What makes Game of Thrones so compelling?

The name of the show gets an incredible fan response, and social media is filled with memes, plot discussions and character cheering. During seasons, the internet explodes with reviews, recaps and comments, and between seasons viewers lament having to wait for the next broadcast.

Martin fans are used to this.

The third installment of A Song of Ice and FireA Storm of Swords, was published in 2000. A Feast of Crows, the fourth book, wasn’t released until 2005. That’s right, we waited (some of us not so patiently) five years for the story’s continuation. Remember that, show fans, the next time you think waiting until Spring for the next installment’s going to kill you. That’s right, hug a George Martin fan today. We deserve it.

But what makes Game of Thrones so terribly compelling? Let’s face it, we’re addicted and we can’t stop watching. Even book fans are loyal viewers and we already know what’s going to happen. So why do we tune back in, year after year? The reasons are many and varied; but if I had to choose only one, I would have to say that the story is just so good we can’t not watch.

George Martin, brilliant world builder, speaks on the Religions of Westeros. 

Martin weaves characters and events so skillfully into the fantasy world he’s created it’s easy to take it for granted. Readers wondered how the books, so artfully written and carefully crafted, would translate to the television medium and, honestly, some of us were worried. Not everything carries over well, not even arguable masterpieces, and HBO seems to have an even record of hits and misses. However, the first season was a record-breaking success. While some people fell in love with Martin’s world for the first time, readers like me fell in love all over again. It was a win-win.

It must be challenging to compress thousands of pages into a season; however, the show has remained quite faithful to the books and, as a result, it’s been a rare treat for book fans. The books, with their rich characters, scope of events and scenic landscapes, become even more real to us. Also, I admit it’s been interesting to watch the reactions of people who haven’t read the books and don’t know what’s going to happen next or, as the case may be, what’s about to hit them.

Show fans could not believe Ned Stark’s beheading and watching it unfold was just as painful for those in the know. As we waited for the reprieve that never came, even book fans winced when the ax came down because television has trained us that nothing bad ever happens to our heroes.

But Ned Stark, heroic figure he may have been, is not a hero. Martin doesn’t do heroes. Characters are people and he never forgets it. He takes our preconceptions, our ideas of good and bad, and flips us inside out. Bad things do happen. They happen all the time. And they happen to people we like or love. He kills Ned Stark in the books because the story demands his death and they kill him on the show for the very same reason.

Then we have The Red Wedding.

Book fans knew it was coming but we watched in droves to see how they were going to pull it off. Show fans were shocked, rocked to the core with how graphic it was.

I actually wrote George Martin doesn’t hate the Starks and he doesn’t hate you, either afterward to address the issues that came up because of it and, prior to the episode’s airing, even shared my Stark Collection (Winterfell Edition) desktop walllpaper to help ease the pain of what was about to happen. (Did that help some of you? I’m still not sure.)

Not to get all hinty about spoilers, but I’m wondering how they’re going to pull off the chain of events involving a certain female character. (Book fans, I know you know what I mean here.) I’m wondering what kind of effects will be used for this and I think we’re all hoping it will be well done as it could tank quite a few intersecting plot lines if it’s not believably represented. Yes, this world is involved. Intricate. Eventually, even the most unrelated things aren’t, and deepening the impact only increases our investment. 

Unlike many popular writers and other television shows, Martin knows that actions have consequences. He understands that life happens and you cannot predict what’s around the corner. Characters, sometimes beloved ones, are sacrificed to the plot because that’s the story, and the story – like life – is everything. This is the backbone of Martin’s success – this pragmatic, realistic approach to story-telling – and it has been the success of the books and the phenomenal popularity of the television show as well.

Maybe HBO learned something from True Blood’s failures, a show that scrapped the successful book series and drove itself into sensationalist ruin.

It helps that the Game of Thrones show runners, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, are both respectful Martin fans, wishing to bring the saga to life on the small screen while giving it that big screen feeling. Working with a committed writer who is experienced in the medium (Martin did Beauty and the Beast and more) while sticking to a story that doesn’t need changing but adaptation has been key to the show’s outrageous success. It’s also telling that Martin directs an episode each season and, in my opinion, that his episode is usually the most noteworthy each year.

There are no short cuts and, so far, no selling out. Everything about this show is professional and drips with excellence. From the cinematic scope of its locations and the filming itself to the costuming and sets, the sheer detail is carefully constructed without becoming overwhelming to the viewer, a wonderful vehicle for the immersion process required in the fantasy genre. 
Generally speaking, the casting has been terrific; however, I admit I am disappointed with Kit Harrington’s portrayal of Jon Snow as well as Emilia Clark’s version of Daenerys Targaryen. While both seem like fine actors, neither of them quite capture the spirit of their characters as I read them in the books and, unfortunately, they are two major players in the television series. 
Undeniably, most of the actors seem as if they have been born for the roles they play on the show. Even when we know them from their body of work, such as Lord Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) skillfully portrayed by Aidan Gillen of Queer as Folk fame, we watch them in character and accept them completely. 
Secondary or tertiary characters often steal unexpected moments. Some characters, such as Davos Seaworth played by Liam Cunningham or Jerome Flynn‘s Bron, manage to steal every scene they’re in. Such well-fleshed characters and great adapted dialogue keep us interested and involved as we slowly watch the story Martin has created for us unfold. 
So what does the fourth season have in store for us? Readers already know and we look forward to it with great anticipation. But for those of you who prefer to watch along, I’ll give you this non-spoilered prediction: This very well may be the best season yet – filled with relief, angst, justice and injustice – and while it will be fulfilling, it will only leave you wanting more… because that’s why George Martin’s the master craftsman that he is. 

2 thoughts on “What makes Game of Thrones so compelling?

  1. Love the behind-the-scenes videos. Folks, make no mistake, Gen is a bonafide GoT fan. Me, I'm a show fan. I haven't read the books, and I won't at least until the series is over. Gen hit it right on the head. I love the unpredictability of it, and the fact that Martin doesn't feel constrained by “television rules” in his writing. I have to admit, I didn't know any of the cast before watching the series, and the casting department has certainly earned their keep. Thanks for this, Gen 🙂

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