Winter is Still Coming – Why Game of Thrones Changed TV.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 13 years since Westeros first graced our screens.  April 17, 2011, marked the premiere of Game of Thrones, a series that would leave an indelible mark on television history.

But what made it such a phenomenon?  Why are we still talking about it over a decade later? 

Here Are 7 Reasons Game of Thrones Succeeded.

#1 – Moral Complexity – Shattering the Hero-Villain Mold.
Gone were the days of clear-cut heroes and villains.  In traditional storytelling, characters often fit neatly into the categories of heroes or villains, with clear-cut distinctions between good and evil.

However, Game of Thrones shattered this simplistic paradigm by presenting characters with complex moral alignments and shades of grey.

Characters like Daenerys Targaryen exemplify this complexity, as her journey from a seemingly benevolent liberator to a ruthless conqueror challenges viewers’ perceptions and forces them to grapple with the ambiguity of her actions.

Or take Jaime Lannister, known as the “Kingslayer,” who initially appears as a quintessential villain in the early seasons of Game of Thrones. He is introduced as an arrogant and morally ambiguous character, infamous for betraying his oath as a knight by slaying the “Mad King” Aerys II Targaryen. His incestuous relationship with his sister, Cersei, further cements his image as a villain in the eyes of many viewers. 

However, as the series progresses, Jaime undergoes a profound transformation that challenges the audience’s perception of him. Jaime exhibits genuine heroism and selflessness through his interactions with characters like Brienne of Tarth and his own internal struggles. His complex motivations and internal conflicts reveal layers of depth previously unseen, humanising him in the eyes of the audience.

Lesson for Screenwriters:  Create characters with depth and understandable motivations, even if they walk a dark path.  A well-rounded antagonist can be just as compelling as a hero.

#2 – The Unpredictable Throne – Keeping Audiences on the Edge.

Remember the Red Wedding?  Yeah, us, too.  Game of Thrones (GOT) became renowned for its penchant for keeping viewers on the edge of their seats, never quite knowing what twists and turns awaited them in each episode.

One of the most iconic examples of this unpredictability is the infamous “Red Wedding”. What began as a seemingly joyous occasion quickly descended into a massacre, shocking audiences worldwide and solidifying the show’s reputation for defying expectations.

However, it wasn’t just singular moments of shock that kept audiences engaged; the pervasive sense of uncertainty permeated the entire series. From the deaths of major characters to the unexpected alliances and betrayals, GOT continuously subverted traditional narrative tropes, leaving viewers guessing and eagerly anticipating what would happen next..  

Lesson for Screenwriters: Feel free to surprise your audience. Play with expectations, raise the stakes, and deliver shocking twists.

#3 – A World You Can Live In – The Power of Rich World-Building.

GOT transported audiences to the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, immersing them in a meticulously crafted world that felt alive and vibrant.

George R.R. Martin’s detailed world-building provided a solid foundation for the series, allowing viewers to explore diverse cultures, landscapes, and histories.

King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, is an excellent example, from the towering Red Keep to the bustling streets of Flea Bottom. King’s Landing was brought to life with intricate set design, costume work, and visual effects. The city’s complex political dynamics, including the machinations of the ruling Lannister family and the influence of the religious organisation known as the Faith of the Seven, added depth to the narrative.

Another example is the Wall and the lands beyond it, where the Night’s Watch defends the realm from threats beyond the northern border. The icy landscapes of the North, inhabited by wildlings, giants, and mythical creatures, starkly contrasted with the political intrigue of the Southern kingdoms. The Wall, a colossal barrier of ice stretching across the northern border, served as a symbol of protection and isolation, further enriching the world of GOT.

Lesson for Screenwriters:  Invest time in crafting your world.  Develop its history, culture, and details.  The more immersive your world, the deeper viewers will be drawn into your story.

#4 – Cinematic Spectacle – Raising the Bar for Production Quality.

HBO threw down the gauntlet with GOT’s lavish production values. With its breathtaking visuals, elaborate costumes, and epic set pieces, GOT set a new standard for television production.

The show spared no expense in creating a cinematic experience for its audience, rivalling the production values of blockbuster films.

