HBO’s blockbuster adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire’ series has returned to our TV sets, and folks, winter is no long coming. Winter is here. ‘Game of Thrones’ is just as smart, bloody, suspenseful and sexy as ever, and last night’s episode was an amazing table-setting for the rest of the season. Spoilers and some (quoted) profanity below, so beware!

The story begins (or, really, continues) in King’s Landing as the Hound beats the pulp out of some poor helmet-wearing sap, knocking him off the wall into the courtyard below. The crowd gathered around clapping and cheering and we see none other than everyone’s favorite Caligula-in-the-making, King Joffrey Baratheon, presiding over the whole event, red and gold bannisters flying. “Well struck, Dog!” he calls, before turning to Sansa Stark, who sits quietly, and asks her contemptuously if she enjoyed it. She replies in a monotone, that yes, it was well struck and Joffrey just glares at her. If you can’t recall, Sansa and Joffrey are supposed to be married and it seems that her father’s execution has put her in a terrifyingly submissive position.

The dead knight is dragged away, leaving behind a pretty spectacular trail of blood. Two more knights are called out and one of them arrives late, a well-meaning but bumbling drunk man. When Joffrey suspects that the man is drunk, he orders his men to pour a keg of wine down his throat until he drowns. Sansa tries to intervene, saying that it would be bad luck for Joffrey to kill him on his Name Day and the Hound affirms Sansa’s belief. “What a man sows on his name day, he reaps all year.” Joffrey releases him, saying he’ll just kill the man tomorrow. Sansa cleverly suggests that Joffrey spare him and make him an actual fool. Although her position is dangerous, Sansa has learned to navigate what is, for all intents and purposes, a hostage situation.

Tyrion enters with his mercenary/bodyguard Bronn and entourage, to everyone’s interest and delight. (It should be noted that Peter Dinklage has now taken up the helm of the show’s top billing, a position previously held by Sean Bean.) In true Tyrion fashion, he asks Joffrey why he was not seen on the battlefield like the rest of the men in his family, and when Joffrey says he’s been too busy ruling, he replies “And what a fine job you’ve been doing.” Peter Dinklage makes passive-aggressive disdain sound so great. Tyrion turns to Sansa and gives her his sympathies over her father’s death. Joffrey reminds Tyrion that Ned Stark was a traitor. “But still her father. Having so recently lost your own father, I’m sure you can sympathize.” (The death of Robert Baratheon seems ages ago, doesn’t it?) Sansa insists that she’s loyal to Joffrey, calling her father, mother and brother traitors. Tyrion saunters off, claiming, much to Joffrey’s confusion, that there’s work to be done.

At the Small Council, Queen Regent Cersei is presented with an albino raven in a gilded cage, and is told it came with a message that signified the official end of summer. The Small Council is attended by Cersei, Varys, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, Grand Maester Pycelle and city watch captain Janos Slint. “Winter is coming” is about to be “Winter is here.” Littlefinger says that there is enough grain in the city to last five winters and the discussion moves the refugees that have been flooding King’s Landing due to the war between the Starks and the Lannisters. Cersei tells Slint to close the gates to the peasants. Tyrion enters, much to Cersei’s dismay, and she orders everyone out after hearing that Tywin named Tyrion the Hand of the King.

Tyrion accuses Cersei of doing nothing when Ned Stark was executed and that if she continues on as she is, they will lose the war. Robb Stark has won every battle he’s fought so far. But Tyrion says that if Joffrey takes some of his advice, there’s hope for recovering Jaime. “You love your children, it’s your one redeeming quality. That, and your cheekbones. Starks love their children as well and we have two of them.” Cersei says that they now only have one, because Arya is nowhere to be found.

At Winterfell, Bran and Maester Luwin sit at a council meeting, listening to an old man’s complaints about the state of his land. He says he has no one to fix his wall now that all the young men have gone off to fight in Robb’s war. Bran is now the oldest Stark left at Winterfell (he’s like…10). He takes offense to the way the man speaks about Robb and Maester Luwin quickly writes off his request to get the wall fixed and sends him off.

We cut to what can only be described as “dream-direwolf-vision” as a direwolf stalks through the forest. Overhead, a red comet blazes through the sky. The direwolf Summer, which belongs to Bran, stops at a pond, catching sight of it’s own reflection as Bran opens his eyes, awakening from a dream. Later in the woods, Bran is carried by Hodor, while his wildling servant Osha follows behind. They discuss what the red comet means; some think it’s Lannister red and that they will soon rule the Kingdom, some think it’s a sign of victory for Robb, some think it’s for the death of Ned Stark. Osha’s pretty sure it means one thing: dragons.

And speaking of dragons, we catch up with Danaerys and her people for the first time, wandering around in a desert known as “the Red Waste.” She unsuccessfully tries to feed one of her baby dragons and starvation seems pretty rampant right now. Danaerys recognizes that it’s a pretty far cry from what she promised them, that their enemies would die screaming. “How do I make starvation scream?” she asks Ser Jorah. He tells her that she must be their strength. “As you are mine.” she tells him. She sends out four riders in four different directions to find out what lies beyond the desert and see if there are any signs of civilization. “You are my only hope.” she tells one rider, named Rakaro. Being a pretty handsome dude, hopefully I’m not wrong in guessing where this might be going.

