It’s been a fantastic last four years for fans of George R.R. Martin’s epic series, A Song of Ice and Fire. The HBO adaptation couldn’t have come at a better time; it totally ushered in what we now come to enjoy as the new golden age of TV—for this generation, at least.
Of course, before there was Game of Thrones, there was The Sopranos, which still ranks as one of the best of evening programming, as well as shows like The Wire, Oz, and Deadwood. But it was the recent shift in production quality that has viewers thinking that staying home glued to the couch might be a more immersive experience than watching the movies.
These days, TV has become more artistic and cinematic, thanks to bigger funding and Hollywood actors lending their chops to the small screen. Now we have Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Homeland, and Mad Men filling up our must-watch lists. As Derek Thompson from The Atlantic writes, “TV is replacing movies as elite entertainment, because players like Netflix, HBO, and AMC are in an arms race for lush, high-quality shows.”
Westeros from page to screen
Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss went through quite a rigorous process before the show finally premiered in 2011. They started developing it sometime in 2007, and even then the task before them was pretty daunting: how to adapt a story so rich the chronology spans several books and runs for more than 3,000 pages long. With an estimated budget of $50-60 million, it was only too easy to fit in as much characters and plot lines as possible – and wouldn’t that have been ideal, for fans all over the world.
Fortunately, the show is in good hands, with Benioff and Weiss being fans themselves. Four seasons in and the show continues to be consistent in quality, whether we’re talking about the storytelling, the casting, the locational sets, or even the costumes. It seems that there’s just enough world-building to keep both readers and newcomers to the franchise happy. Each season has managed to compress various machinations and motivations into the most spectacular 10 hours of television, marrying intrigue, fantasy, magic realism, and politics. When both critics and fans generally agree that Game of Thrones has been, so far, true to the source material, there’s no other compliment that matters, really.
A feast for the fandom
Long before there were any adaptations in existence, readers have already flocked to message boards online to talk about theories and predictions, to mourn characters and shake their fists at the sky, to demand for George R.R. Martin to finish writing the books, dammit. We say message boards, because that’s how old this fandom is—nothing much exists yet in 1997, except perhaps Westeros.org, everyone’s go-to database if they want to go beyond the books.
Run by Elio M. García, Jr., the site has grown to become an invaluable resource for anything about the Seven Kingdoms, from detailed geographic locations of scenes from the books, to elaborate family trees depicting characters, their ancestors, and their heirs. Such was García’s dedication that even the author comes to him for help when there’s a nagging detail beyond his reach.
Just as the show has made much use of the technology available to them in order to make those fantastic dragons, so does the fandom utilized the internet in recent years. For example: message boards have since evolved to more organized forum threads, wikis for both the books and the series exist now, and every night after the most recent episode airs, a TV recap is waiting for you to read at any reputable review site.
How fans enjoy the world of Game of Thrones has also given birth to a lot of different kinds of media. On YouTube, a quick search reveals a group of musicians covering the show’s theme song, garnering six million views to date. There’s also a gameplay walkthrough, fan-made trailers, and inevitably, parodies.
Even HBO provides exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of what it’s like to shoot in three different countries all at the same time, which is a good clip to devour as any while you’re waiting for the next season to arrive. Then there’s Comic Con, an event many fans wouldn’t miss for the world.
On the audio side, podcasts have also been one of the most enduring and sought-after content next to reviews, for people who still want to stay in Westeros for a little while longer, after the credits have rolled and the screen has faded to black. Audioboom (AIM:BOOM), a website dedicated to the spoken word, hosts several of these talk shows, such as A Pod of Casts and Boars, Gore, and Swords. Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, fans prefer to listen to fellow fans instead of critics, and are eager to share in that communal feeling. Some podcasts are dedicated for those who have read the books, while others are completely spoiler-free and only traverses the world of the TV show. Other have a cast of readers and nonreaders, and revel in making predictions, then debunking them later on with glee. George R.R. Martin is, after all, a master of plot twists, and if you still naively believe that your favorite character is going to be alive at the end of the story, then you must not have been paying enough attention.
Too, fans have taken to social media in voicing their frustration, grief, and awe, especially for some very shocking episodes, and there seems to be a major one each season. Non-viewers might be confused at the nervous breakdowns appearing on their timelines, while readers, who have known what’s going to happen since the beginning, have to sit on their hands patiently until the big reveals have happened. And then that’s when they begin to gloat and wallow in their friends’ tears, which must have been what the grandmaster has been feeling all these years as he chuckled to himself and wrote page after page after page.
You win or you die
The latest tally so far has several major players and contenders for the throne dead, most likely murdered. Still there are wars to fight, and every day is a chance for new alliances to be made. Evolve or die, as they say, and in this world, that’s a lesson Ned Stark surely needed.
Game of Thrones is exciting TV, alright, “a micro-masterpiece of cinematic storytelling,” a weaving of high fantasy and the gripping reality of humanity. The fifth season is set to air this April, and we can hardly wait. For now, it’s back to late-night conversations with fellow die-hards, to think about Jon Snow’s mother. You know what we’re talking about.