10 Reasons “Game of Thrones” is Successful

Its been just over a week since the season 1 finale of Game of Thrones (GoT) ended. While lamenting over the fact that I have to wait several months for its inevitable return I made a list of the reasons why I think it was such a successful show.

SPOILERS BELOW!  You’ve been warned.

1) Quality

Game of Thrones displays spectacular quality across the board: Acting, writing, directing, casting, production design, costume, sound, score, cinematography. You name the craft and they’ve invested in the best.

I’ve found very few qualitative flaws with GoT. I’m constantly reminded that I’m in good hands with every passing scene.

2) Theme of Power

Take a poll of the top 5 movies of all time. Consistently you’ll find Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, etc. If these films had one thread of consistency what would it be?

The Theme of Power- and overcoming great odds to achieve a goal, often involving the primal element of revenge and life-or-death stakes. Recent history has shown with Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter the resounding impact a protagonist’s rise to power has on an audience.

Or how about comparing it to some of the top TV Dramas of the last decade: The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Battlestar Gallactica, etc, all of which have similar themes.

Game of Thrones is no exception. LOGLINE: “Kings, queens, knights and renegades use schemes and swords to battle for the throne.”

A simple, basic through-line for the audience to connect with allows for complex characters and intricate story-lines to permeate our brains. We even excuse the things we don’t understand because we do understand the basic conceit.

3) Adaptation

Frustrating as it is for a young screenwriter trying to break into this industry, the fact is Studios are investing in the long-lasting trend of the Adaptation.

Can’t argue with the effectiveness of having an audience already built in to a property. I’ve never read the Game of Thrones books but I hear they’re amazing.

 

 

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4) Awesome Title Sequence

There are few shows where I opt not to fast-forward past the title sequence. Dexter was one of those shows. The Borgias is in there. I remember thinking the opening was the best part of Carnivale.  And Game of Thrones gets me every time with its epic exploration of the map of  Westeros; over an epic score, structures are built mechanically, like clockwork; the only other recognizable object is a sword being forged before our eyes. All of which conveys the show perfectly. To flaunt the individual cast members would betray what the show is truly about: seizing the throne.

5) Memorable Characters

Whenever you watch something and you or friends go “Which character are you?” you know you’re holding a gem. The ability to relate to a character’s POV, to find an “in” to the story, makes it that much more powerful to watch.

For the record, while Tyrion Lannister is my favorite character, I most relate to Robb Stark.  I often refer to my wife as “Khaleesi” (after Daenerys Targaryen). And I refer to my newborn as a “Dothraki” (after Khal Drogo).

Which character are you?!

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6) Quotable Dialogue

“Your mother was whore with a fat ass. Did you know that?”

My friend, Yav, comes to poker every week quoting Robert Baratheon’s first line in the entire series which perfectly captures this character’s personality.

There are so many great quotes on this show I imagine they could sell a compendium when all seven seasons are complete. It seems every line coming from Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is legendary.

“All dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes.”

(When defending his second accusation of murder) “Oh, did I kill him, too? I’ve been a very busy man.”

Or… “Should I explain to you the meaning of a closed door in a whorehouse?”

Unsure who deserves more credit I bestow equal kudos to both DB Weiss and David Benioff.

7) The Mystery Box

Maybe you’ve seen JJ Abrams TED episode where he explains the theory behind “The Mystery Box”. Using the analogy of refusing to open a box despite how intriguing the contents inside may be JJ effectively argues that “Mystery is more important than knowledge.” Because most likely what was in that box is meaningless compared to what you think could be in there.

JJ isn’t the inventor of this concept though he utilizes it brilliantly (lets not turn this into a Lost debate forum please). Game of Thrones also is effective at presenting something to look forward to in the short term (with “Will Bran Stark pull around?”) and in the long run (with the promise of the existence of dragons).

Audiences love a good mystery only to be replaced with another mystery upon discovering the secret behind the first.

8 ) The Unexpected Twist

Episode 9 of Game of Thrones proves that NO ONE IS SAFE on this show, not even who we thought was the hero of the entire show! We have been trained to think our main protagonist will carry us through the run of the show and that our story will be beautifully book-ended at the finale wrapping up the character’s arc as well as the theme of said show.

But not in GoT. They had the balls to say “This show is bigger than Ned Stark.” This, of course, caused an uproar with many who think the show will fall apart because of this betrayal of our expectations.

HINT: I don’t think so.

9) Budget

Okay, $50-$60 million for the series ($5-$10 mil for the pilot) is not exactly “…Always Sunny in Philadelphia” numbers. But I can’t think of another show that looks better than this show. Comparing it to 24 (with all its “modern-day” special effects, explosions, etc) isn’t fair because its a different time period completely (not to mention Network vs Cable money).

A fair comparison would be to HBO’s Rome a few years back with its whopping $100 – $110 million investment for 12 episodes. That’s $8-$9 mil per episode for Rome, and $5-$6 mil for Game of Thrones. For $3 mil less per episode HBO is investing in a similar quality show that already has a following.

While $10 mil sounds like a lot for a tv pilot, compare that to Boardwalk Empire‘s estimated $20 million (the construction of the Boardwalk alone costing close to $5 mil) and GoT starts to sound like a bargain.

Expect to see a lot more dramatic tv shows adopting the practice of shooting entire seasons as if its an epic film shoot in order to save money in the long run.

10) The Letter “N”

A friend of mine said it best when talking about the opening of Game of Thrones: “Every time I read the ratings list and I see the letter N (for Nudity) I go ‘Yes!’ [accompanied with a victory fist-pump]”.

I’m sure we’ve all seen a porno and thought “I wonder if this could be done well?” Stanley Kubrick allegedly considered this while making Dr Strangelove and eventually made Eyes Wide Shut.

They say the key is to disguise the nudity so it doesn’t feel gratuitous. And I say GoT does it blatantly, shamelessly- and masterfully!

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The only thing that really upsets me about Game of Thrones is how long I have to wait for Season 2.

~ JW

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1 Comment

  1. A note on point no 6; I think you forgot to give credit to Mr Martin also, who almost definitely came up with all those dialogue in the first place. Good job by Weiss and Benioff for making sure the good stuff stays in, though 🙂


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