Why Game of Thrones has everyone hooked
If you happen to know any TV executives right now, and you’re stuck for something to get them for Christmas, we have the perfect suggestion for you. A TV show that is like, but isn’t, Game of Thrones. It doesn’t matter what the series is, so long as you can describe it as “Game of Thrones in…”
James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes books are being adapted into a series described as “Game of Thrones in Space” while the same channel is also making Dark Matter, or “Game of Thrones in Space” as it was pitched by its creators. On a less cosmic scale, Outlander is pitching itself as “Game of Thrones in Scotland” while HBO is looking back to its golden goose by putting George RR Martin on the staff on their new series Captain Cosmos.
In 2011, when Game of Thrones first came to our screens, there were plenty of series with long running plots, characters with conflicting agendas, and the occasional protagonist death to keep things spicy. But still, very few people would consider adapting an actual series of books into a multi-series television series. And if they did, it would have to be a crime drama or something by a Bronte.
So what changed? And what are the secret ingredients you’ll need if you’re a TV executive doing what all TV executives do (taking whatever was successful recently and copying it)?
Know how your world works
Tolkien’s books were all very good, but anyone who read them, or watched the Lord of the Rings films, or saw any art relating to the books, must have looked at Rivendell and wondered… “Where does all the poo go?” The waterfalls coming from beneath that city look awfully clean, is all I’m saying.
While we’re on that point, how does a city that’s supposedly well outside all the major trade routes, on the side of a gorge with no viable farming land nearby, hope to feed any of the people that live there? Isn’t Rivendell, if you actually take a moment to look at it, just a bunch of Great Halls threaded together with ornamental corridors? You couldn’t actually live there.
King’s Landing is not Rivendell. Neither is Winterfell, or the Iron Islands. Westeros is a living, breathing world and while the series might not bore you with the details, you know they have a good idea how the food and money come into the cities, and how the poo gets out. When the world is that real, the characters have to work hard to survive in it, instead of the world being a convenient paper backdrop for their adventures.
Everyone is the hero of their own story
Remember Joffrey? God how we hated Joffrey. We would do endless memes about how horrible he was. We’d fantasise about his eventual gruesome demise. From the moment he had Sansa’s dire wolf killed we were waiting for him to get his just desserts.
Now do you remember how you felt when he was poisoned? Did you punch the air? Did you laugh? Or did you feel awful and a bit guilty because you were watching a child die painfully in his mother’s arms?
Everyone in Game of Thrones is living their own story. They all have a point of view, and reasons for the things they do, even, if not especially, the most obviously evil characters.
Levity is important
This might sound like a weird thing to say about a show famous for constantly killing off its most likeable characters while the ones that survive live under a constant sense of impending doom, but if that’s all there was to the show most of us would have given in ages ago (hey there, last two seasons of Battlestar Galactica!).
But despite the regular cries of “They killed X?! That’s it I am DONE with this show!”, Game of Thrones always gives you just enough hope to keep you watching. Tyrion hit rock bottom last season (and murdered a woman, which you might think makes him a less sympathetic character), but now he’s free of his family of, let’s face it, terrible people, and is now advising the substantially less terrible if obviously doomed Daenyris. In the middle of one of the bleakest episodes of the last season, Sam and Gilly finally had sex, and it was funny and sweet and made you happy for both of them (and simultaneously concerned that this means they’re definitely going to get murdered next season).
It’s all very well going to the dark and gritty, but if that’s the only place you go people simply get immune to it. And then they won’t feel it when you really stick the knife in for the season finale.