In Westeros, the seasons can last for decades. Here in the real world, the wait for more Game of Thrones has been just as agonizing. But our torture ends tonight, with the opening of season three: Finally, more dragons! Torture! Bloodthirsty gods! Cracked-out warlocks! And, of course, pretenders to the throne...lots and lots of pretenders to the throne.
If time has worn away at your memory of what's been happening on both sides of the Wall, fret not: We've got your primer right here.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Blonds Really Do Have More Fun: The towheaded Lannister family managed to hold onto the crown last season, but barely. Yes, boy king Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) got himself a hot and ambitious new fiancée named Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer)—locking in a powerful ally in the process. But before that development, an attack by Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) nearly knocked Joffrey off of his big ugly chair. The fiery battle culminated with the king's uncle, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), leading an impressive defense, and Lannister patriarch Tywin (Charles Dance) riding to the rescue at the last minute. But no good deed goes unpunished; after nearly dying under Joffrey's banner, Tyrion was promptly stripped of his title by his paranoid family.
Robb Stark Is King Too, At Least, In His Own Head: Joffrey may still sit on the Iron Throne, but his royal subjects up north have their own plan, including naming their lord, Robb Stark (Richard Madden), as King in the North. That's fine, but young Robb doesn't always behave in a savvy way. Exhibit A: Reneging on a promise to marry a member of the vindictive Frey family, and taking a field medic named Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin) as a wife instead.
The Zombies Are Coming! In the far north, a mysterious group of ice-white creatures has begun re-animating dead bodies, creating a sinister army of its own. The development has forced the free humans of the area to rally under the banner of Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds), yet another dude who thinks he should be king of everything.
The Pirates Really Have It Coming: Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), a onetime sworn ally of Robb Stark, betrayed his lord last season in a failed bid to take over Winterfell. Fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire books know very well that those kinds of japes rarely end well for the offenders.
And the Dragons Are Growing: The exiled Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), whose family held the Iron Throne not so long ago, still wants a shot at the big chair. After nearly losing her aces in the hole—three real live dragon babies—Dany is more determined than ever to sail to Westeros and take power for herself.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
New Men (and Women) on the Chessboard: We'll finally meet the mysterious and powerful Rayder, played by British national treasure Ciaran Hinds. And veteran actress Diana Rigg joins the cast as Olenna, Margaery's conniving grandmother.
A Spy Infiltrates A King's Stronghold: Jon Snow (Kit Harington), loyal half-brother of Robb Stark, meets Rayder and is determined to do recon on him. The question is: Will Snow do his job...or give in to local delights?
Death...Lots and Lots of Death: Anyone who has read the books knows that a huge—huuuuuuggggeeeee—development is coming in the head-chopping department. We won't say more than that, except that, by our reckoning, this...development...should happen this season. Seriously, you're not gonna want to miss this, um—thing—that we're talking about.
The new season of Game of Thrones debuts Sunday, March 31, at 9 p.m. on HBO.