Whether it’s the books or the TV series, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone anywhere who hasn’t heard of George R R Martin’s epic fantasy franchise. Oddly, you’ll probably have trouble finding anyone among them who dislikes the series. Sure, some fans make think that season was slow or that book was weak, but in general it seems the tales from the land of Westeros are universally loved by all.
So, why is that?
With the possible exception of maybe Lord of the Rings the medieval fantasy genre hasn’t recently had any major popularity with the general public. Movie studios are hesitant to invest in sword and sorcery (understandable, just see the recent box office bomb that was Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), similarly TV Execs are reluctant to green light series and fantasy books remain a niche genre, with titles rarely appearing in top 10 bestseller lists.
Game of Thrones seems to be the exception.
On paper there’s no way the television adaption of the books should work: there are a colossal amount of characters, dozens of intertwining plot lines, large-scale military battles and dense political dialogue. Nothing about the series translates to the small screen easily, yet somehow show runners Dan Weiss and David Benioff have pulled it off. Not only that, they’ve done it in such away that it broadens A Song of Ice and Fire‘s potential audience.
For me, the appeal is straightforward. As a child, I was a fan of anything involving knights and dragons. Cartoons, books, Lego, games, – if there were swords, castles and a princess to be rescued, it had my attention. My adoration of the fantasy genre never really left me and Game of Thrones is everything about it I loved – with an updated, adult twist. My action figures weren’t orchestrating wedding massacres back then, but they certainly would be now.
The TV series has something to entice a viewer of any genre. We all know sex sells and Game of Thrones is bursting with it. I don’t think one episode goes by without containing at least one graphic nudity scene. It goes without saying that violence is equally catered for and the fight scenes are remarkably well choreographed. Prince Martell’s duel with The Mountain had me at the edge of my seat. Even the large-scale engagements like the seafront assault of the Blackwater or the epic Battle of the Bastards are put together like scenes from a high budget feature film.
Forgetting all of these smaller factors, the storytelling is just masterful. Your beloved main characters can be killed off without a moments notice. Above all, I think that this is the biggest reason for Thrones popularity; Characters.
The TV series has a cast-size that can only be matched by maybe the Simpsons in scale. The books contain even more names to remember. Each individual comes with their own unique agenda, motives and backstory. It would be easy to blanket them all as “shades of grey” and while its true that many do walk the narrow villain/hero line, there are plenty of outright monsters (Ramsey Bolton, Joffrey Baratheon, Gregor Clegane) and pure do-gooders (Davos Seaworth, Eddard Stark, Hodor) to save the day.
And because of this depth and variety, everyone’s got their favourites. Mine is the gruff, scarred up Hound. He likes to keep things simple and doesn’t give a damn about your political struggles (“I’m no ser”). You might be a Tyrion fan, with his witty dialogue and remarkable intelligence. Or a devout Stannis supporter due to his ruthless determination to right wrongdoings. Maybe you relate to Jaime Lannister as you have an overwhelming urge to bang your sister.
It also boasts the biggest ensemble of strong female characters – Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, Brienne of Tarth, Cersei Lannister, Ygritte, Olenna Tyrell, Yara Greyjoy, Osha – of any television series ever. Women stand on equal footing with their male counterparts in this story.
Watching all of these names interact, love and kill each other, with utterly no idea of where the story is heading next is what makes the franchise truly special. George R R Martin has done a splendid job of crushing your heroes with defeat after defeat, while still holding out that very thin ray of hope that justice will eventually be served and everything will turn out alright.
I hope that the inevitable ending of the books and television series won’t be an anti-climax, but even if it is, Mr Martin and the show runners have already provided us with so many hours of masterful entertainment that I won’t hold it against them.
Just please don’t kill of the Hound.