Game of Thrones returns for third season

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

Season three is coming — dark and full of terrors. And most importantly, when you’re on Game of Thrones, you either win or you die.

The long-anticipated release of the third and most recent season of Game of Thrones aired last night on HBO. Since the end of season two, which aired in late May last year, the hype has only escalated recently.

The series, based upon the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by American author George R. R. Martin, was launched in April 2011. Martin originally intended the series to be a trilogy but has since decided to extend the series to seven novels, all of which are about as thick as encyclopedias. The novels, five of which have been released, follow characters whose stories are strewn with more plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

Because Martin is positively cruel with his characters, it’s impossible to say who the main characters are: Just as you’re getting used to following one, he or she dies. As of the end of season two, the primary characters (knock on wood) included Daenerys Targaryen, a platinum-haired mother of dragons; Jon Snow, a lord’s bastard who fights frozen zombies; Tyrion Lannister, a clever dwarf with a family from hell; and Robb Stark, an accidental candidate for king who leads an army. On the continents Westeros and Easteros, storms are brewing over who will take over the throne, and from there, a plethora of problems ensue.

The amount of detail that goes into writing the novels and the screenplay is arguably the most compelling part of the show. The story lines are so intricate that Martin has even divulged key plot points from the last two novels to the show’s creators, HBO’s David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, in case something should happen to him before he is able to finish writing them.

Few people had heard of the books, which are now bestsellers, until the release of the show. For a show that’s just turning two years old, Game of Thrones has acquired a massive cult following. The story and characters have positively exploded in pop culture, flooding the Internet and garnering nods from TV shows like The Office and television personalities such as Jon Stewart. At the end of season two, episodes were attracting more than 10 million viewers, pushing the show to the third-most popular in HBO’s history.

Season three started last night with an episode entitled “Valar Dohaeris.” In a horrifyingly stressful moment, the network’s online service, HBO Go, was overloaded by the amount of viewers trying to access the episode, which delayed viewers from watching.

During the episode, the story lines of all the major players were set up for yet another season of intrigue. Jon Snow’s journey beyond the Wall continues, and we finally met Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall and a new key player.

It was clear from this episode that the drama beyond the Wall, which involves not only a rebellion of Wildings but an army of the frozen undead, will be a significant portion of the season. Though not much was seen of Snow’s half-brother Robb Stark, in this episode he continues to deal with the backlash from his mother’s decision to release their prime prisoner, Jaime Lannister (a.k.a. the Kingslayer) and march North back to their home at Winterfell.

In the Southern capital of Westeros, schemes and plots continue to emerge: Tyrion, everyone’s favorite witty ex-Hand of the King, deals with family and daddy issues — and as a result, he loses what little credibility he had managed to gain. Sansa Stark, daughter of poor dead Ned Stark, is offered an escape from her prison in King’s Landing by Lord Baelish, the sneaky whorehouse owner and banker of the king. The new queen, Margaery Tyrell, butts heads with her mother-in-law, Cersei — the letter-ripping former queen and mother of Joffery Barathan, the worst human being to walk the Earth.

Across the Narrow Sea, the beautiful and badass Daenerys Targaryen, faithful adviser Jorah Mormont, and her three growing dragons procure a ship and sail to Astapor, a new location for viewers. In just one episode, she deals with slave traders, a warlock attempting to assassinate her, and an army of eunuchs.

All in all, the episode seems to focus on the schemes of King’s Landing, the dragon queen of Easteros, and the horrifying terrors of the frozen wasteland beyond the Wall, leaving viewers both satisfied and curious for the season that will continue to unfold over the next 10 weeks.