Yes, I avoided watching Game of Thrones for a long time. As it happens with some highly popular cultural phenomena, I got tired of the excessive hype around it. Everyone else was talking about it and I felt like a social pariah for not being able to weigh in. This made me detest it even more. Nevertheless, I finally watched it this month and much as I hate to admit it, I liked it enough to binge watch it!
Now this got me thinking. What exactly is it that makes it so successful? It is not that we have not had period dramas and fantasies before. Also, generally critics tend to dislike such stuff. But in this case most of the critics have been floored too. Even more interesting is its popularity in India. People who never even watched FRIENDS or BBT or Breaking Bad are now swearing by GoT. It is hard to explain but here are my two bits about the phenomenon.
1. It just came at the right time!
There was a time when TV serials were poorer cousins of cinema. But in the last few years the game has changed (in the West that is… Indian TV is still going backwards). Exceptional quality and success of some serials made it possible for the channels to come up with bigger and better projects. This kind of production values, scale, star cast, locations, and visual effects were hard to imagine on TV a decade ago. But now they have millions to spare for every episode and it gets bigger and better every season with their continued success.
2. A forbidden fruit for Indians
Nevertheless, Indians are watching it not merely for production values. It has gratuitous nudity, sex, violence, incest and all other taboos that would never feature on Indian TV or cinema. So, no matter what they say in public, most people consider it a piece of forbidden fruit.
3. It does cliché but does it well
The thing with GoT is that none of the ideas here are completely new or exceptional. The word I think I should use here is “competence”. They just know how to do it even if it is nothing new. Directors, writers, technicians, and actors here know what works for the audience and they do it well, really well.
4. It has developed iconic characters
The success or failure of any series depends on their ability to develop iconic characters. These are characters that people love, hate, sympathize with, or want to see die. From Tyrion to Arya and from John Snow to Daenerys, GoT has created not one but dozens of memorable characters, partly through the writing and partly through excellent casting. So, people end up discussing the fate of these characters all the time, creating huge buzz for the series.
5. It has mastered the art of shock
This started with the very first episode, when Jaime Lannister threw Bran Stark out of the window. Over the years, viewers have become used to the fact that there can be some unpleasant twist at any moment and their favorite characters can die in spite of their goodness and valour. Yet, the makers keep pulling unexpected rabbits out of the hat every season and manage to pull off these shocking moments with surprising consistency.
I think GoT is not a mere TV serial but a very well-planned project pulled off by clever professionals (who are also good artists). And yet, despite my cynicism, I am already looking forward to the next season!