How Brutal Will ‘Game of Thrones’ Get In Its Third Season?

“There’s a beast in every man,” begins the new trailer for Game of Thrones, which returns to HBO on March 31. It’s a good warning for audiences, particularly those who haven’t read George R.R. Martin’s books, and who therefore aren’t necessarily prepared for how much darker the show is going to get, starting with this third season and the third novel:

I’ll probably always be willing to extend Game of Thrones some more credit than I grant to, say, The Following, because it’s about war, and, to a certain extent, the ways in which the differing standards for what is acceptable in time of war act as a demarcating line between nations and cultures. Given that brutality in war is both the show’s subject and an ongoing issue for us—if only it was true and defining of us that “America does not torture“—I’m willing to brace myself to watch acts that I might find stupidly revolting if they were airing as part of another show. But I am curious as to where audiences’ tolerances for some of the acts that I suspect will be part of this third season will land, and whether the conversation about the show will shift from its handling of female nudity and sexual violence to violence in war and violence as a sign of personal vice. Game of Thrones has its psychopaths, but the franchise is genuinely different from a show like Dexter in that it recognizes and demarcates them as such.