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Game of Thrones: Season Three

If the last season felt like a set-up, then the highly anticipated season three is the payoff we've all been waiting for.

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Theresa Winters likes to sign her RSVPs "Winters is Coming". It's a reference to one of her favourite TV shows, Game of Thrones, and when season three kicks off on Monday she'll be there with bells on – and she won't be alone.

"People are definitely excited about it," said the 31-year-old who is originally from Chicago. "There will be some fur."

Ms Winters managed to dragoon quite a lot of fur, a few medieval-style dresses, numerous wigs, a plastic sword or two and about a dozen friends and acquaintances to a dry-run for Monday's premiere. Her fellow fans were harvested in large part via couchsurfing.org.

L-R Bernadette Staron, Francesco Orsenigo, Ru Owyong, Claudia Bergsdorf, Theresa Winters, Mathieu Perrault, Jessica Farrell and Lucie Ornatova mad fans of the new series 'Game of Thrones".

L-R Bernadette Staron, Francesco Orsenigo, Ru Owyong, Claudia Bergsdorf, Theresa Winters, Mathieu Perrault, Jessica Farrell and Lucie Ornatova mad fans of the new series 'Game of Thrones". Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

"It's basically a hospitality exchange around the world, sort of a facebook for travellers," explained Ms Winters, who has lived in Australia for two and half years.

Via the site, she organises regular viewing nights – True Blood is another favourite – where people get together to watch a couple of episodes, drink some wine, eat some cheese and get home by 10pm. "It's basically inviting strangers to come to your house, but it's not as scary as it sounds," she said.

Among Thrones fans in her group is Francesco, a 31-year-old software programmer from Italy. The show attracted a particular type of person, he said. "It catches a more intellectual viewer. It's very complex, very cerebral."

 George R R Martin

Most pirated show: Writer George R. R. Martin. Photo: Supplied

The show has become a massive cult hit, spawning wiki sites, complex family trees, cookbooks, and a roaring trade in illegal downloads. As George R. R. Martin, the author on whose doorstop-heavy novels it is based, noted last year, "We are the most pirated show in the world."

As Martin also noted, much of that downloading is happening in Australia. The website torrentfreak.com says 10.1 per cent of illegal downloads of season two were from Australia. Sydney alone accounted for 3 per cent of the traffic.

The episode torrentfreak cited was downloaded 4.28 million times (marginally more than its legitimate audience of 4.2 million in the US, where it airs on premium cable channel HBO). That suggests about 430,000 people downloaded it illegally in Australia. To put that in perspective, OzTAM reported that the season two finale was watched here, in its first airing on Foxtel last June, by about 90,000 paying customers (multiple encore screenings and recordings of the episode on Foxtel's iQ service will have added significantly to that number).

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones.

Little wonder Foxtel is rush-releasing the latest series; it will first air the season opener at 4.20pm on Monday, just two hours after it goes to air for the first time in the United States.

The pay TV network is adopting a similar express strategy with a number of other frequently torrented series, too, including Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead.

All over the world, people will be huddling around the box to watch Game of Thrones the very first moment it's available.

Every broadcaster's dream is of content viewers can't wait to see. Their collective nightmare is that many people will no longer wait – or pay – to see it.