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The Appeal of Game of Thrones

Spoiler Warning: I, in the name of Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men,*breathes in*, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons, *sigh*, command you to return to your cave if you’re not caught up with all the seven seasons of Game of Thrones.

What’s So Great About  Game of Thrones?

Game of Thrones S05E02 - The House of Black and WhiteThe appeal of Game of Thrones is unbelievable. A person I knew with tiniest of interest binge-watched the first six seasons within a week before season seven premiered. I have no idea what else he did that week, but he was very enthusiastic in talking about it.

My thoughts were that he would be tired. Too much of one thing is always bad. But here he was, reciting quotes and theories. I shut the door in his face. It wasn’t a cold gesture because the truth is—he smelled like a dead rat and his breath, almost, made me want to vomit.

You may have that one friend who wasn’t into the show but binge-watched the heck out of it, and for a good reason; the show is a culmination of everything fantasy, but there are some particular aspects which draw people to it.

Today, we’ll take a look at why Game of Thrones is so addictive.

The majority of drama in the show stems from a conflict between characters. The show uses a simple formula for every story arc. It uses conflict between different characters to plot its story and develop it further. It’s carried out in three stages:

  1. Introduction
  2. Buildup
  3. Payoff

Let’s examine them in detail.

Introduction, Buildup, and Payoff

The introduction is self-explanatory. We come to know about a conflict between two characters, or multiple characters, depending on the story.

The plot further develops and complicates itself. This is the buildup. Before a conflict’s resolution, we have the middle phase where the tragedies or mistakes occur leading to the grand finale. Let’s use the example of Robb Stark.

Robb wishes to avenge his father’s murder by taking down the Lannisters. He captures Jamie in the battle of the Whispering Woods. The introduction of conflict between Robb and Lannisters stems from the same scene Arya decides to exact vengeance on the Lannisters—Eddard Stark’s death. Both of these plots diverge in different directions. For simplicity, we shall stick with Robb’s.

Robb begins to take Lannister lands slowly, inching towards King’s Landing. Robb’s story arc reaches a boiling point when Catelyn releases Jamie Lannister, the most significant advantage Starks had over the Lannisters. Now, Robb begins to lose control of the situation; he is desperate to bring the fight to the Lannisters and murder them. But there’s a small hurdle in the way: he and his army have to cross a bridge that falls into the territory of Walder Frey. House Frey is proud, and Walder asks Robb to marry one of his daughters, and Robb agrees.

The problem arises when Robb unexpectedly marries Jeyne Westerling, breaking his vow to Walder Frey. To keep Walder Frey’s dignity, they offer Catelyn’s brother, Edmund, to be married to one of Walder Frey’s daughters. Walder Frey, surprisingly, consents.

The build-up consists of a couple of small, surprising turns. The show gives us a false sense of security in the manner it treats its characters. We would love to see Robb succeed, and even if he fails, he’ll die in battle.

The Appeal of Game of ThronesAs the plot inches towards the conclusion, we have the massive payoff, way too early. The Red Wedding comes out of nowhere and kills the whole Starks vs. Lannister plot, for the time being. Here we have a plot building for multiple seasons, coming to an abrupt end. We did not expect it because there was no foreshadowing. We feel helpless because it’s an incomplete conclusion. The shock wouldn’t be so great if you had a hint at its ending. So, this “incomplete conclusion” is actually complete because it serves its purpose by ending the revenge tale.

Events like the Red Wedding increase our fear for our favorite characters. There’s no guarantee, in any situation, that a character will succeed. The smallest of injuries can prove deadly. Khal Drogo died from a minor wound. After we learn about the grave danger a situation poses, every scene gains automatic momentum. A simple fight can result in death, and so we hold our breath, waiting, to scream in horror or sigh in relief. Either way, the resolution is baffling.

The reason people are so forgiving of season seven is that it’s a giant payoff for everything that came before. For years we’ve heard about the arrival of winter, White Walkers, and the Great War, but it has never been closer. The latest season was more of a fan-service than anything else, but that’s okay. We’ve been waiting years for a dragon fight, and the wall to crumble down, and to see it all come together is a rewarding experience worthy of our time even if it means taking some illogical steps and betraying the roots of the show.

Actions Have Consequences

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. There are consequences for everything we do, so why should fiction be any different?

Every death that has occurred in the show has been a direct or indirect consequence of someone’s decision or action. Viserion’s death was the result of Daenerys’ ignorance. Oberyn Martell’s death was the result of his overconfidence, and not killing the Mountain while he had the chance. The massacre at Hardhome was a result of Jon’s decision to make peace with the wildlings.

An alarm goes off in our brain when we realize what specific choices could result in for the characters.

The consequences are often indirect. Jamie’s decision to release Tyrion resulted in Jorah Mormont’s return to Daenerys, seeking to gain her trust by presenting the Imp at her feet. Jamie’s adventure with Brienne in season three, when he loses a hand, changes his character completely.

Ned Stark died because he knew too much. Robb and Catelyn Stark died because Robb broke a vow. Stannis Baratheon died because he was too stubborn to admit defeat. Joffrey died because he was an arsehole. Tommen committed suicide because his wife and faith were blown to pieces by his own mother.

Consequences go way down in history. Ned’s decision to take in Aegon Targaryen (Jon Snow) as his own bastard changes the plot of his life entirely. But Ned Stark’s decision yet to play its full roll in the show. As the final season approaches, we know the reveal will result in terrible consequences.

But there’s a sharp decline in consequences in recent seasons.

“Battle of the Bastards” was a spectacular masterpiece, but it lacked an emotional punch. Rickon was never an active character on the show, so his death was meaningless to us. Replace Rickon with Arya, or Sansa, and imagine the scene playing out. It would have had more impact. The scene packs a punch because we have been following these characters since the first episode, we know what they’re capable of, what they have done, where they have been, we like them. Rickson was missing for most of the show, and suddenly he’s here, ready to be used as leverage by Ramsay to troll Jon Snow. Even Wun Wun, the giant, had more screentime than Rickon, and his death was far more devastating.

The Appeal of Game of ThronesThe most emotionally charged death in recent seasons has been Hodor’s. There are multiple layers that make his death emotional. The writers cleverly paired his origin with his death, killing him in the process. Bran’s simultaneous warging into the young Walder and old Hodor resulted in his seizure, muting him for the rest of his life, except uttering the single word—Hodor. The terrible part is, Hodor knew he was going to die. I don’t know what else might bring tears to your eyes.

Game of Thrones may not be a perfect show, but it has been balancing characters and plot intriguingly for a long time. The latest season fell short on plot, but after so many years, it’s hard to complain when a television show matches the quality of blockbuster movies. It’s the magnum-opus of television. 

Night gathers, and now my watch begins.

For more on Game of Thrones, check out Word of the Nerd’s podcast, It Is Known.

How did you feel about season seven? Was it a letdown or was it everything you always dreamed of? Let us know in the comments!


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About the author

Rohit Meena

Rohit falls sick if he doesn’t read. He feels uneducated if he doesn’t read, and a single day doesn’t go by when he doesn’t read.

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