Up in the North, beyond the wall, the Night’s Watch find their only ally beyond the wall, a rather disgusting man named Craster who forces his daughters to marry him and does something unmentionable to his sons. Craster says that most of the Wildings of the North have run off to join an army led by a man named Mance Rayder, who calls himself “King Beyond the Wall.” There’s also some disquieting business where he harasses Jon, calling him “pretty” and asking him if he has a “twat.” Jon just stares in top notch doe-eyed fashion. Craster says that Benjen Stark, Jon’s uncle who has gone missing, is nowhere to be seen.

Moving on to Dragonstone, a place we’ve never seen before, a man runs down the beach at dusk, in front of a looming stone castle. On the beach, a woman calls out to the “Lord of Light” while effigies of other gods burn around her. “For the night is dark and full of terrors.” The men behind her chant the words back to her. She is dressed all in red, with flaming red hair and a giant ruby at her throat. The man, Maester Cressen, turns to another man, a knight named Davos, and says that the woman must be stopped. Her name is Melisandre, and she is a priestess who has gotten the attention of none other than Stannis Baratheon, the dead King Robert’s brother who many believe to have the next claim to the throne. Cressen tries to remind the men of their allegiance to the old gods, but is unable to draw the courage to stop her. Stannis holds aloft a burning sword and leads the people away. Cressen and Davos discuss Stannis’s chances in the war, and Cressen pleads with Davos to tell Stannis the truth.

At Stannis’ council, a man dictates a letter and Stannis quibbles about the symantics, refusing to call Robert his “beloved” brother and insists that Jaime be called “the Kingslayer.” The subject of the letter is far more interesting, revealing that Joffrey and the rest of Cersei’s children were the product of hers and Jaime’s incestuous relationship and thus, they have no claim to the throne. Many suggest to Stannis that he ally himself with his brother Renly or various other men to gain support and ships. Melisandre (a bolt of red in a sea of black and brown, its a great shot) insists that Stannis only needs the support of her god, the Lord of Light. Cressen offers Melisandre a cup of wine to honor Stannis’ new god, taking a sip and offering it to her. Melisandre watches as blood begins to hemorrhage out of Cressen’s face before taking a calm sip. She in unharmed. “The night is dark and full of terrors, old man. But the fire burns them all away.”

At Camp Stark, Robb enters the cage of his prisoner Jaime Lannister, who has been dragged from camp to camp. Robb says that he doesn’t trust his men not to turn him over to the Lannisters for money, even though he trusts them with his life. Jaime calls him a boy. “What’s the matter, don’t like being insulted?” Jaime asks. From behind, Robb’s massive direwolf Grey Wind stalks around Jaime, growling. Robb tells Jaime that Stannis sent ravens to all the high lords, teling them about the legitimacy of Cersei’s children. Robb says he knows that this is why his father was executed and why Bran was pushed from the window. “Do you have proof? Do you want to trade gossip like a couple of fishwives?” Robb intends to send his peace terms with one of Jaime’s cousins. He exits and leaves the direwolf in the cage, who prowls right up to Jaime, looking like he’s about to rip the man’s face off.

At King’s Landing, Tyrion and his prostitute-cum-girlfriend Shae discuss the general awfulness of the capital and Tyrion warns her that no one can know she’s there and that the city if full of liars. He calls himself a “slave to the truth.”

Cersei and her guards meet up with Littlefinger in an empty alley of the castle. She enlists his help in finding Arya, who hasn’t been seen in the capital or up north near Winterfell. He suggests that she enlist Varys, the council’s spymaster, although he notes that he has always had a hard time trusting eunuchs. “Who knows what they want.” (Did you know that Varys being a eunuch is one of Littlefinger’s favorite topics of discussion?) Littlefinger and Cersei dance around the elephant in the room, mocking each other in veiled stories. Cersei mocks Littlefinger for his love of Catelyn Stark, and Littlefinger mocks Cersei for the rumors about her incestuous relations with Jaime. “Knowledge is power.” he sneers at her. Cersei orders her men to seize him and cut his throat and they nearly succeed before she laughs “Oh no, wait, I’ve changed my mind.”She orders them to step back and look away. “Power is power.” she replies with a smirk. She tells him to find Arya and leaves without another word.

At Camp Stark, Robb dictates his peace terms to one of the Lannister’s cousins: Arya and Sansa must be returned, along with his father’s body and the body of the men who have died in the service. He also demands that Winterfell become a free and independent nation, to which the men around him respond “the King in the North.” Robb says that these are his terms and if they are not honored, he will crush Tywin’s army. After the men depart, Theon Greyjoy asks a word of him, saying that the Lannisters will never agree to those terms and that the war will not end until Robb takes King’s Landing. This requires ships and Theon wants to get them from his father, who once rebelled against King Robert, requiring Ned Stark to defeat him. But Theon remains hopeful, seeing that he is his father’s only living son.

