REASON TO WATCH: George R.R. Martin's bestselling 1996 epic fantasy novel.
WHEN/WHERE: Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO
Bordering a mythical medieval kingdom known as Westeros, there's a 700-foot high ice wall where the so-called Night's Watch keeps vigil. They must do this because beyond lies a wild trackless land where "White Walkers" -- think Death Eaters and just as friendly -- may still roam.
King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) presides over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and has bigger problems than White Walkers. His new queen, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), has been having an incestuous affair with her twin brother, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Robert's interests tend to booze and ladies of the evening, so he's oblivious that his son, the future king, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), is actually their son.
Bibulous Bob decides he needs help running his kingdom and turns to childhood pal Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean). Proud, honorable and a little oblivious too, Eddard agrees to become "the king's hand" and also betroth his daughter to Joffrey -- who's even more rotten than his parents.
One day, Stark's youngest son, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) stumbles across Cersei and Jaime in flagrante delicto; Jaime tries to kill the lad to hide his secret, which sets up the story line for the rest of the miniseries.
Meanwhile . . . across the seas to the east, Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) hatches a plan to take back the Seven Kingdoms, which he claims Robert stole from him. He has given his sister, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), to the leader of a horde of savage nomad warriors, the Dothraki, in the hope that they'll take back Westeros.
The Sopranos' " Tim Van Patten does the honors), "Game of Thrones" is one of those rare programs where you trip over words in a race to praise it. (Did we mention writing? This may be the best-written TV show of the entire year.)
Now, here's the question: Who will watch? Of course fans of Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" will inhale every frame. But it can also be humorless, dark and obsessively dedicated to the proposition that no detail is too small, no line of dialogue too obscure, to stuff onto the screen. Sometimes you'd prefer just a little more kinetic movement on that screen, instead.
BOTTOM LINE I mostly loved "Game of Thrones," but occasionally grew a little weary of it as well. (And just to answer the obvious question, this is not a small-screen "Lord of the Rings.")