Game of Thrones enamored us because it defied us. It enticed our engagement but refused to bend to our will. Week to week, season to season, it invited us to inspect its machinery closely, to try to see how the gears interlock, and to forecast the turning of its wheels. Daenerys said she would one day break the wheel. We watched with bated breath to see which wheel, on which turn, and which cogs of the machinery would be left intact?
This level of engagement is a rare species in the age of streaming platforms. Consider the colloquial verbiage: “binging.” It refers to mindless, uncontrollable consumption. When we binge-watch, we’re being force-fed content, eliding moments to ingest and contemplate what we are taking in for evermore autoplays of the next episode.
The weekly gaps between GOT episodes and the months-to-years that lagged between seasons infused the ritualized screentime of its devotees with fervency and anticipation. These waiting periods allowed us to take the imaginative reins of the storytelling for a week, or even a year, and progress the story with our own logic and desire. Podcasts, Youtube channels, fanfictions, and article after article on all the largest and smallest media websites dedicated themselves to nothing more than breaking down episodes and prognosticating what is possibly to come. Amidst this media storm, spoiler-hysteria was at a fever pitch for those not yet inducted into the sacred mysteries of the latest episode. To be in the know was to belong, to participate.
GOT was able to enjoy this robust off-screen life because the world it presented onscreen was so complete. Fantasy author George R. R. Martin charted the whole expanse of Westeros and beyond in his multi-volume epic, A Song of Ice and Fire. In translating and condensing his novels for the screen, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had a world rich with political intrigue and military strategy at their fingertips. But, most importantly, they had a world populated with characters who were as close to flesh and blood as any literary imagination could conceive.
These characters were smart, deadly, heroic, and flawed. They animated the landscape of GOT with insight and action, and they seemed natural to that world because they were not immune from it. The hermetic seal of a…