The third season of HBO's fantasy drama series Game of Thrones airs tonight in the UK and Ireland and it has been causing a stir on both sides of the Atlantic.
The hype has been immense and the programme had won over the most unlikely of fans from Caitlin Moran to Lily Allen. Even those who are staunchly against long-running fantasy franchises and would quite happily punch Frodo Baggins in the face have been seduced by this show.
However, if a television programme set in a mythical medieval kingdom, featuring sword fights, dragons and an unending cast of characters is not your thing, and you would rather flay yourself than watch 20-odd hours of period politicking, then fear not! You can familiarise yourself with the cultural tropes to blag your way through any conversation with this handy Game of Thrones guide:
Based on the novels of George RR Martin, Game of Thrones tells the story of the struggle between several families to claim the Iron Throne and rule the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
The main players:
Daenerys Targaryen - Forced to flee Westeros after her father's throne was usurped when she was a baby, Daenerys is busy making plans to build an army and take back the Seven Kingdoms. She also has three small dragons which plans to use to retake her throne, it's significant because dragons are thought to be extinct in this world.
Cersei Lannister - She's the queen of Westeros and mother to Joffrey who ascended to the throne. She hates her dwarf brother Tyrion and is involved in an incestuous relationship with her twin brother Jaime, in fact Joffrey is the offspring of her union with Jaime.
Jaime Lannister - Also known as the 'Kingslayer' after killing Daenerys' father the 'Mad King' Aerys Targaryen. In the last season he was captured during battle and became a prisoner of war. He was eventually released as part of an unofficial hostage exchange and was being escorted back to the capital of Westeros King's Landing.
Joffrey Lannister - Cruel, sadistic and the character everyone loves to hate the most. He ascended to the Iron Throne after his father Robert Baratheon died. However, he's heard rumours his father might actually be his uncle Jaime. He was also bethrothed to Sansa stark but this was dissolved at the end of the last season.
Tyrion Lannister - A dwarf and sometimes referred to as the 'Imp' depending on who's asking, Tyrion is the best character in Game of Thrones. Not only does he get the best lines but he is a wonderfully complex character and probably the only likeable member of his family. He's also slapped Joffrey which is never a bad thing. At the end of the last season he was left with a hideous scar across his face after marching into battle when King's Landing was attacked.
Robb Stark - After his father Ned Stark was killed under the orders of Joffrey, Robb spent the last season battling against the Lannisters. He's also been dubbed the King in the North and plans to break away from the rest of the realm and form a northern kingdom - think Scottish independence but with fewer swords.
Catelyn Stark - The matriarch of the Stark family and the mother to the five Stark children. After her husband Ned was killed at Joffrey's bidding, she had been aiding her son on the front line. She also ordered for Jaime to be released and taken to Kings Landing in exchange for her daughters Arya and Sansa who she believes are still in the city. While she is away at war her home of Winterfell is invaded and she believes that Robb is her only living son.
Bran Stark - Another one of the five Stark children, he was crippled by Jaime Lannister who threw him out of a tower after Bran accidentally stumbled across one of Cersei and his trysts. At the end of the last season Bran had to flee his home when it was invaded and razed to the ground. His mother does not know he is still alive.
Arya Stark - The younger stark daughter and a complete tomboy who prefers sword fighting to sewing. Unsurprisingly, she is often mistaken for be a boy. She was in King's Landing and saw Joffrey sentence her father to death, luckily during the chaos she managed to escape the city. In the last season she making her way home when her party was captured and she was taken prisoner. However, Arya and her two friends escaped and are on the run. Her mother does not know that she is no longer being held hostage.
Sansa Stark - The complete opposite of her sister Arya and the eldest Stark girl, Sansa is beautiful if naive. She is being held captive in King's Landing by the Lannisters. Her engagement to Joffrey has been broken off much to her delight but she's not safe yet and hopes to escape the city.
Jon Snow - The illegitimate son of Ned, Jon is despised by Catelyn who sees him as a sign of her husband's infidelity. Jon is part of an ancient order known as the Night's Watch who guard the realm from savage people known as wildings and other dangerous creatures that live on the other side of the Wall - a mammoth structure that divides Westeros and the frozen wastes beyond. In the last season Jon was captured by the wildings.
Game on: A-Z
A is for: A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of epic fantasy novels written by George RR Martin. The author began the series in 1991 and published the first volume A Game of Thrones in 1996. The HBO Game of Thrones television series borrows its name from book one. There are seven volumes in the series. The sixth book, The Winds of Winter, is currently being written.
B is for: Baratheon, the name of one of the great houses of Westeros and the current royal house. Its ancestral stronghold is Storm’s End, but since becoming the royal house they have also taken possession of the old Targaryen island fortress of Dragonstone, while the king rules from the city of King’s Landing.
