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Article – Game of Thrones: Why the Fantasy Series is so Wildly Popular


Posted May 18, 2015 by

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Game of Thrones: Why the Fantasy Series is so Wildly Popular

The return of the most talked about show since The Sopranos, back for a fifth season of blood and betrayal, reminds the world once again how dominant the series is, exceeding 8 million viewers with its season 5 premiere alone. And although George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, on which the show is based, were bestsellers, the audience for fantasy fiction is but a fraction of what is looked-for to make a profit on the small screen.

Martin’s catalogue of characters – illegitimate sons, incestuous siblings and an army of the undead – inhabit a mythical world that’s like a cracked-mirror reflection of medieval Europe; a world teeming with grimness and brutality, but with a heavy helping of stylish nudity to make it all the more enticing.

The explicit nature captured a widespread audience and by the end of its third season, the fantasy was attracting 5m viewers a week. However, blood and breasts alone do not explain why HBO’s fantasy soiree became such a global phenomenon. So, what makes Game of Thrones so wildly popular?

Sheer Scale and Imagination

There’s a primordial appeal to this gloriously imaginative material. Martin’s myriad of characters and lineages, his epic battles and political intrigues, may well be mystifying, but there’s an honest simplicity here that charms audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

Earthly narrative threads (affairs and murders) collide with fantastical plot lines (white walkers and dragons) in this timely revitalisation of the sword-and-sandals saga. With the help of viewer imagination, the show rips through the boundaries of reality, but at the same time offers an escape to a magical world that feels very…real.


Thrones takes its time to escalate the tension and to form a world that is both magical and filled with the sort of brooding drama that magnetises audiences.

Although Thrones juggles multiple narrative threads, giving testament to its sprawling backstory, the show is nonetheless perfectly balanced. It is so tightly written and stunningly executed that even when there’s a shortage of “action”, there’s still a pivotal payoff to each episode, whether it be emotional or otherwise.

Extraordinary Characterisation

The show features many fine characters who are brought to life by equally fine actors. Chief among them is Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage). Tyrion is a silver-tongued imp with an extraordinary thirst for wine, women and revenge. Dinklage renders the half-man with expert conviction, tackling the many layers of such a complex character with apparent ease and in the process, marking his territory as a firm fan favourite.

Lesser-known actors like Kit Harrington as the watcher on the wall Jon Snow, and Maisie Williams as the fearless tomboy Arya Stark, also quickly found their way into the hearts of their audiences. The show also boasts the presence of more esteemed thespians like Charles Dance and Diana Rigg, thus fusing old-school showmanship with contemporary style.

Female Leads

In the midst of medieval Westeros, it’s the women who hold positions of proper power. Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) run the show from either side of the Narrow Sea, using their wit, cunning and family name to navigate a male-centric world; it’s unconventional, but refreshingly so.

Thrones showcases a diverse range of female types – a princess, a wicked queen, a doting mother, a tomboy, a witch, a prostitute and even a (albeit butch) lady knight – each of which have ample screen time to progress and maneuver through a masculine and medieval space.


The most appealing, if not frustrating, element of Thrones is that you can’t ever predict the happenings in Westeros. The writers’ ever-increasing deviation from the source material, coupled with Martin’s tendency to shock audiences with untimely deaths and thick narrative turns, means nobody can really know how things are going to play out; we are invited into a world where central characters meet premature ends, psychotic minors take control and marriages become massacres.

Conventional storytelling has ushered audiences into believing that a show, made for the purpose of entertainment, cannot kill its protagonist because there’s a rule written somewhere that states the good guy always wins. We watch him get into trouble, but then the enjoyable part is learning how he gets himself out of that trouble. Sure, this may be the trend that most of us are used to as we digest formulaic fiction on a daily basis, but what happens when the good guy doesn’t win? Audiences are stunned to their core as generic conventions are transcended.

With that said, there’s something very hypnotic in the way the series breaks the rules. It’s because Game of Thrones so boldly defies your expectations that you say, ‘I’ll never not watch this show again’.

Tell us why you like Game of Thrones by tweeting @TonyGLowery @FilmDebate #GoT


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Anthony Lowery
Freelance Contributor

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