All you love about Game of Thrones
Ten years ago this weekend, a little TV show called Game Of Thrones hit the airwaves for the first time. You may have heard of it. But at the time, although author George R.R. Martin’s series of A Song of Fire and Ice novels on which the fantasydrama was based were already critical and commercial successes, no one involved had any inkling of the juggernaut the TV adaptation would become.
Indeed, the initial signs were ominous. Martin had been courted before about adapting his books for the screen, but due to the complex plots and huge number of characters that make up the shifting alliances and feuding families in the fictional land of Westeros, he had concluded they were “unfilmable”.
But the former screenwriter was impressed with a pitch from eventual Game Of Thrones show-runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who suggested HBO – the revered studio behind TV classics from The Sopranos to
Sex in the City – would be the perfect home for an in-depth adaptation that would have licence to include all the sex, violence and mayhem that defined his books.
HBO agreed to put up the big budgets needed to create a fantastical world that ranged from the frigid northern lands beyond the Wall to the baking sands of Essos, not to mention the grandeur of the Westeros capital King’s Landing, plus dragons, zombies and other magical creatures. So, with Benioff, Weiss and Martin on board as executive producers, a pilot was shot in 2009. It was a disaster and nearly sunk the series before it even took off.
“Nobody knew what they were doing or what the hell this was,” said actor Nikolaj CosterWaldau (Jaime Lannister) in James Hibberd’s excellent book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Untold Story of the Epic Series.
Weiss was equally candid: “As we went on, the cracks turned into bigger cracks, which turned into fissures.”
Almost all of it had to be reshot, and major parts re-cast – including Emilia Clark replacing Tamzin Merchant as the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen – but having already dropped US$10 million on the pilot, HBO held its nerve and the revised first episode, Winter Is Coming, aired in the US on April 17, 2011 and three months later in Australia. The gamble paid off and Game Of Thrones was a critical and ratings hit right out of the gate. Audiences were seduced by the epic action sequences and fully realised world as much as they were by the canny casting and the machinations of the great houses – Lannister, Baratheon, Tyrell, Stark, Targaryen – as they schemed and slaughtered for the right to sit on the Iron Throne.
ALL MEN MUST DIE
It became even more compelling when it became clear no character was safe from a bloody and unexpected exit. British veterans Sean Bean and Mark Addy were among the biggest names in the original cast yet neither survived beyond the first season spawning endless memes of a grim-faced Martin captioned: “You have a favourite character? Not any more.”
As King Robert Baratheon, whose early death set Game Of Thrones in motion, Addy looks back fondly on his contribution, brief and brutal though it was. “Sean Bean and I both knew that we died early so you make the most of the time you have got there,” he told SMARTdaily.
As the seasons progressed, the budgets and the scale grew, turning Game Of Thrones into event TV the likes of which had never quite been seen before, fuelled by obsessive and astute fan theories on social media.
Over eight seasons it became the most expensive show ever made – and won 59 Emmy Awards, a record for a scripted television show. Alfie Allen, who played the twisted and broken Theon Greyjoy, recounts a story of realising just how big the show had become during a visit to Australia in 2012 when he was bailed up in a Perth coffee shop “in the middle of nowhere” by none other than the London Olympics-bound Australian rowing team. Allen said the rowers were training nearby and approached him to reveal they were huge fans.
“How mad is the scale of the show that I can just stop at this tiny little coffee shop in the middle of nowhere and that happened?” he said incredulously.
SHOCK AND AWE
Each new season delivered new highs, which are (spoiler alert!) just as thrilling the second time around. In fact, with labyrinthine storylines and characters who sometimes disappeared for seasons at a time, there has rarely been a show that rewards repeat – and binge – viewings quite as much.
Jaws dropped when Robb Stark and his pregnant wife and mother were betrayed and murdered at the genuinely shocking Red Wedding in season three. Stomachs turned when Oberyn Martell had his head crushed like a melon in season four’s The Mountain and the Viper. Minds were blown when fan favourite Jon Snow was stabbed in the back in season five – and then resurrected in a cliffhanger. Hearts sank then soared when the evil Ramsay Bolton met his gruesome end after the Battle of the Bastards in season six.
