The final season of Game of Thrones finally airs on HBO this weekend! We look to how this once obscure fantasy book series became a global TV success and staple of pop culture of the 2010s.
American author George R.R. Martin first released the first book of his A Song of Ice and Fire series, ‘A Game of Thrones‘, way back in 1996. Four more books followed within the following fifteen years. Inspired by true historic events such as The War of the Roses in Tudor England, the series was heavily praised for its realism, diversity of characters and depiction of themes such as war, power and religion. During the initial release A Game of Thrones failed to even hit lower bestselling rankings, much to the dismay of its publishers and Martin. However, through word of mouth and promotion by independent booksellers the book gained significant popularity. This in turn led to the following books in the series becoming almost-instant bestsellers, heading up The New York Times bestseller list.
This growing popularity brought the series to the attention of American TV network HBO. They first propositioned adapting the books into a serialised television show in 2007, with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Whilst many know the story of the botched un-aired pilot episode and recasting process, the first season aired to television audiences in April 2011, to both strong reviews and ratings. It was instantly renewed for a second season covering the second book of the series, A Clash of Kings, just two days after the premiere episode, “Winter is Coming”, initially aired.
Since then the series has gone from strength to strength, creating household names of both its characters and actors. The show was highly anticipated by fans of A Song of Ice and Fire series even before the season one premiere. Now millions of fantasy genre fans from around the world tune in to Game of Thrones, making it one of the most popular television series of the last decade. The latest season, which aired during the summer months of 2017, regularly drew in between 10-12 million viewers for its live broadcasts, impressive figures in today’s TV age. Unfortunately for HBO millions more watched illegally online. It was estimated that season seven was illegally downloaded over a billion, yes a BILLION, times!
So why is this particular TV show so popular? How is it that this TV show wove its way into the cultural fabric of contemporary media whilst others are barely a drop in the ocean?
The answer is a multitude of aspects. The gritty realism of its storyworld, to its complex morally ambiguous characters and its eye-popping special effects. Game of Thrones had the bravery (and the financial backing) to bring aspects of storytelling to television in ways that had never been done before, and made it the gold standard. Whilst other serialised television shows have played it safe with predictable and formulaic plots, GoT never held back when subverting traditional genre tropes. How many non-book readers could have predicted that Ned Stark’s head would go rolling just nine episodes into the series, when the narrative had set him up to be the main character?
Whilst not without its fair amount of backlash and controversy, Game of Thrones has overcome its naysayers. Winning hundreds of awards and accolades, and spawning a massive fandom including numerous celebrity fans, the influence of this show is difficult to ignore. As we prepare to kickstart season eight, we shall cherish the jaw-dropping twists, magnificent performances and stunning visuals as we approach the beginning of the end of this fantasy epic.
Game of Thrones premieres on HBO, Sunday April 14th.