WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL A STORM OF SWORDS AND GAME OF THRONES SEASON 3 AHEAD - AS IN NOW!
The third season of Game of Thrones, debuting March 31 on HBO, will mark the first time the epic fantasy drama won't cover an entire book from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series in one season. That's because third novel A Storm of Swords is just so bloody long.
It's the book where the scope of the future great war really starts to unfold, where we begin to see how all-consuming the battle will be. To paraphrase the red sorceress Melisandre (Carice van Houten, above), there are only two gods, and only one fight. But happily, until then there are plenty of clashes in A Storm of Swords. With what's known from the casting, episode titles and official trailers, we can make a good guess as to which ones show creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss will gives us this year. These are the 10 I'm most excited to see.
10. The Hound vs. the Lightning Lord
Having fled King's Landing during the fiery Battle of the Blackwater, King Joffrey's erstwhile dog, Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), runs afoul of the outlaw Brotherhood Without Banners, the remnants of the group dispatched in Season 1 to capture Clegane's brother, Gregor (Ian Whyte), a.k.a. the Mountain That Rides. The BWB allows the Hound a trial by combat, pitting his deadly cold steel against the flaming sword of the Brotherhood's leader, Lord Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), in a battle that should be seriously combustible onscreen.
9. Arya vs. Everyone
Young Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) dreams wolf dreams, in which she sees through the eyes of her powerful vagabond direwolf, Nymeria. But in her waking life, Arya's plan to find her mother, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), gets derailed by friends who can't keep up and adults who are bigger, stronger, faster and have their own ideas about what to do with her. It feels like the whole world is against Arya, but it will be fun to watch her fight, whether with traveling companion Gendry (Joe Dempsie), members of the Brotherhood Without Banners or the Hound himself.
8. The Night's Watch vs. the Wildlings
Giants, mammoths, Hornfoot men, dog chariots from the Frozen Shore ... all these and more I hope to see among the vast, scary wildling host that self-styled King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) brings to the north gates of Castle Black. But first we need to witness Jon Snow (Kit Harington) do his duty as a Night's Watch spy amid Mance's ranks, and escape the advance raiding party that climbs over the Wall. Once he warns his Black Brothers of the surprise threat coming from the south, it's on: fire arrows, burning pitch and one great big conflagration.
7. Sam vs. the Other
Things don't go well for the brothers of the Night's Watch on the Fist of the First Men, but afterward Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), the large lad derisively referred to as "Ser Piggy," finds himself inexplicably alive. Staggering through the snow in frostbitten agony and terror, Sam wants only to rest, sleep ... perchance to die. But when he and his mates are threatened by a White Walker, one of the ghostly supernatural creatures also known as the Others, the young man who freely admits to being craven finds a way to face the horror.
6. Daenerys vs. the Slavers
Daenerys Targaryen's (Emilia Clarke) dragons are still too small to be of much use in any battles to reclaim the Iron Throne of Westeros. Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) convinces her to sail to the city of Astapor and buy a slave army, the Unsullied, comprising highly trained and fiercely loyal eunuch soldiers. However, all Dany has to offer in trade is one of her dragons, a prospect that sickens her as much as the cruel ways of Slaver's Bay. Luckily for the Mother of Dragons, even baby fire-breathers have their uses. Dracarys!
5. Jon Snow vs. Jon Snow
Jon Snow is undercover with the wildlings, ordered to "ride with them, eat with them, fight with them, for as long as it takes" to determine Mance Rayder's plans. One especially tormenting task the Bastard of Winterfell undertakes to prove he has abandoned his Night's Watch vows is sharing his sleeping furs with Ygritte (Rose Leslie), his red-haired captive-turned-captor. The flesh is willing and the spirit is weak as Jon tries to remind himself he's just playing a part, and sex with Ygritte comes with the job. "It will never happen again," he tells himself in the book, the first time. But in fact, "It happened twice more that night, and again in the morning..." Haha. Jon Snow really does know nothing.