Game of Thrones is back at last and all's right with the world of Westeros.
After a year's long and anxious wait, at last the homegrown saga has returned and continues apace with Season 3 just underway. Call me a geek, but such was my excitement about the approaching new series that I actually uploaded an official Game of Thrones countdown clock onto my computer desktop so I knew every day how long I had to wait. Also, to keep up to speed with the many complexities of the story, I ‘revised’ for it like a history A Level, cramming all the key events, battles, names, relationships, and family trees in the days leading up to the big reveal.
Meanwhile, as the social networks were buzzing about the new series trailer, I took an executive decision not to watch it. For me, that would be the equivalent of knowing in advance what Santa's going to bring you at Christmas. Nothing was going to spoil it for me.
So, yes, I guess you could say I'm a somewhat devoted fan. And, just when I thought it couldn't get any better, it did.
Along with the seven intriguing stories of seven intertwining realms all fighting for their right to the iron throne, there's also been an influx of brilliant new characters.
We are only two episodes in, but I've already spotted numerous newbies dotted around the kingdom, many of whom are film or TV stars in their own right but who took cameo roles just to be a part of the amazing fantasy phenomenon.
Of course, with an epic cast of thousands there's a galaxy of established and recogniseable stars with leading roles, including Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister, Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage as his heirs Tyrion and Cersei, Aiden Gillen as Littlefinger, Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder and Liam Cunningham as Davos.
But in almost every scene now there's a new quirky casting surprise.
Remember Mackenzie Crook, that unbearably nasty nerd whom we all loved to hate in The Office? He turned up in Monday night's episode, north of the great Wall, clad in a bearskin coat in a cameo
role as a Wildling that lasted just a few seconds. Naturally, my sons and I all pointed and shouted “Gareth!” at the screen with great glee.
Next up, the actor/comedian Paul Kaye — better known as the hilarious spoof TV presenter Dennis Pennis — now playing the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners, convincing as a sinister pagan priest and not one bit funny.
Another new face that looked very familiar is that of Northern Irish actor Richard Dormer — currently playing Terri Hooley in the brilliant Good Vibrations movie — who appeared in the same scene, as one of the Brotherhood’s henchmen.
Then there was that sweet and adorable wee boy who played Liam Neeson's lovesick stepson off the movie Love Actually. He first appeared to Bran in a dream and is likely to become a key player in future episodes as Jojen Reed from the house of Stark.
But there was one cameo character that everyone will have recognised. It was the one-and-only Diana Rigg, DBE, fondly remembered as Emma Peel from the Avengers, putting in a brief but marvellous performance at King's Landing as the ‘Queen of Thorns’ Olenna Tyrrell. Ain’t nothing like a dame, is there?
As the series continues from year to year, you really do get the sense that everyone who's anyone wants to be involved.
But I can also reveal a few new faces for upcoming episodes that are likely to cause a few hearts to flutter, not least mine. Ramon Tikaram, the drop-dead gorgeous gay guy Ferdie from This Life will be appearing as a blood-lusting mercenary soldier in future episodes of Season 3.
Tobias Menzies, who played the toga-tastic hunk Marcus Brutus in the TV series Rome, is to put in an appearance as Edmore Tully, the long-lost brother of Catlyn Stark, while Waking the Dead's Tara Fitzgerald will be in upcoming episodes as Selyse Barratheon.
To say that I'm enjoying it is an understatment.
So, bring on episode 3 and don't spare the dragons. Until then I will bid you “Athchomar chomakea!”, which basically means farewell.
(Did I mention I'm learning that, too?)