Why is our generation so obsessed with Game of Thrones? I binge-watched HBO's fantasy series to find out
I was blissfully unaware of the magic of Game of Thrones, until I binge-watched the show in 2 weeks.
It was an unusually warm winter afternoon in Seville, Spain. My husband and I were taking a free walking tour around the lush green gardens of the Real Alcazar. Most of the tour members had joined in after a heavy lunch, with droopy eyelids and half-baked enthusiasm. Gardens, castles, meh. Been there, seen that — seemed to be the mood.
And then the tour guide said, "Game of Thrones fans, raise your hands."
Promptly, ten hands shot into the air, including my husband's. Droopy eyelids quickly turned into wide-eyed enthusiasm.
"How many of you know where we are standing?" he asked.
And then it hit everyone. They shouted in chorus: "DORNE!"
So why is our generation obsessed with Game Of Thrones?
This is a question I found myself thinking about in two phases — the first was more a judgmental, "what is the big deal" type of question, when I had only seen two seasons (mostly under peer pressure) and found the show to be just about okay. Hold your gasps, everyone. This changed with time, because I have now feverishly consumed the whole series, up until the seventh season, and I'm as obsessed as the rest of you.
This brings me to a follow-up question — what is it about Game of Thrones that pulls viewers from different parts of the world together? In such large numbers?
Is it the power struggle between feuding families and the subsequent violence? Is the complexity of relationships, and the normalisation of barbaric customs and incest? It is because the show invests heavily in its characters and gives them layers/arcs worthy of seven seasons (everyone has a favourite, and each of them are different)? Is it as simple as giving viewers a thoroughly imaginative show that serves as a form of escapism? Is it the impressive performances by talented actors such as Emilia Carke, Peter Dinklage, Massie Willaims, Kit Harrington (among several others)? The reasons are plenty.
There are many op-eds about the show's perplexing popularity, and perplexing it is because of the unprecedented fandom that the show has seen. There's even a study dedicated to tracking how the show found cult following. For one, 16 million people watched the season 7 finale in 2017 — across 173 countries. This is a number that can convert the strongest of skeptics, and there are a few (I know, because I was one of them).
Ever since the show first premiered in April 2011, too many people me were telling me I absolutely had to watch Game Of Thrones.
"You'll get hooked"
"It's mad — you won't be able to stop watching it"
"Everyone is watching it. Get with the programme."
And so, I sat down to watch the first two seasons, roughly two years after its premiere in 2011. I was underwhelmed. Between Ned's beheading, Cersei-Jaime's relationship, Tyrion's snark and everything about the Mother of Dragons — I had enough to stayed hooked onto the show. Yet, I found myself crumbling under the names of too many people and places.
This is too much of a commitment, I told myself, and subsequently lost touch.
Until 2017 (the finale of season 7), I was blissfully unaware of the magic of Game of Thrones. In fact, had my husband not been a staunch fan, my reintroduction to the series would never have happened. It's when I caught him watching the last, explosive episode of season 7, that I decided to give the show another shot. (I can't lie and say FOMO wasn't a part of this — if 173 million were going to have a conversation and collective breakdown over the series finale, I had to be a part of it).
I started my re-watching of Game of Thrones from season three — and patiently watched on till the ninth episode (the famous 'Red Wedding'). Post 'Red Wedding', I got so hooked to the show, I finished the next four seasons in 2 weeks. Needless to say, I had many thoughts and reactions.
In a best-case scenario, this could serve as a selective catch up for those of you who have lost touch with the show, but need a reminder just before the finale season. In a worst-case scenario, this will sound like a bunch of rant-y opinions, in the language of a noob, but humour me, won't you?
(Obviously, spoilers ahead)
F*ck diamonds, dragons should be a girl's best friend
Holy f*ck, the mother of dragons is #goals. Each scene involving Daenerys Targaryen, from season 1 to 7, is goose-bump inducing. At first, she is sold to the Dothraki Khalasar's (leader of sorts) Khal Drogo by her brother Viserys Targaryen, in exchange for 40,000 warriors. When she gets three dragon eggs at the end of the pilot episode (as a wedding gift!), her life changes. Wait, no. Not only her life, pretty much everyone's life in Westeros will change subsequently. From a victim of her brother, she turns into the most powerful female character in the series; a natural Queen and a noble, yet fiery leader. And with three full-grown dragons by her side, there is no stopping Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons.
