The well-worn idiom that ‘knowledge is power’ is especially relevant when it comes to Game of Thrones – for spoilers lie around every corner, and in the comment section of even the most innocent YouTube video. Partly because of my fear of having everything ruined, I spent most of the last semester forsaking my academic reading and plunging head first into the five 900-page books currently in existence. It was worth it – I no longer fear spoilers. I am the bearer of spoilers. Any Game of Thrones-based conversations I have with fans of the show have to be carefully watched, for I have the power to lose friends if my tongue gets a little loose. There are advantages to this knowledge though, for I have the pleasure of watching everyone experience what promises to be the best season yet.

The show now finds itself a long way from its relatively simple beginnings in happy old Winterfell back in season one. The cast of characters is perpetually growing and the complex web of ill-intent grows ever more tangled as the War of the Five Kings sucks in new power units and their own veiled motivations — an obvious example being King Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) beautiful new bride-to-be, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer).

To make sure that the average viewer doesn’t get totally lost in the complexities of the plot, the episode took the route of providing a measured recap of the cast’s current situations. It’s perfectly understandable that the creators don’t want to throw off fans by rushing things too much, but after a year of twiddling my thumbs I’m a little anxious to plunge right in.

That’s not to say the first episode is devoid of anything new. For one, the increased budget is immediately obvious in the CGI; Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) dragons are looking rather impressive and the introduction of the Wildling’s pet giants is worth a mention — I was a little worried they’d cut them out, but the hulking 12-feet humanoids look brilliant.

Several new characters (and some long-forgotten old ones) are sewn into the episode, successfully for the most part. Ciarán Hinds does a respectable job as Mance Rayder, ex-Night’s Watch Ranger and current King of the Free Folk, although the script makes no mention of his dual identity as a travelling musician, a trait which makes him far more interesting than your average, down-to-earth fantasy badass. The unnervingly servile warrior slaves ‘The Unsullied’ also make their first appearance, and it’s a pleasure to see Daenerys take another step towards holding real power – the days of her whining ‘I am the Khaleesi!’ repeatedly are now long gone, thankfully.

What really impressed was not the presence of new arrivals, however, but the interplay between some old favourites. Peter Dinklage continues to chew scenery as the sharp-tongued dwarf, Tyrion Lannister. Despite his heroics in the Battle of Blackwater, Tyrion now finds himself pushed to one side and is forced to deal with his sister Cersei’s (Lena Headey) infuriatingly smug gloating. His scene with Lannister patriarch, Tywin (Charles Dance), is by far the highlight of the episode; both actors take the razor-sharp script and run with it, the result being a red-hot example of Game of Thrones at its best. It isn’t the ultra-violence which gives the show its sparkle, but the beautifully tense interplay of loyalties and personal relationships, and there is no sign that the show has lost its ability to reproduce them on screen just yet.

There are a couple of scenes that feel a little undercooked. The relationship between Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish (Aidan Gillen) is an intriguing one, but the episode tries to advance their sub-plot a little too fast for my liking. That’s just an exercise in petty nit-picking, though, as the opener does a great job in laying the table for season three and I really cannot wait to enjoy even greater amounts of misery, ultra-violence and pert medieval boobage. The ambition of Game of Thrones keeps on growing, but we can be confident that the team have everything under control. This season promises to be the best yet, and I’m very much looking forward to openly talking about the time when the CENSORED and CENSORED decide to CENSORED the living daylights out of CENSORED.

… Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Will Hazell

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