Farewell to the throne

Kit Harrington as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. Photo: Supplied
Kit Harrington as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. Photo: Supplied
Winter is coming. In fact, at about 2.20pm today, the coldness will be settling deep into the hearts of the most passionate fans of arguably the world's most popular entertainment franchise.

Game of Thrones - the 73rd and final episode starts today at 1pm (NZ time) - has become a juggernaut since the fantasy epic first screened in 2011.

The famously "unfilmable" television adaptation of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books has won 47 Emmy Awards, a record for a drama series. It made stars - and millionaires - out of a core cast almost entirely unknown before the first episode appeared. It birthed an economic boom in the fields of related merchandise and tourism. It gave fantasy nerds a reason to come out of the closet.

What has made it such a spectacular success? And why do so many people care so much about it? (Note to employers: check for unexplained sick leave today. Do not accept greyscale, milk of the poppy overdose or decapitation as an excuse.)

The obvious reasons stand out, not least of which is the sprawling cast of memorable characters - cripples, bastards and broken things, to quote Tyrion Lannister, perhaps the most beloved of all the agitators for the Iron Throne.

Scheming politicians, sadistic rulers, honourable men, brave women, loyal squires, red priestesses, wildlings, Iron Islanders, the Hound, the Mountain, the Blackfish, Arya Stark of Winterfell - they came, they conquered, they generally died.

Like all good television shows, there are lines that have become embedded into the zeitgeist. "You know nothing, Jon Snow." "Not today." "The things we do for love." "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die." `The night is dark and full of terrors." "And now my watch begins."

Plot twists? Try several dozen, and that was just the first season. Some were entirely predictable; others shook viewers to the core. Does the Red Wedding ring a bell?

Production values? Off the charts. If this has been the golden age of television, Game of Thrones has sparkled the brightest thanks to its hefty budget and epic scale.

Lots of fans flocked to Thrones for its absorbing political battles but others relished the elements of escapism. White Walkers and the Night's Watch. Direwolves and dragons. Beric Dondarrion coming back to life, Hodor holding the door, the Three-Eyed Raven - tall tales to make eyes go wide.

Above all, Game of Thrones has made an impact because it may be the last of the great "water-cooler" television shows.

Part of the success of M*A*S*H and Cheers and Friends and Breaking Bad was down to the reliable old model: release one episode a week, encourage workmates and friends to debate and discuss and predict, keep them hanging for next week.

Television viewing habits have changed. A generation is now accustomed to "bingeing" entire seasons in a weekend. But Thrones did it the old way, and always left viewers wanting more.

Game of Thrones is, we know, simply a television show. A trivial blip on life's radar to many. For others, more sex and cruelty and death than they care to see on any sort of screen. Yet in its scope and its ability to capture imaginations, it has provided a vast amount of entertainment and collegial discussion.

The world can be dark and full of terrors. Some of us would rather see that stuff confined to the world of television.


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