GAME OF THRONES. 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

SOME TV SHOWS take longer to reveal themselves than others.

For HBO's "Game of Thrones," the moment didn't come until close to the end of its first season, when Ned Stark (Sean Bean), the character who for nine episodes had appeared to be the show's star and its one true hero, had his head struck from his shoulders as his two young daughters looked on.

No surprise, of course, to those who'd read the George R.R. Martin books on which the epic fantasy series is based, but a rude enough shock to the rest that some claimed they wouldn't be back.

A week later, the howling rose again as AMC's "The Killing" ended its first season with another nonanswer to the question "Who killed Rosie Larsen?"

I'd argue it had ceased to matter; memories of the slain teen having been long since buried under a stinking mound of red herrings. Showrunner Veena Sud had warned that the first season might not bring an answer, yet many viewers clearly expected one.

As both series begin their second seasons Sunday, it's time for the howling to end.

Because if you didn't know what you were getting into a year ago, you do now.

If you're moving on with "The Killing," you're either a sucker for punishment or a hopeless fan of Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) and her Scandinavian sweaters.

And if you're still watching "Game of Thrones," it's because you've accepted that bad things can happen to good characters. And vice versa. That's the difference between fantasy and the wish-fulfillment of fan fiction, and it's why we let other people tell us stories, even stories that make us angry or sad, as long as they can make us believe them.

Swords and sorcery aside, "Game of Thrones" isn't so different from "The Wire" or "The Sopranos" or even "The Walking Dead," all made-for-adult dramas that have felt at times like wars of attrition.

But though no one can be considered safe in Martin's still-in-progress saga, "A Song of Ice and Fire" - five books down, two to go - there's no point in suggesting you shouldn't get attached to anyone.

How could you not?

We may have lost Ned Stark, but the lord of Winterfell left behind six headstrong children and a formidable wife (Michelle Fairley). Scattered by circumstances, they're pawns who refuse to behave like pawns (and the casting of Maisie Williams as Arya is, in particular, the gift that keeps on giving).

Peter Dinklage, who earned his first Emmy last year for his role as Tyrion "The Imp" Lannister, puts a down payment on a second in the season's opening episodes as the black sheep of his family becomes a major player in the bloody game that now pits his nephew, the boy king Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), against those whose claims to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros may be more legitimate.

As in Season 1, some things only implied in the books - subtly enough that many readers missed them altogether - are explicit in the show, adding a layer of sexual expression in keeping with HBO's apparent belief that there's no bit of exposition that can't be vastly improved by exposing a bit more skin. I've heard few complaints (HBO viewers tend to know what they're paying for), but parents whose younger teens have read Martin's books might feel less comfortable with this than the violent but notably chaste blockbuster "The Hunger Games."

But since there is sex, fans of both Martin's books and "The Tudors" should appreciate the casting of Natalie Dormer, the Showtime series' Anne Boleyn, as Margaery Tyrell, a pivotal character who gets to demonstrate her savvy approach to the importance of sex in statecraft earlier in Season 2 than she might otherwise have.

Other happy bits of casting include the lesser-known Gwendoline Christie as the unladylike knight Brienne of Tarth and Patrick Malahide ("Alleyn Mysteries") as the iron-fisted Balon Greyjoy.

Executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have so far done a remarkable job adapting a story with even more moving parts than the show's very cool title sequence, filming in places like Iceland and Croatia with actors whose characters may not even meet for several more seasons. If ever.

But it's a job that can only get harder as Westeros faces the end of a very long summer.

Winter is coming. If you're staying, best to bundle up. n

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.comor follow on Twitter @elgray.Read her blog at