‘I’ ON CULTURE
A television era ended last week with the final episode of Game of Thrones. There has not been a show that became an addiction for so many people in a generation. Almost 20 million people saw the show in America alone, and there were many more millions watching around the world. To give you an idea of the magnitude of that today, more people in the U.S. watched it than the final episodes of The Big Bang Theory, the most popular comedy of the last decade.
As those who read this column know, I was one of the addicted. Current television generally follows certain patterns: detective shows where suspects are just about always caught, comedies where people who supposedly love each other demonstrate that love through insults and reality shows that are clearly not part of any reality.
Game of Thrones was clearly different from the start. The original hero executes a man by cutting his head off in the first episode. Near the end of the season, that hero has his own head cut off. At that point, we realize that all bets are off. Anyone can be killed, and many people we thought might be the final protagonist meet untimely ends. And that trend continued. Jon Snow, the man most people assumed would be the final hero, was assassinated by his own men at the end of the fifth season — only to rise from the dead in the sixth season. The scariest villain, the Night King, died sooner than most expected, and the evil queen also met her eternal fate.
People loved all the unexpected twists and turns. The abused princess turns around and becomes a strong, capable leader. Her sister, the little tomboy, becomes a terrific assassin. The seemingly too-handsome bad guy loses a hand and gradually becomes a far better man. Almost no one was perfect. That was new; we actually could figure out the good guys and the bad, but they occasionally changed places. And who would have believed that a sex-crazed, too-clever dwarf would be our favorite.
Some feminists criticized the ending. They wanted a world where women ruled. Yet this show was strongly feminist, demonstrating many different types of female characters: Cersei, the evil queen who would do anything for her children and then for her own power; Sansa, abused, raped but becoming stronger; Arya, the petite tomboy becomes a feared assassin; and Brienne, the warrior and one true hero, fitting the image of the ancient prototype knight. And we have Yara, the female pirate; Melisandre, the sorceress; and Margaery, the scheming but caring young politician.
That was a wonderful twist on casting. In far too many movies and shows, particularly those with heroes, women are relegated to the sidelines, there to provide comfort. Here they were real people with all the bad and good points. Some feminists objected to the leading female leader becoming a conquering, murdering demagogue. But it was not women being criticized, it was how good looks and charisma can hide a multitude of sins.
Few shows have had the Shakespearean grandeur of Game of Thrones. There were dozens of characters with speaking parts, often parts that really meant something. There was often brilliant dialogue. Some people, generally those who did not watch, thought it was all about nudity and dragons. And, yes, there was nudity, and there were dragons. But the show was always based strongly on its characters. Some of the scenes will be listed among the best written in the history of television.
After seven seasons, the show has won 38 Emmy awards, more than any scripted show in history, and the final season might win more. And, of course, there have been far more nominations. Often, people from the show lost because they were in competition with each other.
But few shows have had more impact. We know former President Barack Obama is a fan, as is Russian leader Vladimir Putin. In Spain, some of the political parties claim to follow the policies of certain of the families. Few shows have ever been discussed and argued over like this one.
Now it is gone, and we will miss it. Perhaps someday soon we will see its like. But I won’t hold my breath.