The third episode of season eight’s HBO series Game of Thrones had barely concluded when the online bloggers began to review and dissect what had just transpired in the epic battle between the White Walkers and the families defending the fictional kingdom, Winterfell. There were lists of the main characters that had been killed off, who remained, the heroes, the villains, and what would happen next.
I confess to being a latecomer to the GOT fan base. Midway into season four, I watched a few episodes but was unable to follow the complicated storyline or sort out each character’s backstory. (With more than 200 characters in the production, keeping everyone’s history straight is a challenge.) I had no plans to pick up watching again until HBO announced that season eight would be GOT’s last. Not wanting to be left out of what I knew would be a huge cultural event, I decided to start at the beginning and watch as much as possible before the new season began. With more than 67 episodes to stream, I knew I would only get through a handful. But fortunately what I was able to digest proved enough to help prepare me for the final six episodes.
Being a true fan, however, involves more than just tuning into HBO at 9 p.m. on Sunday night. Keeping up on social media is a must, of course. There are forums where fans can review the episodes, offer opinions on how the series will end, and comment on everything from the scenery and costumes to the lives of the actors playing the main characters. The fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, which serve as the basis for the series, are bestsellers. (The five-book boxed set can be purchased on Amazon.) Some fans, looking to immerse themselves in the whole experience, make pilgrimages to the countries where GOT was filmed. Northern Ireland and Iceland, primary sites, are taking advantage of the connection with marketing campaigns that have helped to increase visitors and revenue. In Northern Ireland, enterprising guides who served as extras during some GOT scenes, are able to add an insider’s knowledge to their tours, according to a recent New York Times article. Dubrovnik, in Croatia, whose castles were used as settings for some of the episodes, has seen such an increase in tourism that locals are concerned about too many visitors straining resources. (Those who want to celebrate closer to home can attend Game of Thrones Night on May 17 at Yankee Stadium and receive a T-shirt emblazoned with the Iron Throne.)
We’ve gone crazy over TV shows before. There are fan tours in New Jersey for The Sopranos and outside London for Downton Abbey. How many women were ordering Cosmos, made popular because of Sex and the City? But there’s something different about the frenzy surrounding GOT and I can’t help but feel it has to do with the way our country, indeed our world, is today. We are divided like never before, unable, at times, to have civil conversations with friends or relatives against a political backdrop that has become increasingly divisive. What can we talk about without getting into a heated argument? How can we find common ground? It seems silly, but some of the best discussions I have had lately, with people I normally don’t agree with, revolve around GOT. In this #metoo era, one debate centers on how women are portrayed in the series, often as prostitutes or victims of rape and violence. Yet several of the women – Ayra, Daenerys, and Cersei – emerge finally as fighters and leaders, an evolution that we can applaud and gives us hope.
There are only three episodes left, but many questions to be answered. Who is Azor Ahai – the Prince that was promised? Is Cersei really pregnant? Are there more dragons? Who will sit on the Iron Throne at the end? How will Jon and Daenerys transition into being siblings? And why is George Martin obsessed with incest? I doubt the discussions over season eight, indeed over the entire series, will end any time soon. And many will want to go back to the beginning and fill in the blanks, follow various plot lines now that we know how it ends. What did we miss?
The best evidence that a show has become a cultural phenomenon is that it produces one line that becomes iconic. While “May the force be with you,” was meant to convey good luck, GOT’s “Winter is coming,” is perhaps more fitting for now – a warning to remain vigilant because tough times are ahead.
Photo credit: Helen Sloan/HBO
Top: Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington