Looking Back at Game of Thrones, One Year On

Updated: May 16, 2020

PICTURE this. It’s the 19th of May 2019. Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road is in full swing at the top of the charts pretty much everywhere. The Netherlands have just won Eurovision the previous night. The Premier League football season has just seen Manchester City crowned champions on the final day of the season a week ago. Coronavirus is nowhere to be seen. People are allowed out of their houses, and they’re enjoying the hot weather (in most places). But dive beneath the surface, into the underworld of social media and the Internet, and one would have come across a world of chaos and fury.

Game of Thrones, HBO’s 8-year-long fantasy television series, had just aired the sixth and final episode of its eighth and final season, titled The Iron Throne. Reaction to the episode, as well as reaction to the third, fourth and fifth episodes, was, to put it lightly, not positive. Everything and anything was torn apart by a furious legion of fans across Twitter, YouTube and Reddit, attacking the show’s apparent failure to successfully round off what ought to have been the triumphant finale of an epic, decade-spanning saga. The show’s writers, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, were scapegoated as the architects for what was seen as one of the most disappointing media events of all time. The phrase ‘Game of Thrones’ had begun to leave a pretty bad taste in people’s mouths.

It wasn’t always like this – but perhaps that’s what made it all the more painful. Because, if you can cast your mind back to any time between the years 2011 and 2014, mentioning the TV series based upon George R.R. Martin’s seminal fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire was far from bringing up a traumatic event. For a great deal of its run, Game of Thrones represented the absolute pinnacle of large-scale, big budget ‘quality television’. Initially picking up a small set of dedicated watchers alongside devotees to the books upon its opening run in 2011, the show’s fanbase had grown rapidly over the following years to the point where it was beginning to become a global phenomenon. Rather than presenting the people responsible for the show’s writing to a firing squad, the show’s creative directors, alongside the expansive cast and technical teams, were hailed as visionaries of TV; the new poster people for the ‘Golden Age of Television’.

That would have been the mood around season 4 of the show. But then, things began to slowly but surely go astray. It didn’t all fall apart – far from it – but soon fans were becoming increasingly aware of a general decrease in quality of the show. A distinctly lacklustre fifth season sowed the seeds of doubt, and, although the sixth season in particular went some way towards placating the masses, more unrest grew prominent among the show’s now immense fanbase. And then, like a crumbling and unsafe tower block, it all came crashing down.

A year on from the demolition, and things are… weird. The annual colossus of hype and excitement that Game of Thrones brought about like nothing else, isn’t here. In fact, everything has gone the other way. Nobody is talking about the show. Obviously there’s less to talk about now that all is said and done, but it almost feels like everyone is desperately avoiding the subject. The looming giant that is Thrones just sits there in the corner of public conscience, resting as a looming elephant in the room.

I can understand why. I can understand that people are less than keen to cast their minds back to the disappointment and pain of those April and May days in front of their TVs. But it also makes me a little bit sad.

Because it feels like people have forgotten what Thrones once was. The greatness – and it was great – that made up the majority of the show has seemingly been swept under the carpet, wiped away by the calamity of last year (which shall henceforth be known as The Event). Somehow, it’s been omitted from a deal of Best of Decade in TV lists, despite easily having content that would make it onto Best Of lists of any decade. The Event has overshadowed a show that was brilliant – one of the most brilliant. And I don’t think it should have done.

But in that case, how should we remember the show? As good as so much of it was, The Event means that trying to enjoy earlier seasons as someone who’s watched all of it is a really weird task. Surely it’ll all feel kind of… meaningless? Like none of that earlier brilliance matters – because we all known how it’s going to turn out.

And I agree – it is weird. But the thing is, it’s a weirdness that’s worth pushing through. You have to try and distance yourself from The Event as much as possible and try to enjoy the rest of the show regardless - because it’s too good not to. It will take mental strength and a deal of resilience, but if you loved the show for any period of time, revisiting it and distancing yourself from the future is a must. Try role-playing it. Transport yourself back to the headspace of 2011, when the first episode aired, or to whatever state you were in when you enjoyed the episodes the first time, and dive straight back in like you’ve never left.

It will be hard. Convincing yourself you don’t know something isn’t in your nature. It certainly wasn’t in mine, but I had to learn my way through it. And I implore you all to do the same.

Because Game of Thrones – pre-Event – isn’t being treated fairly. This is a show whose best aspects deserve to be remembered among the icons of dramatic TV, in the same breaths as the best of The Wire or Breaking Bad. Even if those shows will always be in a higher echelon because they ended satisfyingly, their individual accomplishments as episodes are on the same level as those of Thrones – without a shadow of a doubt. And therefore, they deserve to be remembered in that way.

It’s like losing a loved one (in the least disrespectful way possible – this is just for metaphorical purposes). You don’t talk about the end – it’s too painful. Instead, you talk about the bits of their life which were worth celebrating, and you celebrate them.

And to those who haven’t watched the show, and are put off by the eventual ending, I can promise it is worth it. The metaphor of life also works here. We all know we’ll eventually die, and that we’ll feel pain along the way. But we keep going, because the stuff that we live through along the way more than balances it out. Avoiding Thrones because of The Event is missing out on some of the best entertainment of all time, and, if you even give half a damn about TV, or media at all, it’s a waste.

So, now that we’re all still restricted at home, whether you’ve suffered through The Event or are unfamiliar to Westeros and its inhabitants, don’t pass over Thrones. It may have left a bad taste in the public mouth but, swirl some mouthwash and you’ll find that you can go straight back into it. To change the stained cloth of the show into the reputation it deserves, we have to start by going back and appreciating it again.

All men must die, but all men must serve. And Game of Thrones may have died a grisly death, but along the way, it more than served. Remember that:

Valar morghulis.


Valar dohaeris.