No fooling, this April Fool's TV weekend has something for just about everyone.
Starting with the long-awaited (though not nearly as long as Mad Men made us wait) second season of HBO's masterful epic fantasy Game of Thrones (Sunday, 9/8c). As the world of Westeros expands in year two, the animated credits begin to look like the world's largest board game of Risk, introducing far-flung new kingdoms and characters jockeying for power and plotting war on land and sea, from arid desert to icy forest.
It's a Herculean task keeping all of these divided dynasties, treacheries and vendettas straight, playing out on a canvas so large no single episode can contain all the storylines. (Not unlike George R.R. Martin's equally daunting source material, which managed to leave out a number of key characters in its fourth volume.) But once you get back in the rhythm of this enthrallingly sprawling, lusty and brutal saga, flaunting enough sex and violence to make a Hobbit faint, it's impossible not to succumb to Thrones' visceral, dark magic. As the powerful priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) from Dragonstone chants, "The night is dark and full of terror." And wonder.
Our favorite characters are in rare form: Tyrion the imp (Emmy-winning Peter Dinklage) throwing his diminutive weight around at King's Landing with sly, hilarious cunning; little Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) on the run, a scrappy fugitive disguised as a boy; Stark bastard Jon Snow (Kit Harington) battling for his soul in the wintry wasteland beyond the Wall; exiled princess Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), in the most slow-burning story in the first four episodes, nurturing her dragons along with ambitions to build an army. And with all the giant direwolves and supernatural forces afoot, the greatest monster of all is a sadistic boy king: Joffrey Lannister (Jack Gleeson), born of incest, who nearly everyone is desperate to depose from the Iron Throne.
Game of Thrones is fantasy for adults, a corrosive Camelot where blood runs thick as ambition and honor is as rare as the wings of a dragon.
On the same night, AMC hopes to continue the momentum of Mad Men's fifth season (10/9c) — the episode wasn't available for preview, but we hear we'll actually see the ex-Mrs. Draper (January Jones as Betty) this time; just don't expect her to do a sexy dance like Megan's. A darker cloud, both metaphorically and literally (given the rainy Seattle clime), hovers over the second-season premiere of AMC's The Killing (Sunday, 8/7c), a two-hour opus that hopes to win back some of the disgruntled viewers who felt burned when last season's finale failed to resolve any aspect of the "Who Killed Rosie Larsen" mystery.
It's an eventful episode that resolves a number of the more burning cliffhanger questions, sometimes poignantly, sometimes violently, though getting us little closer to the actual whodunit, which won't be revealed until season's end. (You probably already know if you're going to have the patience to make it that far.) One mini-spoiler I'm happy to share is that almost instantly, the show puts to rest (finally) the notion that dour detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) will ever pull up stakes and leave to join her boyfriend in sunnier California. The back-and-forth, with Sarah's poor kid being dragged along with every indecision, was one of the weakest elements of the first season. Even now, though, the way she treats her kid, including dumping him with others as she obsesses on this case, makes her an even worse mom than she is a questionably effective detective.
Sarah isn't easy to warm up to, and neither is The Killing, though I respect its moody insistence at depicting even the most sympathetic figures in the worst possible light. The acting remains exceptionally offbeat, from the inscrutable Enos to Joel Kinnaman as her unkempt and possibly corrupt partner, Billy Campbell as the mournful politician who's been their prime suspect, and Brent Sexton as Rosie's dad, overwhelmed by grief, frustrated rage and responsibility for the two boys his distraught wife (the great Michelle Forbes) has suddenly abandoned. These are messy lives, involved in a soul-crushing case that just keeps getting messier. The Killing, for better and worse, is the antithesis of the ordinary TV crime drama, which is why I expect to stay tuned to the denouement, in hopes the whole house of cards doesn't collapse the way the legendary Twin Peaks did after its second-season reveal of who killed Laura Palmer.
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