“Winter is coming,” uttered Ned Stark, warning of a seemingly impending doom that could change the future of Westeros before audiences had even had much of a chance to get a sense for its present.
Amid all the introductions to the then relatively carefree lives of the characters of Game Of Thrones, it was a bleak hint to those who tuned into the debut episode more than eight years ago that things would soon take a turn for the worse.
But, with sixth form in full flow and still somewhat embarrassingly untrusted with the Sky box PIN required to open my eyes to a world of brutal murder and little modesty, my focus was instead firmly placed on a different – if not similarly menacing – warning: “Exams are coming.”
Growing up in a household that required me to make covert visits to a friend to sample the new Grand Theft Auto or other such adult entertainment (sorry, Mum, sometimes it wasn’t actually homework), Thrones meant the living room door was kept firmly shut each Monday evening to ensure my younger sister and I were not too easily exposed to the horrors of beheadings and brothels.
“But look how young that girl looks,” my sister would likely have thought of Arya Stark, wondering why she was deemed unsuited to watching a show that starred a girl even fresher-faced than the both of us.
Thankfully, once those final school exams were out of the way (German being the Red Wedding of the bunch), university was on the horizon and freedom with it.
Looking back, student hall discussions without Thrones seems akin to Laurel without Hardy, but unlike other university topics of conversation (“How many jaegerbombs was it last night?”, “What do you mean the essay is due tomorrow?!”), the goings-on in the Seven Kingdoms has remained the perfect small talk.
Several years and thousands of deaths later, Thrones is a fixture of family dinners, catch-ups with friends and office chit-chat whenever it returns to our screens.
There is just as much fervour when talking about the latest twists and turns with co-workers in 2019 as there was with university flatmates in 2012 – possibly even more so.
Chatting and thinking about the fate of our favourite characters has become part of our routine, and the need to keep up has only grown more urgent with social media now such a merciless hive of spoilerrific memes.
With so many fans now willing to stay up into the small hours to watch new episodes in-time with the US, checking your news feed on a Monday morning is like navigating a white walker-laden minefield.
Even my Sunday League changing room has become a welcome home to theories about what might happen as we inch ever closer to the finale, which might explain why we seem to know more about the history of Winterfell than we do about how to defend.
It is testament to the careful web that has been weaved over the past eight years – now going beyond even the books on which the show was originally based – that we all remain on such tenterhooks.
The end is certainly going to feel all the stranger to those of us for whom the story has followed through so many different stages of life.
Ned lost his head while I was still at school and now his youngest daughter – that fresh-faced girl I thought was sufficient proof I was old enough to watch the show back then – has grown to womanhood and defeated the winter threat her father warned us about.
She was also one of the few to survive Daenerys Targaryen’s fiery onslaught of King’s Landing, a genocidal move that appears to have split fans like few other sequences have since the show began.
The final big question, the one that will surely mark the very end of the series, is who ends up on the Iron Throne.
Despite some questionable twists in this divisive final season, I remain excited to find out.
But, with Thrones about to become absent from our screens for the first time since I still had homework to do, I’m not sure I’m ready.