HBO's sex and swords fantasy series returned tonight with its grimmest scenes ever. Incest, baby killings and direwolves dominated the first hour of season two, which sizzled with tension as the effects of the deaths of Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon, and King Joffrey's controversial appointment to the throne, rippled across Westeros.
Featuring the obligatory mixture of sex, Peter Dinklage magic and ugly moments that make your jaw drop, Game of Thrones return didn't just live up to the hype, it far exceeded it.
Snivelling brat Joffrey was the centre point for the start of season two. He remains a snivelling brat and he's got even nastier now that he's sat on the Iron Throne. Whether he's enjoying his 'Celebrate My Name Day' by watching The Hound batter some men in his courtyard or having men forced into guzzling enough barrels of wine to kill them, he's not making many friends in King's Landing.
The puny pretender to the throne has grown more cocksure since we saw him last and confronts his mother Cersei about the rumours that he's the offspring of an incestuous relationship with uncle Jaime. The rotten duo exchanged some angry words and Joffrey's petulance towards his mothers resulted in an almighty slap across the chops. A moment that many a viewer has been sat tight waiting for.
His response was one of shock and childlike horror and he attempts to threaten his mother to never do such a thing again. He may be a wimpish and wet, but Joffrey isn't going to be a pawn in Cersei's games.
Cersei wasn't just battling with her son in the season two opener. Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger also had a run in with the cold-faced manipulator, as she attempts to hunt down the missing Stark daughter Arya.
Littlefinger's suggestion that he had the upper hand over her family because "knowledge is power" was met with a resounding response of force from Cersei and her guards. "Power is power," she grinned. There are some characters who have shades of grey in Game of Thrones. Cersei is just pure black.
Peter Dinklage may be hogging the Game of Thrones limelight when it comes around to awards season, but it's difficult to quibble with that when he keeps giving episode stealing performances like he did in tonight's show.
Arriving in King's Landing and interrupting Joffrey's Name Day games, Tyrion attempted to stamp his newfound authority as the appointed King's Hand. "I know people and I know our enemies hate each other as much as they hate us," he cooed to a seething Cersei, who'd rather not have her younger brother dabbling in matters.
Tyrion provided the rare moments of light in the episode, throwing out zingers at his sister ("You love your children, it's your one redeemable feature - that and your cheekbones") and bantering with his bedroom companion Shae ("Cities make me want to f**k." "And so did the country.")
Rob Stark and direwolves
Perhaps the most exciting addition to the Thrones cast for season two are the grown-up direwolves. Last time we saw them they were but young pups. Now they're snarling, tiger-ish, terrorising beasts. Where can we get one?
Robb Stark looks like he's going to need the help of his faithful pet as well, because there's plenty of murmurs of discontent about his leadership amongst his not so loyal troops back home. He has three demands; he wants his father's bones, he wants the bones of those who died in service with his father, and he wants the end of Joffrey on the throne. Something tells us he won't get all of that without a scuffle.
The scene featuring Robb Stark confronting his prisoner Jaime Lannister was probably the highlight of episode one. Richard Madden and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's sparred brilliantly with each other and the battle for power between the young, moral-driven Stark and slimy, scheming Lannister was compelling viewing.
The red waste and dragons
After the season one cliffhanger, more dragons was at the top of our Game of Thrones shopping list. Sadly, however, Daenerys and her pet fire breathers are in bad shape. Walking through the red waste, she is short of man-power, her best horse has died and she still hasn't figured out how to feed the dragons. Damn.
Jon Snow and Craster
Jon Snow and the Night's Watch got to meet the delightful chap Craster in the season premiere. A man with 19 daughters and, ahem, 19 wives, he's a Jeremy Kyle/Jerry Springer guest in waiting. Murder, molestation and incest doesn't rub Jon up the right way. However, the Night's Watch appear happy - for the time being at least - to follow Craster's rules so that they can use his home as a base camp.
The big new arrivals in season two are Stannis Baratheon - considered by many to be the rightful heir to the Iron Throne - his aide Davos Seaworth and a mysterious enchanting red-head named Melisandre. Stannis wants to claim the Iron Throne from Joffrey and believes that his religious-nut flame-haired lady might be able to help him.
Melisandre has many doubters in Stannis's camp (Davos looks like he might be one), but she sees off her main objector, Stannis's old maester, who attempts to poison her. The daft old bloke ends up drinking the killer wine himself and finds himself with a nasty nose bleed. Melisandre cowers over him, supping the wine, unaffected by its contents. She's going to be a tricky one.
Robert Baratheon's bastards
We said the episode was dark and we're weren't fibbing. If having Sean Bean's head on a spike wasn't good enough for you, how was the killing of Robert Baratheon's bastard children for you? The King's Landing police interrupt a rare sex scene in episode one (there was a serious lack of pointless sex in the premiere) to pull a knife on a black-haired bastard child, who happens to be in the wrong brothel at the wrong time. If the callous hunt for any possible offspring of the late King didn't turn your stomach, you're made of stronger stuff than us.
Game of Thrones airs on Mondays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic. It airs in the US on Sunday nights on HBO.
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