One standout example is the epic “Battle of the Bastards”. The battle, which depicts Jon Snow’s forces facing off against Ramsay Bolton’s army for control of Winterfell, is a masterclass in visual storytelling. From the chaotic melee on the battlefield to the soaring aerial shots capturing the scale of the conflict, every aspect of the battle was meticulously choreographed and executed. 

The production team spared no expense in creating the immersive battlefield environment, with hundreds of extras, elaborate practical effects, and state-of-the-art visual effects combined to create a sense of epic scale and intensity. The result is a sequence that rivals the intensity and spectacle of any big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, demonstrating GOT’s‘ ability to deliver cinematic quality on the small screen.  

Lesson for Screenwriters:  While a great story is essential, strong visuals can elevate your project.  If your vision demands a grand scope, fight for the resources to bring it to life.

#5 –  A Song of Ice and Scope – Juggling Multiple Storylines

GOT masterfully weaved together a complex narrative with numerous storylines spread across continents.

One of the show’s greatest strengths is its ability to seamlessly transition between these diverse plot threads, keeping viewers engaged and invested in the fates of characters both major and minor.

The Stark family is a fantastic example of it. They are scattered across the Seven Kingdoms and beyond while following the events of the War of the Five Kings. From Jon Snow’s adventures beyond the Wall to Arya Stark’s journey across the Narrow Sea, each Stark sibling experiences their own trials and tribulations, which ultimately converge in a satisfying and emotionally resonant manner.

Another example is the political intrigue in King’s Landing, where characters like Tyrion Lannister, Cersei Lannister, and Tywin Lannister vie for power and influence in the wake of King Robert Baratheon’s death. The complex web of alliances and betrayals in the capital city provides a rich backdrop for some of the show’s most memorable moments, including Tyrion’s trial and the rise of the Faith Militant.

Lesson for Screenwriters:  Don’t be afraid of an ambitious narrative.  With careful planning and execution, you can juggle multiple storylines while keeping your audience invested.

#6 – A Language We Can All Understand – Universality in Themes.

Beneath the dragons and battles, GOT explored universal themes. It transcended its fantasy and explored themes that resonate with audiences across cultures and backgrounds.

The series delved into fundamental aspects of the human experience, including love, power, loyalty, and betrayal.

One of those universal themes is the pursuit of power and its corrupting influence. Characters like Cersei Lannister and Petyr Baelish exemplify the lengths to which individuals will go to seize and maintain control, often at the expense of others.

Their Machiavellian machinations and ruthless ambition serve as cautionary tales about the dangers of unchecked ambition and the corrupting nature of power.

Another example is the theme of redemption and forgiveness, epitomised by characters like Jaime Lannister and Theon Greyjoy. Both characters begin the series as morally ambiguous figures known for their past transgressions and betrayals.

However, over the course of the series, they undergo profound transformations and seek redemption for their past sins, ultimately finding a sense of redemption and forgiveness in the eyes of others and themselves.

Lesson for Screenwriters:  Weave universal themes into the fabric of your story.  Grand fantasy or heart-wrenching drama, stories that connect with the human condition will resonate with a broader audience.

#7 – The Legacy Lives On – A Show that Changed Television.

GOT redefined the landscape of television. It proved that high fantasy epics could be critically acclaimed mainstream hits, pushing boundaries in storytelling, production value, and audience engagement. 

No wonder it led to big productions such as “Ring of Power” and “House of Dragons.” just to name a few of them.

Lesson for Screenwriters:  There’s always room to push boundaries.   strive to create something innovative and different, a show that will leave its own mark on television history.

In Conclusion – Even 13 years later, GOT reminds us that storytelling is a journey of endless possibility. While we might not all get a shot at dragons and epic battles, we can still rock our own writing kingdoms.

So, let’s channel our inner Khaleesi or Jon Snow and craft stories that are as wild and wonderful as a trip beyond the Wall. Because, in the end, it’s not about the size of the budget—it’s about the size of the heart we pour into our tales.

Now it’s YOUR turn – Imagine you could write a different ending for Game of Thrones. How would you have concluded the series? 

Would love to get your input in the comment box below.

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