Ellen Gray: HBO's 'Game of Thrones' plays by its own rules

Sean Bean (center) and Maisie Williams in "Game of Thrones."
Sean Bean (center) and Maisie Williams in "Game of Thrones."
Posted: June 16, 2011

SO MUCH television, so little time:

Is it safe yet to talk about this week's episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones"?

If you haven't yet seen it but plan to, please stop reading now. Or skip ahead to the next item.

This is your final warning.

Now: If that "WTF" moment at the end of Sunday's episode left you wondering what you'd signed on for, I understand.

While many viewers have read A Song of Ice and Fire, the George R.R. Martin series of novels that "Game of Thrones" is based on, it's likely most haven't.

So when a Major Character, the one any reasonable person might have called the star of the show, meets a bloody end, it's natural to be, um, surprised.

I got to it in the book first, and I'm still a little sad.

But here's the thing you now know about "Game of Thrones," which was renewed for a second season right after its April 17 premiere: No one is safe.

Read ahead or don't read ahead. It doesn't matter. There have been tweaks along the way, but these producers are clearly committed to this story, and it's a sprawling, still-unfinished epic, one whose cast of characters grows - and occasionally contracts - in a way that's only going to make producing (and watching) get harder over time.

Stay aboard and you're in for a rough ride.

Hop off now and you'll save yourself some heartache - but will miss what could be a spectacular trip.

_ Speaking of spectacular trips, Steven Spielberg's new alien-invasion series "Falling Skies" (9 p.m. Sunday, TNT) kicks off with a two-hour premiere that may look familiar to anyone who's seen AMC's "The Walking Dead," ABC's "V" or any we're-under-attack-by-critters project ever.

Noah Wyle, whom I interviewed for a column that ran yesterday (and is still available on philly.com), stars as a widowed Cambridge, Mass., college professor who becomes one of the leaders of the human resistance, putting his knowledge of military history to use while fighting to keep his surviving family safe.

It's a watchable enough the first couple of hours, but if you're still on the fence after Sunday, I've seen enough of to say it does get more interesting, as we get to know characters and the alien agenda is gradually revealed.

_ And because I'm not all about the grim scenarios, I'm happy to remind you that Sunday also marks the return of "Drop Dead Diva" (9 p.m., Lifetime), that endearingly silly show about a lawyer named Jane (Brooke Elliott) whose plus-sized body has been taken over by the spirit of a skinny (dead) aspiring model named Deb.

_ Before you laugh too hard at "Diva," consider that HBO, according to the Hollywood Reporter, has committed to a six-season series from Tom Hanks' Playtone based on Neil Gaiman's "American Gods," described as "rich in religious folklore that spanned millennia and featuring deities from Greek and Nordic mythology, and even the Judeo-Christian monotheistic God making an appearance, in the contemporary U.S."

And, oh, yeah, "effects-heavy."

_ So how soon before Oprah Winfrey's OWN is rebranded as the Celebrity Rehab Network?

This week it was Sarah Ferguson, the oft-disgraced Duchess of York, who sought Oprah-style redemption in the premiere of "Finding Sarah" (9 p.m., OWN).

On Sunday at 10, she's joined by Ryan O'Neal and his long-estranged daughter, Tatum, in the Father's Day premiere of "Ryan and Tatum: The O'Neals," an even creepier show in which two very damaged people pretend to be trying to reconnect.

And, yes, I think they're largely pretending, particularly the elder O'Neal, who's as self-absorbed as an infant but whose much-talked-about adult-sized temper is largely kept under wraps in the first episode.

"I'm wary about inviting her into my heart, because she's hurt me in the past," he says of Tatum, after asking her to his house. "We'll just see how it goes when it's only the two of us."

Great idea. Let's leave them alone, shall we?

_ AMC's "The Killing" wraps up its first season Sunday - no, I don't know who killed Rosie Larsen - and for those who've missed the excruciating buildup, with its many, many detours, AMC's sister channel, Sundance, is holding a weekend marathon of the first 12 episodes, with the first six showing from 4-10 p.m. Saturday and the second six from 4-10 p.m. Sunday.

_ Thrilled as I am by all the ways "30 Rock" star Tracy Morgan's reportedly trying to atone for that antigay rant, I hope his apology tour stops short of hosting next year's Tonys.

I also hope his producer and co-star, Upper Darby's Tina Fey, can find a way to make lemonade out of the whole sorry mess, since a homophobic outburst by a guy whose new boss - NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt - is gay is just the kind of idiocy "30 Rock" skewers so well.

And because what Morgan reportedly said wasn't just stupid but breathtakingly mean, it might even become - dare I say it? - a teachable moment. *

Send email to graye@phillynews.com.

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