Game of Thrones series 3 episode 1 spoiler-free preview

The HBO show returns with an opening instalment that delivers gripping drama, new faces, added fantasy - and leaves you wanting more

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When you sit down to enjoy the return of Game of Thrones on Monday, be thankful for the ad breaks. Soak up Benedict Cumberbatch’s warm brown tones as he reveals statistics on canine gum disease; learn to love the “sceptical” Oral B woman and her annoying squeaky teeth (should they feature).

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Not only do the ads give you time to digest what you’ve just seen (quite handy when you’re settling back into one of TV’s most elaborately plotted ensemble shows) they also make it last longer.

The press screening of episode one was an immersive three-quarters-of-an-hour of Westerosian goodness (punctuated by visits to the exotic lands to the east) – but then the credits roll and you’re back in the room. The trip is over, and it’s more than a week until your next fix.

Of course, you get a lot for your 45 minutes. Scenes are set and dramas advanced in single deft movements, revealing some tasty new dynamics – not least Joffrey’s would-be queen Margaery and his mother Cersei feeling each other out – plus one or two new faces and a portentous return for a long-lost character. Episode two should give us more of the same – there are several stories we’re yet to catch up with.

This also looks like being the season in which those who don’t usually go near the genre will be forced to admit they’re now hooked on a fantasy drama.

It’s not just Daenerys’s growing dragons (which some of us have already spent far too long examining in the copious trailers, released at exponentially shorter intervals as series three approaches). There are other – well… let’s just call them “things” so as not to spoil the surprise – casually thrown into the mix that make you want to point at the screen and shout (but you don’t because you are, at all times, a professional).

Those scenes are a reminder, too, of just how good the CGI is – something hugely important in a series featuring creatures that don’t actually exist.

Yes, Game of Thrones is back. It’s gripping, it’s gorgeous – and it’s far too short.

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Game of Thrones returns to Sky Atlantic at 9pm on Monday 1 April