NEW YORK (Reuters) - Spring may finally be in the air, but the "Game of Thrones" fans who descended on New York's Barclays Center on Thursday evening know different: winter is coming.
The fourth season of HBO's increasingly popular medieval fantasy-drama will premiere on April 6, but 7,000 people who bought tickets to the Brooklyn event were treated to an advance screening of the season's first episode, along with a brief panel discussion with several cast members and author George R.R. Martin, whose books form the basis for the television show.
The show's plot combines a long war between several noble houses in Westeros, but with elements of magic and fantasy - including dragons and the undead - in the mix.
"Winter is coming" is the motto of the Stark House, which saw several of its members killed in the climax of the third season that aired in the spring of 2013. That event, known popularly as the "Red Wedding" among viewers, boosted interest in a show already known for surprising audiences with the unexpected demise of important characters.
Fans swarmed the arena for a chance to sit on the Iron Throne, the king's seat in the fictional world of Westeros, where the series takes place, see costumes used in the show, and buy merchandise, including a recently released hip-hop album, "Catch the Throne," inspired by the series. The rapper Common appeared at the arena to perform his song "The Ladder," which appears on the soundtrack.
The third season averaged 14.2 million viewers across all viewing platforms, according to HBO parent Time Warner, which makes it HBO's second-most-popular show of all time, trailing only "The Sopranos."
With each season composed of just 10 episodes, it's been a long wait since the previous season's shocking end. Many attendees said they busied themselves with reading - or re-reading - the books, or revisiting old episodes.
"I've been rereading, and then really keeping up with what's going on with the show," said Jillian Tam, 21, who was in line to take pictures on the Iron Throne.
Fans cited the show's ability to present nuanced characters that fall along the moral spectrum, and whose biggest struggles are often not with other-worldly creatures, but personal relationships with family members.
"Out of a lot of shows and movies, there is a lot more in the way of complex character-building," said Nadine Fentner, 23, of Queens, New York. "You can't say a lot of them are totally bad or totally good."
Fentner and her companions were among those who came costumed as their favorite characters; the most popular costume among fans seemed to be of Daenerys Targaryen, also known as the "Mother of Dragons," who is played by Emilia Clarke and is on a long journey to try to conquer Westeros.
The lines to sit on the thrones - there were four different ones in the arena concourse - were so long that ushers started cutting off the lines so fans would not miss the show.
One fan, Mike Ross, 37, of Hoboken, New Jersey, had earlier decided not to wait in the lengthy queue, but instead found himself the lucky winner of a full-size replica of the throne itself when Martin announced his ticket seat during the pre-show.
"I have no idea where I'm going to put it," he said. "We'll make a little room for it."
Editing by Eric Walsh