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HBO greenlights 'Game of Thrones'

Nine episodes plus the pilot have been ordered

HBO has greenlighted highly anticipated fantasy series "Game of Thrones."

The premium network has picked up the project for a first-season debut next spring. Nine episodes plus the pilot have been ordered. Production will begin in Belfast this June.

The pickup comes on the heels of another HBO big ticket series order, for Terence Winter and Martin Scorsese's drama "Boardwalk Empire."

From the moment "Thrones" was first announced in development, the series based on the George R.R. Martin novels has generated enormous, perhaps unprecedented, online interest for a series at such an early stage.

The sprawling tale set in the mythical land of Westeros tells the story of the noble Stark family who become caught up in high court intrigue when patriarch Eddard (played by Sean Bean) becomes the king's new right-hand man. The four-and-counting books in the series would each be used as one season of the series.

Unlike many fantasy novels, the "Thrones" series largely avoids relying on magical elements and instead goes for brutal realism -- think "Sopranos" with swords. Martin, a former TV writer ("Beauty and the Beast"), writes each chapter as a cliffhanger, which should lend itself well to series translation. David Benioff and Dan Weiss are the series creators.