The snowy vistas; the muddy muck. The knights; the whores. The beards; the boobs. The little boy - whoosh! - out the window in episode one. Game of Thrones took my breath away when it arrived in 2011. It was a sprawling million-dollar medieval epic with production values that made Mad Men look like a backyard YouTube video and a cavalier attitude towards its characters that made The Wire look like Sesame Street.
I had no idea who anyone was and it didn't matter. It was riveting. And I soon figured it out. Seven houses, all vying for the Iron Throne and the chance to rule over the seven kingdoms. Quite simple when you boil it down.
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Game of Thrones: Season 3 trailer 2
Watch the latest trailer for Game of Thrones season 3 here.
If you haven't seen the show since season two aired on television, I advise you to do some revision before you settle in for season three, which begins on Monday, or you'll be bewildered all over again.
Did you remember, for instance, that the treacherous toerag Theon Greyjoy, after sacking the castle of the Starks - the people who had raised him and given him a home - had been captured? I mean, kudos to his captors, but WTF?
There is plenty more in this vein. Why did Catelyn let the Kingslayer go? How did Daenerys get a ship?
Creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have their work cut out for them adapting George R. R. Martin's lengthy novels into a series of 10 hour-long episodes. This story may be riven with swords and castles and magic and battles but more than anything it is driven by characters and their flaws. Even with the constant deaths (don't get too attached to anyone!), the tapestry of players is always growing. So it's not surprising that Benioff and Weiss have decided to cleave Martin's third book, A Storm of Swords, in two: season three is the first half; season four will be the second.
After the thrills of season one, the second seemed a little workmanlike: it had to follow the characters we knew, while putting faces to those that had previously only been talked about. It sometimes felt like the whole season was a mere set-up for the next.
Season three picks up exactly where the second left off: with the sinister White Walkers stalking the Night's Watch in the snowy north. Dumpy old Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West) is in their sights. Lovely Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) meanwhile, is mingling with giants after Ygritte (Rose Leslie) has taken him to the Wildling camp.
Of the characters introduced in season two, one of the most exciting is Margaery (Natalie Dormer). There is a feeling that in her Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) may have met his match. Part of that is wishful thinking, but it's not so far-fetched: although Joffrey is cruel there has never been any suggestion that he is also smart. There is no doubt at all that Margaery, as well as being ambitious, is a very bright woman.
In a field of fine actors, Charles Dance continues to run rings around everyone as the ruthless Lannister patriarch Tywin. Peter Dinklage as his son, Tyrion, and Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark are not far behind. Catelyn's grief at the news that her young sons are believed to be dead is palpable.
As the strong, beautiful and fair mother of dragons Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) continues to be one of television's most awe-inspiring heroines. Now that she has some literal fire power the odds of her sitting on the Iron Throne suddenly got a lot shorter.
Among the newcomers, Diana Rigg is captivating as Margaery's plain speaking grandmother, Olenna, and Ciarin Hinds is commanding (as ever) as Wildling leader Mance Ryder. Australian Noah Taylor turns up to do some damage as the sadistic Locke.
Daenerys Targaryen continues to be one of television's most awe-inspiring heroines.
The show's very first shocking moment came at the end of the first episode of season one. The third makes us wait a little longer but it's no less brutal. The conclusion to episode four is as thrilling as episode three's is chilling. Buckle up; it's going to be a wild ride.
Game of Thrones season 3 premieres on Showcase, express from the US, on 1 April.