You may think you know how brutal HBO’s beautiful dark twisted fantasy Game of Thrones can get, but to paraphrase Wildling temptress Ygritte: “You know nothing about season 3.” Based on roughly the first half of the third novel in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the fan-favorite A Storm of Swords, this season continues the ultra-complex story of rival families vying for power in a fantasy kingdom where winter and summer last for years. It includes some of the most rousing jump-off-the-couch moments of triumph in the saga’s five-books-and-counting history — as well as its most bloody casualties. In geek terms: It’s The Empire Strikes Back of the Thrones-verse. “Emotionally, this season really goes for the jugular,” Thrones executive story editor Bryan Cogman tells Entertainment Weekly in this week’s issue. “In some cases, quite literally.”

The emotional ramp-up couldn’t happen at a better time. Game of Thrones is bigger than ever, and about to get bigger still. Last year viewership climbed to rank as HBO’s third most-popular show of all time, averaging 11.6 million viewers weekly across all the company’s platforms. With season 2’s DVD release breaking the network’s sales records last month, it’s a safe bet that Thrones viewership will soon catapult to even greater heights. But will season 3 also be the best one so far, as fans dearly hope?

Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss are reluctant to raise expectations any higher, but are optimistic. “Like the book, it builds,” Benioff says. “Once the season kicks into gear, we’ve already seen stuff that makes me think it will be the best one yet. And it ought to be.” While season 2 poured a disproportionate amount of resources into the final couple hours, this round has major moments throughout; a “hammering propulsion,” as Weiss puts it. “There’s major massive events happening like I don’t think we’ve ever had before,” Weiss says. One particular “Scene Which Shall Not Be Named,” as Benioff called it, left the Thrones team devastated. “I’ve never seen the crew so emotional,” Benioff says. “If the scene has that effect on the people making it who know what’s coming, if they’re that overpowered, I think it’s going to have an overwhelming effect on people watching it.”

This season, the Lannister family backstabbing is ratcheted to a new level now that Lord Tywin (Charles Dance) has returned to King’s Landing. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) struggles to purchase a merciless eunuch army. Kingslayer Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) attempts to escape the confinement of his noble escort Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). Jon Snow (Kit Harington) infiltrates the rival Wildling camp led by Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds), while comely Ygritte (Rose Leslie) tries to melt Snow’s heart. And that’s really just the beginning — there’s dragons and direwolves and bears (oh my!).

In this issue, Entertainment Weekly goes behind the scenes of Game of Thrones on the set in Northern Ireland with exclusive interviews with the producers, HBO, Martin and the cast — including our cover duo of Clarke and Harington (an ice and fire pairing!). Details include what to expect from all the major characters this season (spoiler free), how production pulled off Jon Snow’s action scenes after Harington shattered his ankle, and hints about HBO’s long-term planning for the show.

Pick up the new issue — on stands Friday, March 15 — or buy it now by clicking here or the button below. And be sure to bookmark our Game of Thrones hub as we present 15 Days of Thrones, featuring a new interview every weekday until the March 31 premiere.


Episode Recaps

Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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stream service