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The dark art of Game of Thrones

HBO's latest creation is sure to spawn an army of fanatical viewers.

A newcomer makes this fantasy drama.

BEFORE viewers even get a glimpse of the first scene of HBO's Game of Thrones, there are the spectacular opening credits: set to a stirring score that hints at the drama ahead, there is a two-minute overview of a map made up of intricate clockwork pieces resembling the lands that figure in this 10-part mediaeval fantasy extravaganza.

Set in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the story is based on the 1996 series A Song of Ice and Fire by American author George R.R. Martin, whose legions of devoted fans are wondering if the sprawling tale will lose much in the way of impact from page to screen.

Shot in Northern Ireland and Malta, The New York Times reported that HBO spent $5 to $10 million on the pilot alone. Like so many other HBO successes (True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos), it's been touted as a bloody, sex-riddled saga that promises intrigue, lust and betrayal with elaborate sets and high production values. Written and produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, when the first episode of Game of Thrones aired in the US, 4.2 million viewers tuned in (with repeat airings).

Game of Thrones

Kit Harington plays the idealistic Jon Snow, illegitimate son of Lord Eddard ''Ned'' Stark (Sean Bean) in Game of Thrones.

The plot revolves around the three houses of Stark, Targaryen and Lannister. In the aptly named region of Winterfell, a burly Sean Bean, no stranger to swinging a sword (The Lord of the Rings), plays Lord Eddard ''Ned'' Stark. His wife, Catelyn, played by Michelle Fairley, and their children find themselves embroiled in a political plot that will make kings of some men and lead others to their deaths.

Central to the action is Kit Harington, a young British actor who, by no fault of his own, is routinely referred to as a bastard thanks to his role as the ill-gotten son of Ned Stark.

While Game of Thrones is his first break, Harington (who says ''I kind of found acting and acting found me,'') has spent time performing on the stage after graduating from drama school.

''I was trained for the stage but before acting I thought about journalism. But frankly,'' he adds with unexpected candour, ''I'm a total narcissist and enjoy people looking at me.''

Talking to Green Guide from London, Harington is happy to share the good news; a second season has been confirmed, which means it's time for the 24-year-old to pack his bags for Ireland for another six months of shooting.

In the role of Jon Snow, Harington gives a nuanced performance. Brooding, dignified and motivated by paternal respect, Snow is self-sacrificing and stoic. He even joins the brotherhood of the Night's Watch, soldiers who dedicate their lives to protecting Winterfell on a massive wall surrounded by a bleak, cold wasteland that's home to the White Walkers, a group of malevolent undead.

Harington says his character has ''loads of admirable qualities'' but that Snow is vulnerable, too. ''I think he recognises that quality in other people … He's a natural leader but he doesn't get a chance to flourish like his brothers.''

While Harington is surrounded by hairy blokes in greasy animal furs, another plot across ''the Narrow Sea'' has his fellow actors enjoying sunshine and scantily-clad women on breezy Malta. ''They're all getting a tan over there,'' Harington laughs, ''But Jon Snow would say, 'I've got my honour to keep me warm'.'' In the world of Game of Thrones, honour comes at a price, and while Lord Stark's legitimate sons are groomed for glory, Jon distinguishes himself as a swordsman.

''We did have training but some of the swordplay scenes were scary,'' Harington says. ''I didn't get hurt but when you see a blade coming towards your face really fast, you think, 'If something goes wrong here, it's going to go very wrong'.''

For Harington, there will be more swordplay in season two and more scenes with Bean. Initially, Harington found working with the actor intimidating. ''I grew up watching him work so to actually be working with him was great.''

Harington went through an intense audition process that involved several readings. ''The closer I got, the more I wanted the role. By the end, I was getting scared I'd lose it … It's a great story; even though it's technically fantasy, there's this gritty reality to it.''

Before we finish up, Harington is concerned he might have given Green Guide the impression that he wasn't looking forward to another winter working on set in Northern Ireland.

''I love it there,'' he stresses. ''I'd be happy to go back for another six seasons.''

Game of Thrones episodes one and two air on Sunday, July 17th at 8.30pm, Showcase.