Gay is the television critic.
Viewership for HBO's "Game of Thrones" (Sunday at 9 p.m.) continues to climb in its third season. A record 5.5 million tuned in this past Sunday, the fourth week in a row viewership has increased. Why has this sometimes-mystifying, sometimes-confounding drama become one of TV's biggest hits? Here are 10 reasons:
1. "GoT" hates exposition and instead dumps you right down into the middle of the action. This sink-or-swim narrative style keeps viewers off balance, forces them to stick around for resolution, or better yet explanation, which seldom comes.
2. Scene setting is everything. Those haunted hulking pines that shelter Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) in his quest for the three-eyed crow? You are right there with him, too. "GoT" does this better than any series on TV, with the possible exception of "Mad Men."
3. Big departures from the George R.R. Martin book that the third season is based on. Too many to mention here, but this speeds up the action and forces fans to see what liberties were taken, and why. This enriches the TV show.
4. The gamesmanship of "Games" is gamier this season. One does get a greater sense of those moving pieces and the invisible, or visible, hands that move them.
5. Magic, but not too much. Martin has always given readers plenty in their epic fantasy diet, but not too much. Sure, the dragons are great this season, but partly because they are used so sparingly.
6. Strong female protagonists. They are truly the richest characters of the series and are better than ever in the third -- from Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) to Brienne (Gwendoline Christie).
7. Brutality -- but not too much. And sex -- but not too much. As with magic, "GoT" has its Goldilocks formula down right -- not too hot, not too cold. These are pivotal elements of any fantasy fiction, but are never overplayed here except to establish scene and character.
8. Intriguing theology. The nature of God, or rather Gods, is more deeply rooted this season, and how it plays to the big themes -- the battle of good and evil, light and dark, fire and ice.
9. Great sweeping cinematic vistas. Never underestimate the beauty shot -- that view from the wall of ice or the great slave city of Astapor. These kind of scenes abound this season.
10. It's complicated -- and it's supposed to be. Remember, "GoT" is an entire universe, where human motives, desires and impulses are always twisted up in knots of secrets, lies and deceptions. That's the whole point of this "game" -- to slowly unravel them. And the stakes seem to grow with each passing episode. But -- word of advice -- always follow the trail of Aidan Gillen's Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish. He seems to be the only one who knows where this will all end up.