “And as Dan says, their absence creates this power vacuum, especially with King Robert: the throne passes to his apparent son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), but there are many other claimants to the throne who deny his legitimacy. It’s very much about that: the struggle for power and specifically the struggle for the Iron Throne, and it’s all building toward this massive battle.”

Although Joffrey may begin Season Two comfortably ensconced in King’s Landing, his actions guided in no small part by his mother (Cersei, played by Lena Headey), and her brother, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), now serving as Hand of the King, Joffrey soon finds himself butting heads with two of his father’s brothers, Renly (Gethin Anthony) and, making his first appearance in the series, Stannis (Stephen Dillane). Both of the Baratheon boys believe they’ve got at least as much right to the throne as their nephew does, but Robb Stark, who’s leading the rebellion in the north, has at least one bargaining chip up his sleeve that the competition doesn’t: Cersei’s brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who’s currently tied up in chains and sitting pretty in Robb’s custody.

Well, okay, maybe Jaime isn’t sitting that pretty. “Being chained up in Belfast was very dirty and wet,” said Coster-Waldau. “I had one night we were shooting a long scene. We shot half the scene when it wasn’t raining, and then they turned around to shoot me, and this torrential downpour started. We wrapped at 5:30 AM, and the last bit was basically a mud bath. The generators were going down every 10 minutes with the water. It was a nightmare.”

Those familiar with Robb’s limited storyline in Martin’s A Clash of Kings, from which much of the material in Season Two is taken, may be surprised to see how much screen time Richard Madden receives in the upcoming episodes.

“Sometimes we love one of George’s characters and feel like we want to spend more time with that character,” said Benioff. “Robb Stark…doesn’t have a huge presence in the second book because none of the chapters are told from his perspective. But we love the character, we loved his storyline, and we wanted to see more of him.”

Viewers will also be seeing more of Tyrion in the new season. Much more, in fact: early reports indicate that he is, for all practical purposes, the predominant character in Season Two. But this should come as no surprise to anyone, really, given that Peter Dinklage’s efforts in the role earned him an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

“It’s lovely to be recognized, I can’t deny that, but life goes on,” Dinklage told Entertainment Weekly. “I love that we were shooting the show when the awards happened, because I wouldn’t have liked to have gone back home and sit there and stare at it.”

Looking eastward, one of the most anticipated storylines from the Season One finale is finally emerging from its shell. After spending the preceding nine episodes enduring high and lows both physical and emotional, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), widow of warlord Khal Drogo, found her spirits and her political fortunes lifted in the waning moments of Season One’s final episode with the hatching of the three dragon eggs with which she’d been entrusted. Fans of Martin’s novels may have been chomping at the bit to see the scaly little buggers make their way into the world, but they certainly aren’t the only ones: Clarke admitted that spending a season awaiting the dragons’ arrival left her feeling a bit maternal once they finally arrived.

“In Season One, it’s sort of what I was working on the entire way,” Clarke said of the feisty fire-breathers. “Dany has this weird pull towards them, and then in the final scene, when the dragons appear, it was just like I’d given birth. So they’re very much like my children.”

Although Clarke’s new co-stars are accomplished onscreen with the help of CGI, the actress worked with life-size models during rehearsals. “They were correctly weighted, and they allowed me to get an eye line so that it would look right when the dragons you see were added in CGI,” she said. “(But) when were actually filming, they weren’t there at all. That was good, in a way, because it tested my imagination.”

The dragons aren’t the only new additions to Thrones for its second season. In addition to the aforementioned Stannis, other new characters include assassin Jaqen H’gar (Tom Wlaschiha), a sorceress named Melisandre (Carice van Houten), and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), a former smuggler who now serves as consigliore to Stannis.

Cunningham, who recently served a stint as President Richard Tate in the BBC series Outcasts, is thrilled to be a part of another epic saga.

“Apart from the scripts which are just brilliant, one thing I love about the show is that because of the ensemble storytelling, your loyalties can sway,” said Cunningham. “You can stay for one or two episodes with a certain character, and decide, ‘Okay, that guy’s a good guy.’ You reckon you have a certain empathy with this or that character. And then they go and do something absolutely f**king horrific and you find yourself going, ‘What was I thinking?’ I love that. It feels real.”

The “reality” of the proceedings has begun to affect the actors off the set as well, with Thrones fans recognizing them for their work on the show. Clarke, for one, left the San Diego Comic-Con feeling like a bonafied rock star. “It was incredible and insane and a complete head wrecker, because you’re there, and people are so in love with the books and so in love with the character, and it’s just joyous to hear and incredibly wonderful,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s a bit overwhelming.”

“The interesting thing is that you meet lots of fans who are, like, ‘Now you’re the person I see in my head,” said Harington. “That’s really bizarre for me, because obviously I read the books, and I had an image of someone in my head, too…and it definitely wasn’t me! But it’s only been a positive thing. The people you meet who love the books have, I think, pretty much across the board been happy with the series.”

With the premiere of Season Two fast approaching, Benioff and Weiss are chomping at the bit for viewers to see what Game of Thrones has to offer this go-round.

“Knowing that, at least for the time being, we have a committed, solid group of people who are excited to see what happens next, is exciting,” said Weiss.

“Last night we watched the first two episodes with the cast, and it just feels like things take off at a much faster rate, at a faster clip this season,” said Benioff. “For us, it’s always been about trying to tell a single large story on the biggest canvas imaginable, with the hope that we’ll be able to get eight seasons to tell the whole thing.”

With that said, however, Weiss underlines that the mindset that carries them through production is their focus on the here and now.

“When we said to HBO going in that ‘we want to take this through to the ending,’ I think we were maybe naïve in some ways, in not knowing exactly what that meant from an experience point of view,” he said. “But we were serious about it. And if we’re lucky enough to be able to keep doing it, that’s what we intend to do.”