By the time the final season rolled around in 2019, bringing with it record ratings for HBO, fan expectations were through the stratosphere. Benioff and Weiss had long overtaken the notoriously slow Martin books, so there was no blueprint as to who would end up on the Iron Throne, leading to wild speculation that could only end in disappointment for some.
When Daenerys went full Targaryen and torched King’s Landing on the back of her one remaining dragon, killing thousands of innocents, and was then stabbed to death by her lover/nephew Snow, there were howls of outrage and demands of a do-over by some disgruntled fans. Nathalie Emmanuel, who played Dany’s loyal adviser Missandei, whose death spurred the Queen into a vengeful rage, said she was bemused by fans turning on the very writers whose words they had been hanging on for seven seasons and was having none of their online petition.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” she said. “They are allowed to not like it. But art is art and you can’t really change art once it’s done.”
WHERE TO NOW?
Even though the series wound up nearly two years ago, with wheelchair-bound Bran Stark (aka the Three-Eyed Raven), elected ruler of the Six Kingdoms, Game Of Thrones is far from done. Such was the audience interest and commercial potential of the pop culture juggernaut that spin-offs were inevitable. Getting them made, however, has been easier said than done.
The first attempt at a prequel,
tentatively titled Bloodmoon and set 10,000 years before the events of Game Of Thrones, was to have starred Aussie actor Naomi
Watts. A pilot was shot in 2019 but ultimately it didn’t proceed, leaving a still-sworn-to-secrecy Watts as devastated as the rest of us. “I’m sorry,” she told SMARTdaily earlier this year. “I feel your pain. I equally got into it. I wasn’t a huge fan and hadn’t seen the shows until I was hired and then completely binged everything within the space of a
couple of months and it’s just wonderful. It’s a deep shame, it would have been great fun. But I am not allowed to give anything away I’m afraid.”
Things are looking more hopeful for a second effort House Of the Dragon, which is due for release next year. One of its stars, UK actor Olivia Cooke, who will play Alicent Hightower, confirmed to SMARTdaily shooting is slated to begin imminently (COVID-permitting). Like Watts, she was a late adopter, but a fervent convert to the fantasy world having binged her way through the original series while in London lockdown. “I remember at a lot of points texting the director saying ‘you have put me into a catatonic state’,” she says. “I mean the Red Wedding? Hideous. Why would you do that t to anyone? ?I I am very sensitive at the best of times but you are with those characters through thick and thin and it was just too much for me at points. There were episodes where I was just crying all the way through.”
Earlier this year it was also revealed HBO was working on another series based on Martin’s novella series Tales of Dunk and Egg. Three more possible spin-offs were floated last month exploring different times and places in Martin’s fantastical world: 10,000 Ships, 9 Voyages, and an unnamed series set in the King’s Landing slum of Flea Bottom.
There’s also a play in the works for Broadway, the West End and Australia in 2023 that would mark the return of dearly departed fan favourites including Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister to bring to life a tournament set just 16 years before Game Of Thrones.
And then there’s Martin himself. Although his books have now sold more than 90 million copies and been translated into 45 different languages, it’s been 10 years since the most recent, A Dance With Dragons, was released. And with two more volumes to come – The Winds Of Winter and A Dream of Spring – fans are despairing that he will ever finish the Song Of Ice and Fire Saga.
In 2019, Martin wrote on his website before a proposed trip to New Zealand that if he did not finish the book by July 29, 2020, fans had permission to imprison him “in a small cabin on White Island, overlooking that lake of sulfuric acid” but having blown out that deadline and also signing a five-year deal with HBO for more projects, alarm bells are ringing again.
But, as he’s been saying for a decade and no doubt will say again, the book “will be done when it’s done”. Game Of Thrones: The Iron Anniversary from Friday. All seasons available on Foxtel On Demand along with a reunion special hosted by Conan O’Brien and a collection of behindthe-scenes content