"Sad" and "shocking" are easy words to use when considering the death of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell. "Awesome" is a less-used word, but it's no less valid; not only did his death set the standard for the twists and turns that "Game of Thrones" consistently makes from that point forward, it also paves the way for new memorable characters to fill the sizable void Ned's left behind.
Countless new heroes and villains will make their grand Westeros debuts over the course of season two, with no less than eight of them showing up in the first episode premiering this coming Sunday (April 1). From a would-be king to an incestuous wildling, here are eight new characters you'll meet in the "Game of Thrones" season-two premiere. A word of warning: Some mild spoilers lie ahead.
One of the five men vying for the Iron Throne, Stannis is the younger brother of late king Robert and elder brother to would-be-king Renly. It's often said the Dragonstone-based lord, a hard man and brilliant tactician, will break before he bends; his refusal to align with his brother Renly against the other competing kings is a testament to this fact. Stannis isn't without his fair of share of eccentricities, either, with his latest quirk coming in the form of his newfound faith — a faith that spawns from his new relationship with ...
The red priestess from Asshai is Stannis' newest and most powerful adviser. She champions R'hllor, the Lord of Light, a fiery deity foreign to Westerosi more accustomed to the faiths of the Seven and the First Men. But Melisandre's beliefs, however strange and unfamiliar they may be, aren't without foundation: The scarlet woman proves her "god-given" gifts as a sorceress on more than one occasion. Recently, Melisandre came to Stannis' home on Dragonstone to offer her support; she believes the middle Baratheon to be Azhor Azhai reborn, a prophecy-fulfilling hero of yore. Whether her beliefs pan out in reality remains to be seen.
Another of Stannis' closest advisers is Davos, a former pirate turned knight in Stannis' service. Davos is completely and unwaveringly loyal to Stannis and is among the first to take his side in the proposed war against the Lannisters and others challenging the Iron Throne of Westeros. But Davos isn't without some doubts, either — namely, he's not quite sure what to make of Melisandre, who has made a very clear impact on Stannis and his ego since her arrival. Regardless of his feelings, Davos' primary concern is furthering Stannis' agenda — for now, at least.
Rounding out the initial Dragonstone cast is Cressen, a maester of the Citadel who has been in the Baratheon family's service since before Robert, Stannis and Renly's parents died at sea in their childhood. Now in his twilight years, Cressen wants nothing more than to continue aiding Stannis and his cause — but given his training as a maester, he cannot abide Melisandre's unusual influence over the hopeful king. Like Davos, Cressen has his doubts about the red priestess. Unlike Davos, however, Cressen is more than willing to act upon his suspicions.
Ser Dontos Hollard
Not all knights are best when armed with swords and shields; some warriors prefer a good horn of ale. Enter Ser Dontos, an absolute master when it comes to being a lush. He's come a long way since serving as a squire in King's Landing, and not in a good way: Less a knight and more a joke, the drunken Dontos could hardly harm a fly. When his drunken antics catch the attention of King's Landing's current ruler, however, it'll be Dontos in desperate need of a knight in shining armor — though a fair-haired queen-to-be will do in a pinch.
After making a brief appearance in the first season of "Game of Thrones," Slynt comes back with a more pronounced role in season two. As Commander of the City Watch of King's Landing, Slynt was partially responsible for the downfall of Eddard Stark, pledging his support to the Lord of Winterfell only to withdraw it when he was most needed. But the role Slynt had to play in Ned's death is nothing compared to the future atrocities he'll commit in King Joffrey's service.
As Jon Snow and the sworn brothers of the Night's Watch proceed beyond the Wall, they'll find themselves face to face with numerous wildlings — some fearsome, some harmless and some that are just flat-out disgusting. Craster falls into that last category. The master of Craster's Keep, this guy makes Jaime and Cersei Lannister's incest look positively pure: Craster prides himself on his many wives, who, in actuality, are his daughters. He continuously breeds with these women to produce more and more "wives." Pretty gross, right? Don't even ask what he does with his occasional sons.
One of Craster's many wives/daughters, Gilly is a sweet-faced wildling who longs for freedom. Currently pregnant with one of Craster's children, Gilly fears that her offspring will be a boy, an outcome that would not fare well in Craster's eyes. To save herself and her unborn child from her grim fate, Gilly turns to the one man on the Night's Watch who's probably more terrified than she is: the craven Samwell Tarly.
Which new "Thrones" characters are you most excited to meet? Let me know in the comments section below or on Twitter @roundhoward!