Before the second season of Game of Thrones began, I decided to read the first book and this gave me an appreciation of how true to George Martin's story the writers stayed with the first season's adaptation. It also helped provide some additional background and detail to the characters in the way that only a several hundred page book can.
Fresh from sorting out all the loose ends at the end of the last season, the new season begins in earnest with Robb at war with the Lannisters, Tyrion appointed the Hand of King Joffrey, Arya on the road and Daenerys struggling to forge a way home with her infant dragons.
The season then injects a huge influx of new characters, including Stannis and Renly Barratheon, the township of Qarth, the Tyrell siblings, the house of Greyjoy and Jaqen H'ghar. Certain characters from the first season are given much more screen time this time around, most notably Tywin Lannister, who is superbly played by Charles Dance.
In covering all the characters, locations and story lines, the scope of the show can only be described as epic. As with all good shows of such grandeur (The Wire and Treme), the writers manage to maintain interest through rich character development and intricate story telling despite the meandering pace of the action. Given the scope of the show, the story arc for each character within each book/season is relatively shallow, for instance, Stannis takes almost all 10 episodes to mount his attack on Kings Landing, Robb sits at camp and really does nothing more than deal with his mother and his new love interest, Jon sets out north of the wall and achieves relatively little and Daenerys enters Qarth and struggles with the local politics, but through the structure of the episodes the writers manage to not make you feel short changed at all as the action progresses.
The season really belongs to Peter Dinklage, who as Tyrion, with the confidence of his father behind him, really comes into his own as he schemes and plots with the best of them at Joffrey's court. All in all the acting and production is superb, and as a Northerner, I love to hear the broad Northern accents when the action switches to Winterfell and beyond the wall.
For both seasons I have watched the TV adaptation before reading the associated book and I appreciated the penchant Martin shows for killing off seemingly important characters, for season one read Ned Stark, for season two read Renly Barratheon, removed in the fourth episode. As TV shows go, it is a pretty rare occurrence to kill off the main headlining character and this is what sets Game of Thrones apart. In choosing to remain (relatively) true to the books, the writers are lead by Martin's hand and the show is richer for it.
As with the first season, the final episode follows the climax of the season's central theme in the previous episode, and serves to set each character on course for season three. The only difference this time around being that Daenerys dragon's development is bumped up to the penultimate scene of the episode to give the cliffhanger to the White Walkers. Season three looks like it could be along the lines of Lord of Rings meets The Walking Dead, I can hardly wait.
Hands down, the best show on TV at the moment.