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Rachel Weiss

In the battle for the crown that rages in “Game of Thrones,” a combatant wins or he dies. In the ratings game, “Game of Thrones” usually wins – and deservedly so. The series opened to frenzied fanfare last year on HBO, ensnaring audiences with its brilliantly crafted fantasy world, phenomenal production value and gratuitous portrayal of sex and nudity. After racking up a host of awards and critical accolades for its first season, the second season premiered on April 1 to nearly four million viewers. The episode, titled “The North Remembers,” more than compensated for the long months that fans endured without their beloved or reviled characters. The episode finds the main players from last season in various states of transition: eight-year-old Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) is reluctantly adjusting to his new role as Lord of his ancestral home, Winterfell, while his brother Robb – the rightful Lord – asserts his claim as king; wandering queen Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is struggling to sustain the remnants of her late husband’s wandering group of subjects, or “khalasar;” and Queen of Westeros Cersei (Lena Headey) finds herself the subject of a scandal that threatens her son’s claim to the throne. Most importantly, we at long last meet Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), the late King Robert’s brother and yet another claimant to the throne. Stannis’ court on the island of Dragonstone includes new characters, such as his adviser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and the enigmatic and sinister priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten). While we are given only a brief introduction to the dynamics and key characters at Dragonstone, their addition heightens the sense of the imminent clash of kings. A red comet slowly burns across the skies of Westeros, portending the rapidly devolving future and the supernatural forces that are beginning to intrude on human affairs. The episode cleverly navigates the convoluted landscape of “Game of Thrones,” and weaves together disparate plotlines while it tempers somber material without neglecting the requisite graphic sex and violence. Most sophomore seasons lose the magic of the first, but with “The North Remembers,” “Game of Thrones” assures viewers that it will continue to please with its witty quips, complex story and wildly fantastic characters and settings. Tune in to “Game of Thrones” Sunday nights at 8 P.M. CDT on HBO, and online through the HBO GO service.