For the last few weeks one of the largest fan bases in literature has been gearing up for a big event. The premier episode of the final season of Game of Thrones aired Sunday night. Pop culture hasn’t seen literary hype like this since Harry Potter. Perhaps this fantasy world’s success is propelled by Potter fans who have grown up and were looking for a new world to love? 7 books… 7 kingdoms? I’m sure that are many parallels one could draw between the two imaginary realms. Either way, the world of Westeros is a phenomenon of exceptional fame.
Even my husband, who neither reads fiction, nor watches actual TV shows outside of sports know of this series. I got a text of genuine awe from him last week sharing that his co-worker’s sister is a hairdresser on the HBO set and he got to see pictures of the cast.
I have zero shame in admitting that reading the Game of Thrones is work, even for an experienced reader and word nerd like me. Seven story lines, unusually named characters and places, new mythical creatures and political structures and so, so, SO many words. I always chose to start a new Game of Thrones installment at Thanksgiving, when I knew I had a long weekend and an upcoming Christmas break to make my way through the 1,000+ page novels. That, or summer vacation. These behemoth tomes require extensive and extended reading time that could not take place during the regular school year. (And honestly, I’m thankful I read them before I had children, because human beings that require feeding and bathing would have cut into the reading time in a big way and I might still not be done!)
That being said. The story and world that George R. R. Martin created on the page is greater than the satisfaction of having conquered it. Epic quests, strong-hearted characters and the evilest of villains. Gorgeous scenery, mysteries beyond the realm and quick-witted dialogue from humans who were given less in life. Tradition, honor, loyalty, bravery. Martin leaves you wanting nothing… except the next book. For which we have been waiting eight years.
I watched the first season of GOT on DVD when I stayed home with my first son on maternity leave. The ramped up sexual scenes and violence kind of turned me off, so I never went any further. I had actual anxiety about watching the crown melting scene, and in the end muted it and covered my eyes. With books, my imagination can tame and blur the edges of the harsh aspects and cruel actions. I am proud to say that I read everything single word of this series (save for three pages of skimming when the Tickler was doing a nasty bit of work on some villagers), but with the show, I took a pass. And yet, here I am on Sunday night, drafting this post when I know the rest of the GOT nation is 48 minutes deep into the premier episode and I kind of have FOMO. Like maybe I should give the show another try?!?!?
From both the societal interest aspect and the perspective of a writer, I am curious what makes a book, particularly this book, a cultural phenomenon and obsession. A few of my friends weighed in with their opinions.
I’ve gathered a few interesting pieces of information that will hopefully shed a little light on to the success of the Song of Fire and Ice (the novel series’ official name).
Part of this series widespread fame and notoriety is due in part to technology. “It’s now possible for a series to release new episodes for viewers around the world and the result is a global watercooler – a shared media culture that transcends national boundaries” (Lotz, 1). HBO’s international reach as a media company also played a large role in distributing the TV show simultaneously to global masses. All other companies are forced to delayed airings due to contractual and trade regulations.
Incredible landscapes, unfamiliar to the American eye, have added beautifully to the magical atmosphere of the story filling viewers with a sense of wonder not often found during print time TV. Filmed in Northern Ireland, Malta, Croatia, Iceland, and Spain, tour companies have capitalized on the craze as well. (Making my bucket list item of traveling to Iceland even more appealing.)
This series is such a big deal that it was able to convince almost 3,000 people to literally bleed for the throne. At the SXSW event on March 9, GOT fans were able to experience a recreation of Westeros, which concluded with the opportunity to donate blood to the American Red Cross. “Some 80 actors were outfitted in costumes shipped in from the show’s sets in Belfast. They don’t break character, sticking to a roughly 100-page script created for them, and they even worked with a dialect coach” (Boorston, CNBC, 1). “All attendees, donors or not, experience an immersive activation recounting how a selection of favorite characters have bled for the throne. Fans are led through the storylines of Arya Stark, Cersei Lannister, Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister through an audio, visual and physical installation” (Morton, HBO.com, 1).
Where there are fans, there is fan fiction. Once we nerds fall in love with a world, we never, ever want to leave it. After we’ve devoured all an author has to offer, we begin to use their work as fodder for our own imaginations, dreams and storytelling. (C’mon, tell me you haven’t wished, even once to apparate or make your little brother puke up slugs! Maybe you’ve wished to fly on a magic carpet or get your pets to do your chores?!?)
I once attended a conference, aptly named NerdCon, in which a keynote speakers, Paul and Storm, wrote and performed a parody version of Bye Bye American Pie as a Game of Thrones recap, titled Westerosi Pie. Never have I been prouder to read an entire book series – to have spoilers bounce off my well-read armor and fall harmlessly to my feet – as I did when singing in a slightly darkened auditorium with a thousand other humans who also proudly chose to self-anoint themselves as nerds. These pieces of fan fiction have also helped to keep the books, story lines and characters hanging around after the actual stories have concluded.
“HBO spends lavishly on the series – beyond what most other networks can afford – and the result is a visually breathtaking product.” CNBC reported yesterday that each Game of Thrones episode cost approximately 10 million dollars to film, and Vanity Fair shared that each episode in season eight was closer to the 15 million mark.
The Conspiracy Theories
The complexity of the series led to necessary discussion of the material. “The intricate, surprising story lines on “Game of Thrones” inspired instant dissection and analysis on social media feeds” (Lotz, 2). These avid fan conversations only furthered people’s obsession with the world of Westeros.
I’m not sure, even after all of this research, that I fully understand what makes a blockbuster hit. Maybe there really isn’t a formula for recreating story magic. And maybe that’s a good thing. I once heard that most pop songs are built off a beat and melody schemata that are programed to be acceptable and pleasing to our brains. I felt cheated and manipulated. I lost respect for the music industry professionals that didn’t write their own work. I know that there are some formulaic authors out there, but I guess I’m happy that there isn’t a “one path beats all” way of writing in the story world.
George R.R. Martin blogs almost daily, which is in itself is an accomplishment. If I have learned nothing else from this foray into the mythical world of Westeros, George has proven to me there is no limit of words we are given to use in this life, and that, is a comforting thought.
Until next week word nerds, happy reading, happy writing, and happy watching. And remember, even though we’ve just FINALLY reached spring… WINTER IS COMING.
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