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Third season of 'Thrones' continues power game

By David Wiegand
San Francisco Chronicle

Season 3 premiere. 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

As the third season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” begins at 9 p.m. Sunday, we’re as hard-pressed as ever to identify absolute good guys and absolute bad guys. That’s one of the reasons why the series is so great.

The new season picks up where season 2 ended, but in a larger sense, the points of demarcation between seasons are artificial: “Game of Thrones” is an ongoing epic combination of many stories, all of which are in a constant state of evolution, as are many of the characters. What is it beyond the show’s powerful performances, visuals, special effects, sex and blood-churning battle scenes that sets “Game” apart?

First and foremost, it’s about character, so much so that as eye-popping as the battles, sex scenes and special effects are, they are only some of the reasons the show appeals to viewers of every age, male and female.

Power is the tipping point for many “Thrones’ ” characters. Seemingly good characters can go bad because of power. At the same time, people we perceive as villainous can demonstrate surprising but still credible compassion at times.

Not coincidentally, many of the female characters are as powerful as the men who would be kings. Some women, like Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and young Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), display that power in traditional male ways: Brienne can wield a sword as well as any man, while Arya impersonated a boy to survive after her father’s execution. Others, like Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), frequently out-think and out-maneuver the men around them.

Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) may be motivated at first by traditional maternal and marital instincts, but life and loss in the Seven Kingdoms toughened her into a formidable adversary to any man who threatens her family or her husband’s legacy.

At the same time, the men are often victims of their own masculine hubris. The series continues to focus on men in danger of becoming intoxicated by their own power.

With seven kingdoms of action and characters, HBO has a limitless opportunity to introduce new cast members. Among this season’s newcomers are Ciern Hinds as Mance Rayder and Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna Tyrell. Her character’s first scene is fantastic, but a few episodes in, Rigg gets a chance to demonstrate the range of her considerable experience, and it’s magical.

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