C is for: Catelyn Stark, the wife of Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell (played by Sean Bean, killed off in series one). Played by Coleraine actress Michelle Fairley, Catelyn is the mother of five children, Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon.
D is for: Dragons, a fire-breathing trio of mythical creatures which belong to Daenerys Targaryen. Viserion, Rhaegal and Drogon are now the size of small dogs and are starting to care for themselves and find their own food. They play a significant role in series three.
E is for: Eyrie, the principal stronghold of House Arryn. The Eyrie straddles the top of a peak in the Mountain of the Moon, several thousand feet above the valley below. In order to approach it you first have to pass through three-way castles, making it impregnable to attack. In the High Hall of the Eyrie, a key feature is the Moon Door.
F is for: Fans. In a recent poll by Vulture mag, Game of Thrones fans were voted the most devoted. The cult series boasts numerous fan clubs and sites, including Winter Is Coming and Westeros.
G is for: George RR Martin, the genius behind the series of novels. Born in New Jersey, he is a screenwriter and author of fantasy, horror and science fiction.
H is for: HBO, the US premium cable and satellite television network which brings us not just Game of Thrones but such popular shows as Entourage, The Wire, The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire.
I is for: Incest. Yep, they like to keep it in the family in this fantasy drama. While one character, Craster, marries his daughters and makes them bear him children, Lannister siblings Jaime and Cersei are caught up in a sexual relationship.
J is for: Joffrey Baratheon, the current ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Played by Jack Gleeson, the horrible Joffrey claimed the Iron Throne after his father, King Robert, died. However, here's the twist. Joffrey is actually the illegitimate son of the incestuous Jaime and Cersei.
K is for: King's Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, located on the east coast of Westeros, overlooking Blackwater Bay. It is the site of the Iron Throne and the Red Keep.
L is for: Lannister, one of the great houses of Westeros and one of its richest and most powerful dynasties. Tywin is the father of Jaime, Cersei and Tyrion. He loves Jaime and Cersei but despises Tyrion, his dwarf son. Tyrion is played by Peter Dinklage and has been voted by GoT fans as the most popular character in the show.
M is for: Mance Rayder, a character mentioned in the first and second seasons who will make his first on-screen appearance this season. He is played by local actor Ciaran Hinds and is the leader of the Free Folk and a feared opponent of the Night's Watch.
N is for: The Night's Watch, a military order which holds and guards the Wall, the immense fortification which guards the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms. The Night's Watch consists of three groups: the Rangers, who fight, defend the Wall and patrol the Haunted Forest; the Builders, who maintain the Wall and the castles; and the Stewards, who support and feed the members of the Watch.
0 is for: The Others, a race of humanoids originating in the far north of the continent of Westeros, beyond even the Land of Always Winter beyond the Wall. They are considered mythical by most of the people of Westeros.
P is for: Power struggles. In GoT there are seven families struggling for power and control. The biggest struggle in the book is the conflict over political/royal power in the Seven Kingdoms; but power is also portrayed through warfare, or even the supernatural.
Q is for: Queen. Cersei Lannister, played by Lena Headey, debuted in the series premiere. She is the widow of King Robert Baratheon and Queen Regent of the Seven Kingdoms.
R is for: the Red Keep, the residence of the King of the Andals and the First Men, his family and his court, located within King's Landing.
S is for: Seven Kingdoms, the realm that controls most of the continent of Westeros and numerous offshore islands, ruled by the King of the Andals and the First Men, from the Red Keep.
T is for: Titanic Studios, set on an eight acre site in the historic Titanic Quarter of Belfast, comprising of the original Paint Hall Studio and two new purpose-built sound stages, the Hurst and MacQuitty stages. The massive Paint Hall was home to seasons one to three of Game of Thrones.
U is for: Uncensored. GoT has plenty of sex, full frontal nudity and graphic violence. Perhaps not for the prudish or easily offended by breasts, buttocks, beheadings and blood.
V is for: Lord Varys, known as “The Spider”, a eunuch and the Master of Whisperers. Played by Northern Ireland actor Conleth Hill, Varys is the royal spymaster and a member of King Robert's Small Council. He was a mummer for Aerys II before becoming his advisor.
W is for: Westeros, a continent which consists of the Seven Kingdoms and an unmapped area to the north, separated by a massive wall of ice and old magic.
X is for: Xtras. Game of Thrones has helped boost Northern Ireland's ‘extras' industry by providing hundreds of them with work while the series was in production here.
Y is for: Ygritte, a Wildling girl with red hair and a follower of Mance Rayder. In season two she is captured in the Skirling Pass by Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand.
Z is for: Zombies. The spooky snow vampires better known as White Walkers were accompanied last season by a zombie army. You can expect more Zombie action in series three.
The new series of 'Game of Thrones' airs tonight on Sky Atlantic