Well, we’ve come this far together.
As we wait for HBO’s Game of Thrones to unleash its 80-minute series finale on Sunday, I’ll crawl out on a short limb to predict it will be the hit drama’s most-watched episode.
(Here endeth the predictions.)
Last week’s fiery “The Bells” set series records even as some of its plot twists set off considerable howling. An estimated 18.4 million viewers watched on television or HBO’s other platforms Sunday, up from the 17.8 million who saw the Battle of Winterfell episode, “The Long Night.” On TV, there was an average audience of 12.5 million watching from 9 to 10:20 p.m., up from the 12.1 million for last season’s finale, according to HBO.
That’s just in the United States. Game of Thrones is broadcast in 207 countries and territories and simulcast in 194 of them.
No matter how fans feel about this eighth and final season so far — color me occasionally dazzled but largely disappointed — seeing this thing to an end feels important. No one wants to be left out of the conversation the next morning. What I’ll miss, much more than Game of Thrones itself, is hearing friends and colleagues debate their pet theories, including a few so far-fetched I’ve wondered at times whether we were watching the same show.
Not everyone feels the same way, of course.
Daring Planet, a travel site that’s glommed onto HBO’s hit to generate its own hits by tempting people like me to write about its Thrones-related analytics, recently put together a map that’s said to show, using geotagged data from Twitter, the states in which the most people this season have been tweeting their lack of interest in Game of Thrones.
Pennsylvania was No. 7 and New Jersey No. 5 on a list led by Tennessee and Alabama, which is disappointing — if we can’t complain better than Southerners, what are we even on social media for?
As for why anyone would go online to talk about not watching something, I’m guessing it’s because the rest of us won’t shut up about it.
And so we can measure at least some of the impact of Game of Thrones in the annoyance it’s caused for those who’ve never watched. For years, they’ve had to deal with catchphrases like “Winter is coming,” and “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” and to hear “Khaleesi” used as a term of respect, without any of the fun of watching baby dragons grow up to become weapons of mass destruction.
It really has been fun. Mostly.
My favorite thing about television is the conversations it can lead to, but those conversations have become harder and harder to have face to face as DVRs and streaming services allow us to watch a wider variety of shows anytime we please.
It’s not just that one of my sisters is finally watching The Wire, years and years after I started telling anyone who would listen that it might be the best TV show ever made.
Bring up last night’s episode of almost anything that’s reasonably popular and you’re bound to encounter someone who backs away, hands covering ears, for fear of spoilers. That could still happen with Game of Thrones, but I’d like to think those people realize how unreasonable it is to expect the rest of us to wait for them to catch up.
You don’t ask your friends not to “spoil” the Super Bowl, do you?
On Twitter and Facebook, the show increasingly has been treated like a sporting event, with enough people doing conflicting play-by-plays that I realize I’m not the only one who’s sometimes unsure of what’s happening on screen, particularly when that screen consists of shifting shades of black and gray.
Confusion, too, can be a shared experience.
Is one or more of these characters I’ve been watching for eight seasons really dead? Can we get a DNA test on the rubble to make sure? Do dragons ever run out of fire?
Because David Benioff and D.B. Weiss adapted the HBO drama from A Song of Ice and Fire, a still-unfinished series of books by George R.R. Martin, the show came with a built-in audience of readers. Their expectations may sometimes have been unreasonable — not every character or plot point in the books needed to be in the show, and I, for one, haven’t missed Lady Stoneheart — but it’s helped keep the conversation interesting.
The show itself has been an engineering marvel, filmed in 10 countries, with a cast of dozens, and more than 12,000 extras in Northern Ireland alone. Amid the spectacle of battles, executions, a public shaming, and one very bloody wedding, there’s been room to talk about what the show has had to say about leadership (and luck), about the sometimes perplexing place religion occupies in this fantasy history, and even about the biological implications of incest.
What I’d hoped for this final season was that we’d also be questioning the very idea of “winning” a game that’s left destruction in its wake at every turn.
Benioff and Weiss may have wanted that, too, and they’ve certainly given us reasons to see the Iron Throne as a curse, not a prize. But what they seem to have wanted most was to stick the landing, a probably overused phrase applied to series finales that don’t leave viewers screaming at their TVs (or, in the case of The Sopranos, convinced that their cable went out).
Does sticking it to King’s Landing count?
The scorched-earth approach of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to taking down Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) didn’t come out of nowhere this season. Dany was brought up in exile by an unstable brother who convinced her their family had been robbed of a throne, and she’s always been a bit too fond of fire. These things don’t make her mentally ill, even if mental illness runs in her inbred family. Single-minded people can be sane and dangerous. (See Baratheon, Stannis.)
Still, although I won’t be signing that absurd Change.org fan petition for a do-over of the season — turns out Dany’s not the only one who’s feeling overly entitled — I can see why many people were upset by “The Bells.” Like so much this season, Dany’s dragonfire-bombing of the capital, however impressively staged, felt like something being checked off a list more than the inevitable expression of her character it was.
It’s hard at this point to imagine 80 final minutes that would satisfy every Game of Thrones constituency, from the ones who came for the dragons to the ones who stayed because even the worst characters in this show have been pretty watchable.
Fortunately, it’s not my job to imagine it. I get to watch and then talk about it. And I’ll be there till the end.
However it turns out, bittersweet or just plain bitter, it’s good to know I won’t be alone.