“Game of Thrones” returned for its season seven premiere Sunday, ending a longer-than-usual wait for fans craving its unique weekly offer of sex, violence and dragons.

IMG_20170717_192456_631 " Winter Is Here " as Game of Throne Season Seven Premieres Entertainment Featured Movie

HBO had delayed production, meaning four more months of anticipation ahead of the season debut — already one of the television events every year across the world.

But viewers were not disappointed, taking to social media in the thousands to express delight at the explosive start opening, the arrival of dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen in Westeros and a widely-hyped cameo by pop sensation Ed Sheeran.

“There are very few shows that can deliver as much action and excitement as the season six ‘Game of Thrones’ finale, and there are perhaps even fewer shows that can make a table-setting episode this much fun,” the Hollywood Reporter said after the premiere.

“So it’s all the more bittersweet that not only is winter here, but the end is in sight.”

The debut episode, entitled “Dragonstone,” saw evil Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), now the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, making alliances that threaten newly-anointed King of the North Jon Snow (Kit Harington).

Trained poisoner and throat-slitter in chief Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) exploded out of the blocks in a shocking opening by taking vengeance on the killers of her family at the infamous Red Wedding.

The comic relief was provided by multiple Grammy-winning Sheeran in a cameo as a soldier who sang a ditty — a “new one,” apparently — about a woman’s hand.

His appearance started a torrent of memes and excited comments from fans on Twitter, but not everyone was pleased to see him.

Variety magazine called the cameo “ridiculous” while one fan on Twitter quipped: “If Arya kills Ed Sheeran it’ll be worth it.”

– ‘More humour‘ –
For hours either side of the HBO premiere at 9:00 pm (0100 GMT Monday) on the US east coast, #GoTS7 and #GameofThrones were the top trending Twitter hashtags worldwide

Such was the online interest that the HBO.com website even crashed due to a surge in visitors for the first half of the episode.