I am probably the least qualified person to write about the HBO blockbuster “Game of Thrones.” It makes as much sense as sending Donald Trump to lead a feminism seminar or inviting Mike Pence to an orgy.
But we live in strange times, so here I am writing about the first episode of the final season and desperately trying to understand what the hell is going on. It’s as if someone fell into a coma on the way to voting for Hillary Clinton and woke up three years later saying, “What have I missed?”
I have previously written about my aversion to “Game of Thrones,” which generated many warm words from the show’s fans online (mainly “You will burn in Hell for this”). To save you the trouble of reading the original article, I can sum it up thus: I have no interest in any show whose source novels weigh more than any of my children; I have no interest in any show that can be summed up with the tagline “Breasts and Dragons” (which, incidentally, was also the late Hugh Hefner’s suggestion for how to make Dungeons & Dragons less geeky); and I have no interest in shows featuring a cast of thousands — of special effects workers.
But my Twitter feed and email inbox have been inundated with stories and articles about the show for the past month — from highbrow features about how “Game of Thrones” reflects the end of monoculture to lowbrow ones about where it stands in the all-time list of nude scenes (just behind Lena Dunham’s “Girls” but way behind “Shameless,” apparently) — and all of those words have worn me down. Like a cowardly knight facing the hordes from the North, I have surrendered to the onslaught.
For me, the most remarkable thing about the show is how it has conquered the globe with its balance of “sexplaining,” court intrigues and bloody battles. (Incidentally, I do worry that young "Game of Thrones" fans are going to have a very strange take on sex in years to come. How many will believe it's something you should do with at least three other people, all while talking about vanquishing your enemies?) Young and old have tuned in, in ever increasing numbers, over eight long years to find out who eventually gets to rule the Seven Kingdoms and sit on a very uncomfortable-looking iron throne or whatever.
It is also impossible not to admire the way the series has become such a cultural phenomenon: For example, the Croatian city of Dubrovnik was so overrun with tourists looking to see “King’s Landing” that it now sees the show as something of a curse rather than a boon.
And here’s the show’s biggest achievement: Other shows have completely lost their way by season eight — and yes, I am looking at you, “The Walking Dead,” with your stupid helicopter scenes and disappearing cast members — but “GoT” has provided a master class in how to build a slavish audience and leave them wanting more, even if that means making them wait two years for the grand finale. In an age where audiences want to binge shows as and when they choose, that is quite the feat.
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Of course, the bean counters at HBO hope the world’s appetite for all things Westeros will not dim. The first of a series of spin-off shows, starring Naomi Watts and Miranda Richardson will chronicle “the world’s descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour,” although that may as well have been written in High Valyrian for all the sense it made to me. (Just to be clear to very young kids, “GoT” has no connection to “How to Train Your Dragon” and should not be seen as part of the money-spinning franchise.)
When “Game of Thrones” debuted in April 2011, the world felt like a very different place. How different? Well, the day after the show premiered on HBO, then-President Barack Obama released his tax returns for the previous year. Now, of course, the United States has a president who never releases his tax returns and is obsessed with building a Wall that keeps “undesirables” out.
Given that, it’s a shame that “Game of Thrones” dropped the books’ name for the supernatural creatures beyond its own Wall — The Others — and renamed them White Walkers, since the original term really fits with Trump’s brand. Perhaps someone should switch his channel from Fox News to HBO: If he hears that “White Walkers” are on the other side of a wall, it is surely only a matter of time before he decides to let them all in.
Since that April 17 eight long years ago, you could argue that the public need for a fantasy world to escape into — and the more brutal the better — has only grown by the season. This leaves us facing the awkward prospect of what “Game of Thrones” fans are going to do once the show concludes on May 19.
Well, here’s one idea for younger viewers. Now that you’ve become engaged in the political machinations of Westeros, you can keep that going in the real world. Let “Game of Thrones” be your gateway drug into CNN or MSNBC (but skip Fox News — that’s just a whole other level of fantasy).
Believe it or not, the House of Representatives is way more interesting than the Houses of Stark or Lannister; the in-fighting between Brexiteers and Remainers in Britain’s Conservative Party is as vicious as any to be found in the castles of The North; and, best of all, you can see how Joffrey influenced Israeli right-wing politicians, specifically the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu.
I spent pretty much all of episode one trying to work out which bearded guy was related to which anaemic-looking queen, princess or lady; who had previously plotted to kill whom; which relationship (if any) wasn't incestuous; and wondering why the show is so obsessed with eunuchs.
But I can’t say it wasn’t fun or that I wasn’t completely immersed in the internecine feuding. I have finally accepted that “GoT” is such a cultural phenomenon, it would be remiss of me not to keep, er, abreast of it all. It’s a bit like following Donald Trump’s Twitter account: Confusing and disorientating, but you know it’s still what everyone is going to be talking about the next day.
A big bald bloke (I can’t understand why I wasn’t asked to write the episode recap) says at some point, in a speech that the Bard himself might have written — and then scrunched up and binned because it’s not half as profound as it thinks it is: “Respect is how the young keep us at a distance, so we don’t remind them of an unpleasant truth: Nothing lasts.”
With that in mind, and despite the fact that I don’t know my Sansas from my Cerseis or my Theons from my Samwells, I am here to declare that, “Game of Thrones,” you got me: For five more episodes, I’m in it for the short-haul.