THE LAST episode of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones aired yesterday, and I can safely say that it has been a remarkable experience. I’m not talking about the series itself, which I still feel is a bit overrated, but the reactions of the series’ legions of fans, who seem to have revolutionised the TV or film-watching experience.
The real story in Game of Thrones never was which king from which kingdom would ascend the coveted iron throne. It was why a TV audience that climbed to over 17 million people felt such a connection to a medieval epic fantasy based on the books written by George RR Martin.
At one time, I thought I would be the last person in the world to view the series, but I caved when my daughter, Ijanaya, said, “You can’t be a knowledgeable person about pop culture without watching Game of Thrones.”
I had tried on a number of occasions to read the books, but abandoned that mission because I couldn’t juggle over 1,000 characters. I did find the writing absolutely exquisite, but when it comes to literature, my least favourite genre is fantasy. Sadly, I am also not a fan of dragons.
When I complained bitterly about the gratuitous violence and sex in the first season, I was told by diehard Game of Thrones fans that the series captured reality. Violence – and apparently sex – defined the medieval period. “In TV and movies, a little violence goes a long way. It’s not necessary to go overboard to get the point across,” I argued.
Apparently, many people agreed with me. Subsequent seasons’ episodes toned down the violence and sex. This seemed to be the result of a public outcry.
Both the books and the series had an amazing ability to lure both history and fantasy fans. Martin has a remarkable ability to blend the two so that you can actually forget sometimes that you are watching fantasy and concentrate on what seems to be a fair depiction of castles and kings and queens and medieval life.
On the other hand, it’s possible to feel as though readers or viewers exist in a separate realm of history, in a fantasy world filled with Wight Walkers and a Night King who raises the dead into dragons.
Then the most amazing thing happened: fans became sophisticated critics. Over a decade of viewing turned ordinary fans into decent film critics. People remembered prophecies and details of characters from season one and they critiqued episodes and seasons with amazing acumen. Discussions among friends and at work became forums for critical thinkers, predicting outcomes based on past events, and yet they expressed exuberance every time they were wrong.
Fans even became continuity experts pointing out mistakes like a Starbucks cup left on the set in episode four or a strangely different geography presented for King’s Landing in the last season. I didn’t notice these faux pas.
Game of Thrones hooked viewers by its unconventional decisions of killing off major characters (Ned Stark, the endearing patriarch of Winterfell gets killed off in season one). The series offered masterful unpredictability, and that element of shock hooked viewers.
But none of this explains how Game of Thrones became a pop culture phenomena. I think the real lure was its ability to strike a chord with its main theme: power. We are addicted to politics and power, and Game of Thrones presented all the scheming and plotting that we associate with power. It offered classic conflicts of good vs evil and man vs nature.
It didn’t hurt that the series presented women in unconventional roles and made them powerful leaders in their own right. It still amazes me that down to the last episode so many women characters were left standing.
People I know who have read Game of Thrones complain bitterly that the series couldn’t capture the magic of the books. It is no small feat to get through those complicated books, and those who have succeeded can boast of a remarkable achievement. The series has encouraged many people to read. A song of Ice and Fire has sold 45 million copies in the US and 90 million copies worldwide.
Game of Thrones had a major impact on readers and TV viewers. People grumbled and found faults with plot lines, cheered on favourite characters; but no one ever took the extraordinary production and brilliant acting for granted. Game of Thrones helped hone our analytical skills, and for that I am grateful.