I can't help wondering how many politicos—and long-suffering political spouses, too—are secretly hooked on HBO's sexy, hugely entertaining Game of Thrones, whose very lively second season kicks off Sunday. Not because they can identify, mind you. It's just hard not to imagine them envying their fantasy equivalents in George R.R. Martin's brutally uninhibited realm.
In the Seven Kingdoms, contrition is as unknown as push-polling or George Will. Shouting "Seize him!" in a tone of icy hauteur is the conventional way of indicating you feel affronted. The preferred method of character assassination is lopping an opponent's head off, and the only sex scandal likely to trigger much outrage would be an episode without any. Honestly, can't you picture Newt and Callista humming "Over the Rainbow" between fistfuls of popcorn? Or Bill and Hillary warmly texting "If only" from two different continents?
Best of all, there are no issues, no thorny policy questions, indeed no ideology as modern-day weenies like us understand those concerns. Along with any number of secondary rivalries, the show's central brawl between the House of Lannister and the House of Stark is a pure struggle for supremacy, bereft of so much as lip service to any loftier purpose. Since noblesse oblige, let alone uppity input from the shaggy lower orders, are nonstarters here, nobody in sight even has to pretend to care about the public good. They may be monsters, but unlike today's editions, they don't need to be hypocrites about it.
Instead, Game of Thrones gratifies the teenage cynic in us all with an ongoing and randy demonstration that only sex, ambition and revenge (lotsa revenge) count for much at the top. Early in the new season, reminded that "knowledge is power" by elfin Peter Baelish (Aiden Gillen), Lena Headey as Cersei—mother of evil boy king Joffrey (chillingly gimlet-eyed Jack Gleeson), the illicit spawn of her brother-sister incest under dead King Robert's nose—snappily retorts, "Power is power." While that's about the extent of Martin's political sophistication, the total absence of uplift is enjoyable just the same.
So is, above all, the acting, at least when Headey, Gleeson, Gillen, and a few others are front and center. (Though Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark is definitely in that category, the mopey actors cast as her sons are convincing as blood relatives mostly because they're all boring.) An Emmy winner last season, Peter Dinklage surpasses them all; his sardonic Tyrion Lannister is the one character we'll likely remember long after the rest of the show has faded into vagueness in our memories. Dinklage's mesmerizingly witty, endlessly jousting performance can make you forget Game of Thrones is basically rubbish, something that's all but irrelevant anyhow. Rubbish that hits people where they want to live can be a lot tangier than art that doesn't.