Tyrion is my King
I knew by the fourth season that my ultimate loyalties lie with Tyrion Lannister — the underdog and the smartest Lannister (but not the most badass — that's Cersei's mantle; see below). He's sassy, sarcastic, has a potential drinking problem and roving eyes; he killed his manipulative father Tywin Lannister, because Tywin wanted to execute him for a murder he did not commit; he killed his lover because she cheated on him; he betrayed his family, to side with Daenerys Targaryen because she's obviously the most powerful person in Westeros — and yet I find him to be the most earnest character in the series purely because he doesn't try to be a better version of himself. He is what he is — dogged, mentally strong, opportunistic, loyal, sensible and very funny, and he won't change for nobody.
No 1 Cersei apologist
So badass women are not new to Westeros. Take Lady Olenna Tyrell for instance. The Queen of Thorns (through her words and actions) — is sassy, smart and manoeuvres the world to suit her plans and protect her family. Now if I hadn't mentioned a name, I could easily have been referring to Cersei. Sure, Cersei is blind when it comes to her children, and will do whatever it takes to keep the power within the Lannisters. She kills ruthlessly and brings danger to King's Landing to suit her personal interests (the whole Faith Militants track — yawn). But one can argue that people find powerful women hard to digest. All characters in Game of Thrones have complex backgrounds and motivations, but Cersei is a great example of a woman trapped within patriarchal and oppressive structures, who finally uses those very structures to empower herself. She's a bit of a double-edged sword, and definitely not trustworthy, but who said powerful women have to be?
Unsatisfying deaths vs satisfying deaths
There are two kinds of deaths in Game of Thrones — the first kind will make you gasp in sadness. This is probably because this character was your favourite, and was killed prematurely. It could also be the way in which they were killed (most like in a gruesome and unexpected way). The second kind of death will make you jump up in joy (even if you aren't a particularly violent person), because this character is likely very evil, and deserved the horrendous ending they got. And then there's Tommen — Cersei's younger son. He belongs to a third category — most random, underwhelming death ever.
Ramsay Bolton is more evil than Joffrey
Speaking of deaths that gave me joy, I kept waiting for Ramsay Bolton to die (as did Sansa Stark; I feel you, girl). I counted the hours, the days, and when it finally came, I had to cover my eyes because it was that grotesque, but so worth it. Joffrey Baratheon, Cersei's elder son who becomes the King at the mere age of 13, is widely considered to be the most sadistic and evil character in the series. But hear me out. Ramsey starts off owing allegiance to Robb Stark, and tortures Theon Greyjoy ("torture" is an understatement) for betraying him, but eventually betrays the Stark house himself. He kills his father to become the Warden of the North. He then makes a deal with Petyr Baelish (another conniving character) to marry Sansa, and tortures her too. He is finally executed after Jon Snow takes over the North post the Battle of the Bastards. I can't say I didn't squeal a little.
I'm super invested in Arya's arc
One of my absolute favourite scenes from the whole series so far involves Arya — who is training to be an assassin with the Faceless Men in Braavos and has been rendered blind in the process — fights The Waif. On the orders of Arya's mentor Jaqen H'ghar, The Waif had been teaching Arya how to fight without her eyesight. At the end of the eighth episode of season 6, called "No one," Arya runs away into the streets of Braavos because she is marked as dead for failing to carry out a task. She's stabbed by The Waif, but flees. She lures her into a dark alley, and then blows off a burning candle, thus ensuring The Waif has no light to fight Arya. Talk about ironies! When the show first started, I was least interested in Arya's journey. "She's a child," I thought to myself, "and there are other important things happening." But by season 6 and 7, Arya's story picks up pace and has all the ingredients to be a movie of its own. This is the Young Adult film we deserve.
The White Walkers & Night King — shudder!
The massive fight that Game of Thrones has been leading up to since the very first minute of the pilot episode isn't an ordinary one. The enemy is practically unbeatable (unless you have swords made of dragonglass). This is a fight between the living (who are clearly outnumbered) and the dead (who are rising by the minute). Heading the Army of the Dead is the Night King, possibly the first White Walker to exist? The Night King converts the recently deceased into WWs by just a raise of his hands, and after killing Viserion in the end of season 6, he also has a zombie-dragon under him. I would not want to have this guy and his army as my enemy, just saying.
Escapism for grown ups?
One of the most stark (pun not intended) things about Game of Thrones, is how they treat the concept of good and evil. Everything is grey — even the most noble characters have a dark side, and there's no extent to exactly how evil the evil characters are, but they're always given a backstory. Everyone has layers. This is not a show for innocents. There's gore, bloodshed, extreme violence, lots of sex, rape, barbaric customs, prostitution, slavery, dragons, fire and so much more — triumphs come at a cost, and there's no loss that cannot be avenged. Riveting stuff, eh?
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