Will Game of Thrones bring the winter of our discontent?
It's been a long cold year and winter has come to Westeros. Come Monday evening New Zealanders all will rejoice as Game of Thrones finally saddles up for its fourth season and we regain our title as world champion torrent thieves of HBO's adaptation of George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series.
If you're new to Thrones try to imagine it as every BBC medieval costume drama ever made, but with lots more blood and nudity. Oh, and snow zombies and dragons. When last we left Westeros, Martin, as is his wont, has killed off an astounding number of fan favourite characters, but he's been doing that since the first episode and he's got plenty of spares to kill off yet.
The warring Kingdoms of Westeros are populated by any number of noble houses and grand families just waiting to sneak into your affections, where they can die screaming. So many in fact that keeping them straight is all but impossible without a PhD level commitment to studying and revising the books and the television series.
If you're not up for a 30-hour binge of the first three series, or a month of reading the half dozen, brick-sized novels, just remember it's basically a family feud between the grim but honest Starks - who are very nice, if somewhat brutal overlords, and not at all stuck up - and the magnificent but appalling Lannisters - who aren't very nice overlords at all, but very good at it.
Every other royal and noble House and family in Westeros revolves around them. Sort of. Except when every other royal and noble House and family in Westeros is scheming and plotting and warring and betraying each other in pursuit of their own ignoble goals.
It all starts with the Starks. Well, no, sorry it starts with the First Men, but we start with the Starks, specifically Ned Stark, who's a bit of a hard nut and given to lopping off the heads of those who displease him. It's OK though, because he feels really bad about all the head lopping, bad enough that we feel just terrible when Joffrey, a Lannister, takes his.
Joffrey is the "boy king", the son of Ned's best mate, Dead King Robert, who used to be a hard nut, until he had too much fun being king and turned into a rum-soaked jelly donut, who was killed by a wild hog. Except - and pay close attention here - Robert shouldn't have been king in the first place, because he had to kill Mad King Aerys to pinch the crown for himself. But that's OK because as illegitimate as Robert's claim to the throne might have been, his son Joffrey's claim is even dodgier. Because he's not Robert's son. He's the secret bastard love child of Robert's wife Cersei Lannister and - waaaaait for it - her twin brother, Jaime.
Jamie, who is better known as the Kingslayer, totally killed Aerys, even though he was his sworn bodyguard. In Jaime's defence, his odious murder of Aerys ended a war. But Joffrey's murder of Ned starts one.
Perhaps, given all of this backstory emerged in the opening minutes of the first episode, and there's another 29 to go, it might help to jump forward to the last chapter of the last season and ask who's still drawing breath.
Almost nobody, it seems. The Stark family, or House Stark in Throne-speak, who looked like such conventional heroes at the beginning, have mostly been slaughtered or scattered.
The Lannisters, who looked like such conventional villains to begin with, are not just riding high, having slaughtered and scattered all those Starks, but a couple of them - gallant little Tyrion and his big, blonde, handsome, sister-diddling brother Jaime - even have a shot at moral redemption. That can't possibly end well.
And of course there's still the snow zombies shuffling down from the frozen wastes of the North, and Mad King Aerys' only living child, the formidable Daenerys, her dragons and that large army of eunuch slave solders she picked up somewhere, sulking off stage across the Summer Sea.
If she ever turns up in Westeros, everybody is gonna have some 'splaining to do.
But don't try to follow the plot too closely. Half of your favourite characters will be probably dead by the end of this fourth season anyway.
*Game of Thrones premiers tonight at 20.30 on Soho