OPINION: The cultural greatness of ‘Game of Thrones’

headshot_Alex Cala

Alex Cala

Ahead of its April 14 premiere, the trailer for the eighth season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” was released Tuesday, marking the beginning of the end for a series which deserves a deep examination of its impact.

When the show premiered April 17, 2011, television was a vastly different place.

Behind the triad of “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” AMC was one of the best networks on television.

Netflix had not yet gained the cultural ubiquity it possesses now, with the company several months away from the Qwikster debacle which saw it lose 800,00 subscribers 

Even HBO was relatively archaic by today’s standards; HBO Go wasn’t even out for iOS devices yet, launching 12 days after the premiere of its eventual crown jewel.

Obviously a lot has changed since then, with AMC no longer a top-tier channel, streaming services becoming the norm and HBO wholeheartedly embracing the times; the network took advantage of the insatiable hunger for Westeros and launched HBO Now (a cable-free subscription to HBO) in 2015, becoming the year’s highest-grossing streaming app.

In 2017, viewership for “Game of Thrones” was so high that three of HBO’s websites crashed during the season 7 premiere, with the show still managing to draw in 16.1 television million viewers and millions more watching on streaming services.

Clearly, the series has been an absolute behemoth for HBO, with these figures and the show’s record-breaking 47 Emmy Awards conveying that.

However, these statistics don’t capture the series’ entire impact.

Before George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” books were adapted for the small screen, there was a dearth of successful fantasy shows on TV.

Sure, there was the occasional critical and financial success (such as fellow HBO hit “True Blood”), but most fantasy shows were either unfaithful to the source material or criminally unappreciated, relegated to networks such as SyFy. Unlike their sci-fi brethren, fantasy TV shows simply weren’t viewed as surefire hits.

“Game of Thrones” took this expectation and smashed it to pieces.

By distilling the type of grandeur and rich universe seen in “The Lord of the Rings” down to a highly addictive and sinister episodic format, it proved that a medieval fantasy series could not only be a hit, but the most successful show on television.

The number of imitators that have attempted to copy this blend of fantasy, political intrigue and unpredictability is a testament to the unforgettable work of D.B. Weiss and Dan Beinoff, the showrunners charged with adapting the series for HBO.

Beinoff and Weiss were given this unenviable task and succeeded dramatically, cutting the more ridiculous parts of Martin’s writings and still staying true to the spirit of the source material.

At this point, they’ve even surpassed the books, setting a blueprint for other showrunners in the process.

Clearly, the show is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon.

You can now buy “Game of Thrones” shirts, candles, Christmas sweaters and wine, dress up as your favorite character for Halloween in a socially-acceptable fashion, and take classes on the show in college.

Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, even parlayed his success into a role as the antagonist of 2016’s “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,” one of the most popular video games in the world.

Against all odds, the show has helped make nerd culture cool, perhaps its most impressive accomplishment.

However, the end is coming soon, and even though HBO says several spinoffs are being discussed, I doubt they will match the quality of the original.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the greatness, because you can only watch a show for the first time once. Simply put, April 14 cannot come soon enough.

Alex Cala is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].