In praise of ‘Game of Thrones’

The phenomenally successful TV series returns tomorrow week

“Game of Thrones” is based on George RR Martin’s cycle of fantasy novels, “A Song of  Ice and Fire”.  Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

“Game of Thrones” is based on George RR Martin’s cycle of fantasy novels, “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Photograph: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Sat, Mar 23, 2013, 06:00

“Winter is coming” is the quote of the moment – and not just because of the harsh weather conditions we are enduring these days. Rather, the line augurs the return of the phenomenally successful TV series Game of Thrones , which begins its third series tomorrow week.

Based on the A Song of Ice and Fire cycle of fantasy novels by George RR Martin (right), it is set in the world of Westeros. There, seasons can last years and strife is breaking out between the different families with claims on the Westeros throne as a harsh winter looms and mythical and magical agents that have lain dormant for generations are reawakening .

With that sort of storyline, many would be forgiven for assuming the series is a kind of soap opera Lord of the Rings . But the first two series confirmed that Game of Thrones is something far more ambitious and intelligent than that suggests – a sort of fantasy relative of The Wire with swords and dragons taking the place of guns and drugs.

The series also has a strong Irish connection – much of it is shot in Northern Ireland, and the sprawling cast features many familiar and up-and-coming Irish actors, from Michelle Fairley, Ciarán Hinds and Aiden Gillen to the extraordinary Jack Gleeson as the despicable young King Joffrey.

But above all it is the compellingly labyrinthine plot that means this is one of the most keenly anticipated TV series in years.