However, Catelyn wants nothing to do with the Lord Greyjoy, calling him untrustworthy. She reminds him of why they began this in the first place, to retrieve Arya and Sansa from the hands of the Queen. “I mothered more than just rebels.” Robb says his men will never trust him if he trades Jaime for two girls. Catelyn wants to return to Winterfell, but Robb says she can’t, because he needs her to ride to the Stormlands to negotiate with Renly Baratheon for his armies. They’ll outnumber the Lannisters 2-1. “We’ll all go home…for good.” He promises. Catelyn reluctantly agrees. “Your father would be proud.” she says. For TV viewers, it was months ago, but in the timeline of the show, the death of Ned Stark is still very immediate.

In the Iron Throne room, Cersei enters to see Joffrey dictating demands to a bunch of decorators. He says he wants the room to match the barbarous nature of the Iron Throne, calling it a seat for a conqueror. Cersei tells him that Arya is missing and that they need to send out men to look for her, because they’ll never give them Jaime for just Sansa. “They might. They’re weak, they put too much value on their women.” This is, of course, something we could never accuse Joffrey of. He seems to care very little about whether or not Jaime is even returned, citing Tywin’s stupidity on the field of battle. He turns the conversation to the rumor of Cersei’s and Jaime’s relationship, calling it a “disgusting lie.” Cersei brushes it off as nothing more than a rumor, but Joffrey asks her about Robert’s bastard sons. “I’m asking if he f*cked other women when he grew tired of you.” he says before Cersei responds with a righteous slap across the face. This should happen every episode. Instead of responding like a punished child, he tells her that he could have her killed for that. Cersei looks defeated and terrified by her own child.

At Littlefinger’s state-run brothel, the madam coaches a prostitute faking an orgasm like a bored high school drama teacher. She leads a new girl, Daisy, around the brothel, telling her that it’s a much more refined place than she might be used to, and, more interestingly, going into all the different manners of deception and seduction that she might employ to get more money. They are interrupted by Janos Slint and a round of armed guards. The men begin searching the brothel, and after a moment, drag out a screaming women holding a baby. This is the same woman who spoke to Ned Stark last season, having had one of Robert’s bastard children. A guard takes the baby away from her, and, in a horrifying start to an even more horrifying sequence of events, the baby is stabbed to death, offscreen of course, but we still hear the horrible noise. The city is scoured for Robert’s dark-haired children, and all of them are horrifically killed in the street, save one: the blacksmith’s apprentice Gendry. We see Gendry headed north on the King’s Road, toward the wall. Sitting beside him on the cart is none other than Arya Stark.

‘Game of Thrones’ returns to us in amazing form, setting up it’s dizzying amount of subplots with relative ease. It’s one of the best things about the show, really. What could have been an impenetrable fortress of fan service and Western fantasy drudgery is really one of the most relatable and watchable shows on television. Every character is both complex and clearly defined, you know what they’re about and even if the show leads them on a winding set of plots and deceptions and changing alliances, they remain relatable. Likable is an entirely different story, but damned if the show doesn’t try it’s best to make you get why these people do the things they do.

And oh what fun this season is going to be, with all these crazy people competing to rule over Westeros. One thing is clear: Joffrey is terrifying and terrible and must be dealt with. He’s the kind of kid who makes his betrothed and kid brother and sister watch men fight to the death for his own amusement and the kind to threaten to kill his own mother, which, like Cersei or not (I love her), you must admit that everything she has done has been to see this little blond worm succeed. You have the Starks, the show’s version of “good guys” scrambling to be both military powerhouses and keep their own fractured family in tact.

The Lannisters were all in top form tonight, and I especially loved the scene between Cersei and Littlefinger. It raises an interesting philosophical question: what is the price of knowledge in this show? For the Starks, all knowledge has brought them is death and pain; a dead father, a crippled son and two daughters now in perilous situations. Cersei, who’s power is undermined the moment Tyrion walks in the room, is holding tight to what little control she really has and to see her wield it mercilessly is amazing. Jaime, who can’t really do anything other than be tied to a pole, tries his best to get under Robb’s skin but fails. And then of course, there’s Tyrion, easily the show’s fan favorite and he gets in a lot of the episode’s best lines, but I don’t quite know where this season will lead him yet. Of course, Tyrion is, by nature, unpredictable, which is why he’s so fun to watch.

Team Baratheon is shaping up to be an interesting lot. We didn’t get to see much of Stannis and Melisandre but I am already much enamored of Stephen Dillane and Carice Van Houten and am pretty jazzed to see what they bring to the show. Unfortunately, Team Targaryen didn’t get much to do tonight and things don’t look promising out in that desert but I’m really hoping Danaerys gets to rain down a little fire and blood as promised.

All in all, if ‘Game of Thrones’ proceeds as well as it did in this episode, this upcoming season is going to be astounding. For an episode that began in blood and ended in blood (in infanticide, no less), it would definitely seem that Melisandre is on to something. The night is dark and full of terrors.

If you’re a little lost as to what’s going on, be sure to read our Season 1 recap to catch up.