‘I’ ON CULTURE
My favorite show, Game of Thrones, has just finished broadcasting its final show of the season, the seventh and (sob) next to last. Currently it’s the most popular show in the world, watched in more than 190 countries legally (and probably not so legally in the rest).
Why is it so popular? It is not because of “breasts and dragons,” as some people have claimed. Supposedly, those elements attract the fanboy nerds. Someone did a clip of all the nudity and sex in Season 6, and it was not even two minutes over nearly 10 hours. The dragons do show up but were only major players in the past two seasons. Added to that, there are more female than male viewers.
Barak Obama received advance copies while he was president (although I don’t know if that has continued since he left office), and Russian President Vladimir Putin is known to be a fan. When we visited Spain, where much of the show is filmed, there are signs all around pointing to the filming sites.
My wife and I actually walked through the garden of the Alcazar in Seville, where some of the scenes in Dorne were filmed. It was packed with tourists. Some of the political parties there have actually adopted the show’s family banners as their own.
Why is it so popular? First of all, it is written brilliantly. There have literally been hundreds of distinct characters… a large number of whom died. The relationships formed, and the battle for control over the continent of Westeros, has continued for seasons. And still we stay interested.
Some say it is a soap opera, and it does have some features like those, but there is one major difference. From the start, it has worked its way toward a real finish. A real soap like Grey’s Anatomy can go on forever. At one point, when the producers felt they might lose the main character, they added on a sister, just in case, so they could keep the name.
In Game of Thrones, main characters live, love and they die. The main hero of the first season, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) was executed near the end of Season One. The next two seasons saw his son rebel against the bad guy Lannisters and then die, along with his mother and pregnant wife. At the end of the sixth season, a nice percentage of the cast was blown up as part of the action. That resembles the reality of war.
Also, where could you have a show where the “everyman” character, the one people most identify with, is a dwarf? Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is smart, savvy and far from perfect. All of the characters have their flaws. The heroic young warrior Jon Snow (Kit Harington) broods and is not too bright. The warrior queen Danaerys (Emilia Clarke) is beautiful and determined, but has had no problem with simply killing all her enemies. Evil Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) has had three children with her twin brother. One of the Stark girls has trained to be an assassin.
It seems crazy that with all that has happened, we wind up caring about what happens next. The good news, politically speaking, is that almost all the old aristocracy is gone, and most were pretty lousy.
Yes, there is violence. The show has created incredible battle scenes, far larger and more elaborate than anything else on television. Several have been compared to the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. And that was even before the dragons got involved. The sixth episode of this past season had seven heroes battling zombies, including a zombie polar bear, on a frozen lake, finally being rescued by dragons. You don’t get that in Shakespeare!
Many people who first turned their noses up at the idea of the show (“Who cares about dragons?” “It’s just a lot of violence!”) have started binge-watching the show, working hard to remember all the characters. Some have told me that the show blows them away.
Game of Thrones is over for this year (sob) and it will be at least another year before the last six-episode season (even more sobbing). But for those of us who are addicted, it is enough to know that we have a bit more left. If you haven’t tried it, watch it On Demand or get the DVDs. It is ranked as one of the best TV series of all time and well worth the effort.