Game of Thrones

Season one exceeded expectations, with season two not far off

Season one of Game of Thrones ended as it began, not with a bang but a with beheading. It lived up to all my expectations and exceeded others. And for those who haven't watched it all yet – time and tide wait for no man – there are plenty of spoilers ahead.

When the dire-wolf lady was killed by Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in the second episode, fans who hadn’t started off by reading the original George RR Martin novels on which this HBO series is based were horrified. Some said that they weren’t going to watch anymore. It was probably for the best. If they thought losing Lady was bad, then the narrative double-tap of the last two episodes would have given them the vapors.

Nearly every family unit and political alliance introduced in the action-packed first episode is now shattered. The Stark family are scattered across Westeros; Sansa is trapped in King’s Landing at the mercy of burgeoning psycho Joffrey; and Jon Snow rides past the Wall to declare war on the monsters who lurk on the other side.

English actress Sophie Turner’s portrayal of the eldest Stark daughter grows more impressive by the week. Sansa was never a favourite of mine in the books, but Turner draws out the steel under her pretty princess facade. A scene where she stares unblinking at the piked heads of her dead is powerful. The hope for a storybook ending (if it ever truely existed) was destroyed at this point.

All of the Stark siblings were depicted admirably by their young actors. Maisie Williams (an English actress making her screen debut) in particular continued to delight as the wild, defiant Arya. The Scot Richard Madden, however, did a sterling job as Robb Stark. From a teenager happily living in his father's shadow, he has become a charismatic, dangerous player in Westeros politics.

Although still not quite as dangerous as Catelyn Stark. Publicity-shy, Belfast-born actress Michelle Fairley (pictured above) played the Lady of Winterfell with stiff care, as if a misstep could destroy her. She could be a monster, could Catelyn. If she had been King's Hand (instead of her husband), things may not have turned out as they have.

And then there is Ned, played superbly by fantasy old-hand, Sean Bean (who also appeared as Boromir in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy). Poor Ned, undone by his honour, delivering his children a war he wanted to avoid.

Meanwhile the Baratheons were revealed not to be Baratheons at all, with adder-elegant Cersei cuckolding her brash husband with her twin brother, Jaime. Jaime Lannister, on the other hand, was never a whole-hearted villain. Even at his worst he longed to be better. That complexity was handled adroitly by Danish actor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. He took the incestuous, Kingslaying attempted child-killer and made him a compelling character.

On the other side of the sea, Daenerys Targaryen lost a brother, a husband and the army that she was going to lead across the sea to reclaim her throne. But in the ashes of that defeat, she found some powerful new allies.

Last, but not least, the one relationship that wasn't smashed to flinders by the inexorable progress of the narrative was that of Petyr Littlefinger and Varys the Spider. Played by Dublin-born actor Aiden Gillen and Ballycastle's Conleth Hill respectively, the two schemers continued their vicious banter as they pulled the strings behind the Throne. If season two sticks so faithfully to the books as season one did, however, they are about to find out that their new puppets are a great deal less easy to control as fat, drunken King Robert has been.

I can't wait for season two of Game of Thrones anymore than I could wait for episode two. (And with calls for extras having gone out recently, hopefully it won't be long to wait.) Partially this can be attributed to the source material. George RR Martin has been called 'the American Tolkien', and he has certainly created an equally powerful, enveloping world in Westeros.

Yet it would be unfair not to credit the production company and crew also. They brought Martin's imagination to the screen in faithful detail, turning the Northern Irish countryside into the Winter-bound North, but also placing their own stamp on it. Whether using the Mourne Mountains or the Antrim Coast as their canvas, they brought Westeros to detailed life.

And, if you thought this season was ruthless, just remember: no character is safe in a George RR Martin book. I can't wait.