Warning: This contains spoilers for HBO's Game of Thrones
We are fast approaching the season five premiere of HBO's hit series Game of Thrones. Television viewers about to be submerged into a realm of dragons, assassins, warriors and magic. Never before has a series rooted in fantasy meant so much to so many in reality. Thrones is a show both for nerds and the bullies that torment them, young action junkies and older viewers who crave character drama. Yet what grounds Thrones is the entertaining political jockeying, emotionally rich characters and prevalent familial themes. All told, it is arguably the most important series on television and HBO's crown jewel.
All of this excitement and attention makes me wonder: how did we get here?
Game of Thrones has become so popular because it brings the large scale spectacle of film to the small screen. Big blockbuster behemoths are all the rage in Hollywood right now and Thrones is able to bottle that in a tidy hour-long package that we can enjoy from the comfort of our couches. The battle of Blackwater in season two and the Wildling attack on The Wall last year are quintessential examples of action sequences other shows simply cannot match. When you combine that type of breathtaking scope with nuanced characters and intricate plots, you get the smashing success Thrones is currently enjoying.
Well produced action is not the only hook in the show's repertoire. Thrones also devotes the necessary time to developing characters and isn't afraid to bend and break traditional storytelling rules. Who would have thought way back in the first episode that Jaime Lannister would become a fan favorite? How big of a statement did the show make when it killed off its main character and all-around moral compass in Ned Stark? Thrones thrives because of the gray area it inhabits; because at any given time you know anything can happen. Nothing, neither characters nor situations, are as they seem on the surface and that keeps viewers interested.
But what truly separates this show from its zombie killing, medical emergency having television peers is the special place it occupies in the larger pop culture conversation.
LOST premiered in September of 2004 and benefited greatly from the Internet boom that was just getting underway. The show's mystery laden plot lines and countless curveballs fed into the growing cultural need to communicate. Entertainment websites were starting to gain more traction, blogs were increasing in popularity, and social media was beginning to sprout. Suddenly, everyone had a platform to express their opinions and everyone had an opinion about LOST. It became the primary ammunition for water cooler talk.
Game of Thrones has assumed a similar mantle in today's television landscape. Not only is it HBO's most popular series ever, but it's also the most illegally downloaded show of all time. The demographic is irrelevant; everyone is casting an eye towards the Iron Throne one way or the other. Due to its expansive plot and growing web of characters, Thrones has become the new source for which fans and critics alike can theorize and engage in lengthy philosophical and hypothetical discussions. It is a show that not only caters to big picture thinking, but actually inspires it amongst its viewers. In that way, its success is different than, say, Empire or The Americans. Both possess significant positives but neither can boast the same type of online community and engagement of Thrones.
Game of Throes may have ascended to that point partly due to its well-built structure. Instead of continuous peaks and repeated shocking moments ala House of Cards, Thrones offers a consistent build up towards an overarching payoff that dwarfs the smaller "OMG" moments of other weekly shows. In that way, it encourages audiences to think ten steps ahead like Varys and Littlefinger which only adds to the all-around excitement.
Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have created a series that fans simply can't get enough of. It's more addicting than milk of the poppy. Its action is wildly entertaining, its characters are multi-faceted and its story arcs are sharper than a Valyrian sword. All of this culminates in a fiercely loyal and engaged fan base that enjoys combing through every episode with the attention to detail of a forensics detective.
What does this say about the Internet age and Generation Text? It certainly reinforces the idea that we'll gossip about anything, even the lives of fictional characters. But it also shows how willing (and fervent) fans are to analyze good entertainment with a sharp and critical eye. If other networks can tap into that desire like HBO has, they'll likely have a hit on their hands.
In the meantime, I'm happy with Game of Thrones continuing its reign as the undisputed King of TV.