Why Game of Thrones is great

Above, right to left: Jon Snow (the Ice) and Daenerys Targaryen (the Fire), who are becoming the most important protagonists of Game of Thrones.

A few hours ago I finished the seventh & penultimate series of the popular HBO fantasy television programme Game of Thrones, based upon A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of novels by George R.R. Martin. I started watching the show just over two months ago because it appeared to be one of the great TV programmes of my generation which everyone was watching; to the 2010s what Dallas was to the 1980s. Therefore I felt, by not watching it, that I was missing out on a cultural phenomenon of my era, especially as I discovered the eighth series was to be the last. Hence, I hurried to get my fill of the show, finally joining in with something I'd been missing out on since 2011.

People had described Game of Thrones as a tragic, brutal, gory, shocking, morally complicated, and erotic piece of television, so this is what I had come to expect. However, I found it not as revolutionary as I had been led to believe. Game of Thrones seems to me to have clearly defined heroes and villains (alongside its more morally ambiguous characters), to be ultimately a comedy rather than a tragedy (I could be wrong, depending on what happens in the final series, but I suspect that the show is heading towards a happy ending like any other fairy tale, it's just that it's taking a while to get there and there have been many martyrs on the way), and to have a fairly average amount of sex and violence for modern television.

There's nothing wrong with any of this, of course. People enjoy comedies, in which clearly-defined good triumphs over clearly-defined evil. That's why such works predominate in the world of literature. If such works predominate, then how does one write a new such story without being boring? Well, George R.R. Martin has succeeded at this, and made a fresh, exciting comedy, by filling it with tragedies, creating morally ambiguous characters, and holding off the ultimate victory of good over evil until the very end, after much bloodshed and many dead heroes. I commend him for it. Game of Thrones is exciting because we can never be sure what will happen next. Martin does what he likes with his characters and his story arcs; we therefore become invested in them because we never know whether our favourite characters will live or die, or what exactly is round the corner. Contrast this to conventional stories like Star Wars or superhero/heroine films, where the protagonists are rarely ever in any danger of being killed off, and must succeed over the antagonists.

As Martin gives his protagonists a few victories, and I do believe Game of Thrones will end on a high note, we stay invested and never give up hope fully while watching it; it doesn't become miserable like a war film. They have suffered many tragedies, and will doubtless suffer many more, and it is taking a long time for them to achieve their aims, but Martin has imbued just enough light into his tale for us to have faith & hope that House Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen (the main protagonists of Game of Thrones) will be victorious in the end.

Footnote: Yes, I know the programme is written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, especially now that the show is going its own course different to A Song of Ice and Fire. I kind of used Martin's name in this article as a simpler way of referring to Martin, Benioff, Weiss, and all the others involved in the writing of Game of Thrones collectively.