Often considered to be one of the most popular shows of all time, HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones has a complicated legacy. While it has received widespread critical acclaim and won a record number of Emmy Awards among other prestigious accolades, the disappointing final season of Game of Thrones has severely hurt the claims made by fans who thought it was the best series ever made. After 10 years, does Game of Thrones still have the power to attract newer audiences?
Based on the famous fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, the show constructs an extremely immersive world based in the fictional Westeros and Essos. In an interview, Martin explained: “I had worked in Hollywood myself for about 10 years, from the late ’80s to the ’90s. I’d been on the staff of The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. All of my first drafts tended to be too big or too expensive. I always hated the process of having to cut. I said, ‘I’m sick of this, I’m going to write something that’s as big as I want it to be, and it’s going to have a cast of characters that go into the thousands, and I’m going to have huge castles, and battles, and dragons.'”
David Benioff came up with the idea of making a television adaptation of Martin’s work and shared the idea with D. B. Weiss who finished the first novel in around 36 hours after hearing about it. After meeting with Martin, they pitched it to HBO and revealed that they managed to get the veteran writer on board by asking him: “Who is Jon Snow’s mother?” True to Martin’s original vision, the show used supernatural elements like dragons and the undead to tell an allegorical story about power and governance. It launched an interesting investigation of a monarchical system that grabbed the mainstream consciousness with its spectacular depictions of violence and political intrigue.
It resonated with so many people all across the world because it managed to present problems that exist in varying measures to this day in ways that connected with the audience. Game of Thrones draws the viewer into a world where the societal structure is overwhelmingly patriarchal, transforming female leaders like Daenerys (played by Emilia Clarke) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) into impressive symbols of resistance and subversion. It drew inspiration from historical events like the Wars of the Roses and the Italian Renaissance while creating an alternate timeline that was populated with universal issues as well as specific narrative tropes that made the show unique. This combination turned Game of Thrones into a cultural phenomenon, with people even naming their children after characters from the show.
Despite the overwhelming critical and commercial success of the first seven seasons of the show, the underwhelming finale of Game of Thrones has emerged as the part that has defined the whole show. The incredible run that the show had came to a sputtering standstill, urging fans to file a petition calling for a “competent” re-write of the entire season. “There definitely are things [over the course of the show] we would do differently,” Benioff said while defending his team’s vision. “So many people work so hard on any aspect of a thing. So when you say something critical it can sound like you’re blaming somebody else. And really the only people who are to blame are us – and I sure as hell don’t want to blame us.”
The fact remains that the final season will now be the decisive factor for new viewers who will have heard of the disappointing ending from their friends and relatives. That’s part of the reason why Game of Thrones doesn’t have nearly as much of an impact on public discourse just two years after its conclusion. The pandemic did record more people deciding to give the show a chance but it’s only a matter of time before the legacy of Game of Thrones is completely hijacked by its unfortunate self-destruction.