I never realized how many punches basic cable programs are forced to pull until I started to watch HBO's break out hit "Game of Thrones." The show - which airs its season finale at 9 p.m. Sunday - is unapologetically graphic and raw. It uses violence and sexuality to drive the fantastic story along. Coming off of a winter in which "The Walking Dead" dominated the Monday morning water cooler conversation, "Game of Thrones" returned soon after with its second season and, unlike everyone's favorite zombie hit, did not experience the same sophomore slump. Based on the ongoing book series by creative mind George R. R. Martin, the show follows the lives and power struggles of the people who reside in the fictional land of Westeros. However, don't let the fantasy elements turn you off. The main engine of the show isn't necessarily trolls, giants and dragons. Instead, it's centered around the politics and characters of a medieval society - with plenty of sword play, foul language, sex and, yes, dragons. The brutality and masterful storytelling was a refreshing change for TV snobs such as me who felt like the show was a nice plate of gourmet pasta after force-feeding myself Spaghettios with "The Walking Dead" all winter. I mean, I like both dishes, but one is just plain better than the other.
- TYLER MCCARTHY