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In HBO's "Game of Thrones," Sean Bean portrayed Lord Eddard Stark, the King's Hand and the most honorable of men. He won't be around for another season.
In this undated image released by HBO, Peter Dinklage portrays Tyrion Lannister in a scene from "Game of Thrones." (AP Photo/HBO, Paul Schiraldi
In this undated image released by HBO, Peter Dinklage portrays Tyrion Lannister in a scene from "Game of Thrones." (AP Photo/HBO, Paul Schiraldi Photography) (Paul Schiraldi)
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    You have to wonder what Sean Bean is thinking.

    The dashing British star, a welcome sight in any action film not only for his brawn but acting ability, was killed off at the end of the first "The Lord of the Rings" movie, with his fellow travelers getting to appear in the next two films.

    Then at the end of the first season of HBO's "Game of Thrones" as Lord Eddard Stark, the King's Hand and the most honorable of men, Bean's character loses his head. Too bad, because he won't be around for what is shaping up to be an even better season, filled with terrific storytelling, action and mystery.

    So where are we now in the fractured mythical kingdom of Westeros? If you haven't finished Season 1, stop reading immediately. But if you want to be reminded where things stand in this epic tale with its multistory arcs (plus have a few hints about Season 2), read on.

    By the conclusion of the first season, the young teen Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) has become king of all Westeros, sitting on the Iron Throne in King's Landing.


    He's the one who ordered the beheading of Lord Eddard after the untimely (i.e., suspicious) death of his father, Robert of the House of Baratheon. The strike even surprised his conniving mother, Cersei (Lena Headey) of the House of Lannister, who thought she was pulling the strings but now wonders if she has a monster in the works.

    Meanwhile, Stark's eldest son, Robb (Richard Madden), has rebelled, raising an army in the north. Proclaimed King of the North, he has won a key victory over the wealthy Lannisters, backers of Joffrey, and has even captured the fearsome, handsome swordsman Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who is likely the boy's real father.

    George R.R. Martin's best-selling "Song of Ice and Fire" series of fantasy novels, on which "Thrones" is based, were partly inspired by England's fratricidal Wars of the Roses, along with chivalric legends and Norse sagas. So violence - along with a hardy dose of sex, including incest, infidelity and whoring - is embedded in the DNA of the show.

    The series wasn't an instant hit, but the numbers grew as the season progressed, especially with repeats and DVR and on-demand views. The DVD box set of Season 1 even set a record for HBO, outpacing sales for shows like "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "True Blood."

    Last year, there were complaints in some quarters that there wasn't a climactic battle scene. Martin and producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have rectified that for this season - there will be a monstrous one later in the year. For some of us, that wasn't an important element. The machinations of the complicated characters - plus the sex and violence, naturally - was enough to keep us tuning in.

    But before any major clash, there are a few more troops to bring to the party.

    Unhappy with Joffrey's ascendance, his older half-brothers are laying their own claims to the throne, both calling themselves king. The heretofore only mentioned Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is stirring on the island of Dragonstone, where he has allied himself with a powerful priestess named Melisandre (Carice van Houten). His younger brother Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony), meanwhile, is raising his own army and, despite his sexual preferences, is marrying Margaery of the House of Tyrell (Natalie Dormer, who played Anne Boleyn in "The Tudors"), helping to bolster his forces.

    In the far north where Robb's half-brother (his father's bastard), Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and men of the Night's Watch defend the Wall against barbarians, there are rumors of another army and perhaps another king moving across the frozen wasteland. 

    In a hotter climate across the Narrow Sea the exiled princess Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has lost her husband, the leader of a brutal band of horse warriors called Dothraki, and with him most of her followers. The daughter of the mad king and his sister-queen, whom Robert deposed, however, has survived a trial by fire after walking into her husband's funeral pyre, and in the process hatched three young dragons. Now if she can only keep them alive.

    Also part of the story are Eddard Stark's children and ward. Sansa (Sophie Turner), who was once smitten with Joffrey, is to become his queen when he comes of age. After he had her father killed, she despises him and is a virtual prisoner at King's Landing and could become a bargaining chip. The problem is that Sansa's younger sister has escaped, though the Starks don't know that. Arya, who can handle a blade, is posing as a boy with a group of men and boys, mostly lowlifes, destined for the Wall.

    Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), who was paralyzed below the waist when Jaime Lannister threw him from a tower when the young boy discovered him having sex with Cersei, is haunted by frightening dreams that may portend terrible times. And Theon Greyjoy, who lived with the Starks as a guarantor of peace after his father rebelled against Eddard, is sent back to his home in the Iron Islands as an emissary, but another rebellion with another king may be brewing.

    The most fascinating of all these characters is Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf, played by Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor Peter Dinklage. Much better looking than the misshapen character in the book, Dinklage is fun to watch as the sly, randy Tyrion.

    At the beginning of the saga, the dwarf was dismissed by nearly everyone, including his father, the powerful Tywin Lannister, as little more than a fool. But when he was falsely pointed to as the culprit behind Bran's fall and a subsequent attempt on the boy's life, Tyrion was thrust into the action and proved shrewder than anybody thought. Even his father recognized that, and at the end of last season made him Hand of the King, Joffrey's chief adviser and real power in King's Landing, much to the open scorn of his sister Cersei.

    So let the games begin, without Bean, of course.

    Game of Thrones

    What: Season 2 of the series based on George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy novels.

    When: 9 p.m. Sunday, with repeated showings and new episodes Sundays.

    Where: HBO.

    Rob Lowman 818-713-3687