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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,'' the 31-year-old, originally from Chicago, says. ''There will be some fur.''

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".

Let the Games gegin ... From left, fans Bernadette Staron, Francesco Orsenigo, Ru Owyong, Claudia Bergsdorf, Theresa Winters, Mathieu Perrault, Jessica Farrell and Lucie Ornatova in costume. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer

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

''It's basically a hospitality exchange around the world, sort of a Facebook for travellers,'' explains Ms Winters, who has lived in Melbourne for two years.

Via the site, she organises viewing nights - True Blood is another favourite - where people come 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 says.

Among the Thrones fans is Francesco, a 31-year-old software programmer from Italy. The show attracts a particular type of person, he says. ''It catches a more intellectual viewer. It's very complex, very cerebral.'' Certainly, it doesn't yield its mysteries readily; anyone who hasn't seen the first two seasons will struggle to make much sense of the interlocking storylines about seven families battling to control the vaguely medieval kingdom of Westeros. Indeed, many of those who have watched it assiduously are little the wiser, though the show's many other virtues - magnificent production design, stunning battle scenes, fire-breathing dragons and lashings of gratuitous nudity - are ample compensation.

The show has become a huge 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 novels it is based, noted last year: ''We are the most pirated show in the world. In a strange way that's a compliment. It's the sort of compliment that you could do without, probably, but it is a compliment nonetheless.''

As Martin also noted, much of that downloading happens here. According to torrentfreak.com, 10.1 per cent of illegal downloads of season two were from Australia. Sydney alone accounted for 3 per cent of the traffic, just behind London in top spot. Melbourne, with 2.9 per cent, was third.

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 that 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 greatly to that number).

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 premieres in the US.