Game of Thrones just became the most successful show HBO has ever aired. Over 18.4 million people on average watch an episode of Game of Thrones every week. The previous HBO champ, The Sopranos, maxed out at 18.2 million viewers. I know people who don’t watch Game of Thrones and I know people who are huge fans and can’t wait for the next episode to air. I don’t know anyone who casually watches the show – it really seems like you’re totally excited about it or it’s just not your cup of tea.
Here are 6 reasons I think Game of Thrones has been so successful and will continue to be successful throughout its run. (Note – lots of sex and violence may have had a part in initially drawing viewers to the show but I think the show would do just fine if both of those aspects were scaled back.)
1. The Look and Feel of the Show
Even if you saw Game of Thrones and hated it (for whatever reason) I don’t think anyone would disagree about the amazing production design and cinematography of the show. It is beautiful to look at even when you are looking at a dungeon and is so believable it makes it easy to transport yourself into the world of the characters. I would not expect higher quality sets or camera work from a big budget feature film and I don’t think I would get it. You truly feel like you are watching a mini-movie every time you tune in to see the show and that is very, very rare. No wonder Cinemark CEO Tim Warner recently told Variety he wants to screen shows like Game of Thrones in his theaters.
2. The Cast
People I know who have read the Fire and Ice books are amazed at the casting success the makers of Game of Thrones had. I just recently started reading the books so I can’t comment on that, but I can say how I don’t think there is a weak link in the entire cast. Some actors (Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Sean Bean, Natalie Dormer) were familiar to me before watching the show, but the vast majority of actors were not. Sometimes in casts as huge as Game of Thrones (and I can’t think of one that has been as large right now) it takes awhile to start caring about the characters or even time to figure out who is who. In Game of Thrones the actors are all so strong and distinct it makes it much easier for the audience to track what’s going on and there are plenty of engaging characters to choose from as your favorite. High quality scripts just help the actors and actresses in Game of Thrones shine week after week. Speaking of the huge cast . . .
3. It Isn’t Dumbed Down For the Audience
Game of Thrones is a complicated story involving dozens of characters. In many cases characters do not appear in back to back episodes because there are only so many story lines that can fit into one hour of television. Many networks would most likely not trust that audiences would accept the complexity of the story and the shear number of characters and story lines. I frequently am annoyed my favorite storyline didn’t make a certain episode, but I wouldn’t take away any of the characters or story lines. I might sign a petition to get Game of Thrones episodes to be two hours long every week though.
I also appreciate how Game of Thrones has a way of subtly helping the viewer remember what has happened in the past without repeating themselves over and over and over again or having characters say dialogue that is clearly inserted into the script to “help” the audience figure out what’s going on.
4. Everyone Can Relate to a Power Struggle
Game of Thrones to me is essentially about power struggles. Power struggles to determine who is going to be king. Power struggles within regions, cities, families, couples, fathers and sons. Everyone can relate to a power struggle and they are just plain entertaining to watch. One day you’re a favorite of the king, the next day you’re in the dungeon. It’s hard to know where any of the characters stand in the show because the story is so volatile. There are plenty of characters to identify with and keep you wanting to come back and see more.
5. It Doesn’t Play Favorites
Do you have a favorite character in Game of Thrones? Don’t get too attached to them. Consider yourself warned. While the shocking deaths of a number of popular characters in the first three seasons of Game of Thrones are certainly upsetting to viewers, you have to respect a show that takes these kinds of chances. The show is so good it can overcome the death of pretty much anyone and keep you engaged as a viewer.
6. The Women are Quite Amazing
A lot has been written about the treatment of women in Game of Thrones and it’s a fascinating topic that deserves its own article. Do I think some of the scenes involving rape went too far in the show? Yes, I actually do. I also think some of the torture and death scenes are much more extreme than they need to be. This is an interesting and complex topic that I think will be the focus of more and more articles and rightly so. But one thing is certain. There are a lot of women (including me) who love Game of Thrones and I feel one of the reasons for this is the large number of kick-ass women in the cast.
Cersei, Daenerys, Arya, Catelyn, Brienne, Tygritte, Margaery, Sansa (yes, even Sansa) - this is just a partial list of the strong female characters in the show. They have been through horrors many of us can not imagine but none of them are victims. They are leaders and schemers, strong and brave, smart and bold. There’s no “girlfriend of super hero” roles here. They wouldn’t survive a day in King’s Landing.