Helen Sloan/HBO
People TV Critic Tom Gliatto
April 01, 2012 10:05 PM

The long summer is ending, winter is coming, and don’t even think about spring. The second season of HBO’s thrilling fantasy drama Game of Thrones has arrived.

Episode one, “The North Remembers,” was a typically seat-of-your-pants, edge-of-your-seat tour of the geography of Westeros, from deserts to ice-bound forests, as we witnessed rival camps preparing to go to war for the Iron Throne.

Here are the developments (spoiler alert) that most intrigued me and will have me hooked for the whole season:

The Duo From Dragonstone
We met a new claimant to the crown: His name is Stannis Baratheon, brother to the late King Robert. As played by Stephan Dillane, he is dour, resentful, proud and self-important. He has the look of someone who lowered his bad cholesterol by sacrificing every food he ever loved and has not had a happy moment since. This is potentially a great character. Even better, Stannis has a female spiritual adviser, a sort of lady Rasputin: Melisandre (Carice van Houten) eggs Stannis on to war by talking New Age mumbo-jumbo and wearing a long, form-fitting red gown that looks especially flattering by firelight. She can drink poison and not even get a tummy ache. I am in love.

I Was a Teenage Caligula
That would be King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), the awful young monarch currently installed – falsely – on the Iron Throne. Falsely, because he’s the product of royal incest, never a safe foundation for a house of kings. I’m not sure whether Joffrey suspects the truth about his background – but he does know his father, King Robert, produced illegitimate children, and in this first episode he orders a Herod-like slaughter of possible heirs. Joffrey needs to be dethroned. And not by a UN peace-keeping mission. The one thing standing between Joffrey and absolute chaos is his uncle, tiny Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who cools hot heads with shrewd insight and some pretty good one-liners.

The Girl with the Dragons
Ah, Daenerys Targaryen! Last season she proved un-crushable. After the death of her husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), she stepped into a pyre and emerged with baby dragons. No, it was not some Criss Angel trick! Shut up! But now she and her exhausted followers are traipsing around the Red Waste, wondering where to find a place that will welcome them. As Daenerys, Emilia Clarke is powerful even when she’s thirsty, dirty and beaten down. She looks like an Olsen twin who’ll ultimately be Wonder Woman. I’d put her on the Iron Throne in a second.

The Great White North
Not having read the George R.R. Martin novels that inspired the series, I continue to be somewhat baffled by the mystical, mythological horrors associated with life along the militarily protected northern Wall and the frozen woods surrounding it. What are these inhuman forces? Do they, like everyone else, have a game plan? Will there be a Discovery nature documentary? This time, a band of watchmen, including Jon Snow (illegitimate son of the cruelly, cruelly executed Ned Stark), meet a strange, wild man of the forests named Craster. He has numerous wives, all of whom happen to be his daughters, and his heirs are … more daughters. So where are the sons? The frost and snow only amplify the unsettling creepiness.

Kweens’ Castle
We also were introduced, briefly, to the House of Kardashia, a throne shared by sisters with lustrous hair and eyes that sparkle like gems in the moonlight. Oh – my mistake! That’s the new E! series, I Want That Big Metal Chair Thing.

What were your favorite moments of the season 2 premiere of Game of Thrones? Sound off in the comments below.

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