How ‘Game of Thrones’ Has Changed TV For the Better
“Bad people is what I’m good at,” Tyrion Lannister once boasted, and the man wasn’t kidding. Over the past six years, Game of Thrones has introduced us to more outrageously bad people than any drama on television: killers, liars, tyrants and thieves. It’s brought Westeros alive as a fantasy world where a conscience is a luxury nobody can afford – not even kings. HBO’s epic fantasy blockbuster is gearing up for the seventh season, with the eighth and last chapter already on the horizon. That means we’ve got just 13 more episodes to spend in Westeros, with all the bastards, cripples and broken things in this story. It is the winter that never stops coming, the door that will not hold, the wildling drama that permanently blew up the rules of what people thought was possible to achieve on TV. No show has ever been so brilliant at badness. We’ll never see the likes of it again.
When George R. R. Martin began writing his fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire, he was already scheming to make it unthinkable for anyone to try a film version. He wanted his novels to create a world too complex, too bloody, too extravagant, simply too big to capture onscreen. Fortunately, he failed. Game of Thrones has kept making and remaking TV history by translating Martin’s vision – all it had to do was ignore all the formulas of how television is supposed to work. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have even ventured beyond the novels at this point, pushing the story into uncharted territory, where not even seasoned fans of the books can guess what climactic ending is coming. Just like Maergery Tyrell saying she doesn’t want to be a queen – she wants to be the queen – Thrones set out to be the TV epic.
More than anything, it’s the characters that make the show thrilling year after year. Westeros is full of unforgettable heroes and villains – except virtually all the heroes also double as villains, betraying both their lovers and kingdoms in the blink of an eye. Anybody can get killed off, any time. Beloved characters get hacked to pieces, often by other beloved characters. Long-simmering subplots take years to explode. Saying the word “whore” once too often in the bathroom can get you killed. So can giving a dramatic speech in the middle of dueling a guy nicknamed “The Mountain.” Having too many feelings at the wrong moment gets you churned into a bloody pulp. Revenge. Guilt. Political corruption. Sexual conniving. Stacks of corpses. White Walkers. Dragons. Weddings that turn into bloodbaths. Rampant nudity and lethal one-liners, often at the same time. Monsters you spend years rooting against – except when they get killed, you realize none of the problems have gone away.
From the beginning, it seemed crazily ambitious, aiming for wide-canvas world-building. By the second season, Cersei Lannister was already quipping about how she couldn’t keep score of all the pretenders to the family throne. Back in the day, this kind of size and scale was attempted only by blockbuster miniseries like The Winds of War, built to last for just a few star-studded nights. But Game of Thrones has sustained this pace for 60 hours and counting.
As the seventh season begins, the ruthless Cersei now sits on the Iron Throne, after lighting the blaze that burned up the Sparrows as well as her sultry daughter-in-law. (Damn – we’ll miss you, Maergery.) Jaime Lannister got back to King’s Landing just in time to see his sister/lover’s coronation, after she watched their last living child jump out the castle window to his death. Daeneyrs Teargarden, the Mother of Dragons, sets sail with Tyrion as her Hand of the Queen. Jon Snow rules as King in the North, after winning the Battle of the Bastards. His long-suffering sister Sansa Stark resolves a few problems in her marriage by feeding Ramsay Bolton to his own hounds. Arya Stark proves that revenge is a dish best served cold by feeding Walder Frey a pie baked from his sons’ flesh, before shooting an arrow through his skull. And the white raven from the Citadel has arrived at Winterfell, which means the long-running warning has finally come true: Winter is here. In other words, everything up to now has been the easy part.
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