Winter has come: Game of Thrones coming to an end
The thing about “Game of Thrones,” which begins its final season Sunday night, is that even though it takes place in another world, that world can look a lot like our own.
Not the dragons, of course. But the entirety of “Thrones” has been built on the idea that “winter is coming” — an impending disaster approaches that will alter all life, but the rich and powerful are too caught up in political gamesmanship to deal with it.
Meanwhile, here on Earth we have the impending disaster of climate change charging hard while the rich and powerful play similar political games.
Seen from another perspective, there are hordes of undead white walkers marching to take over civilization in “Thrones”; America is currently on stage red paranoia alert because of supposed hordes of drug-dealing-rapist-terrorist refugees marching to destroy the motherland. Flipping things again, “Thrones” has the white walker Night King bent on destruction while we have the orange golf-carter.
“Thrones” is truly a game anyone can play, which is why it's so successful. And understand, it has been phenomenally successful over its eight-year run.
HBO estimates that during the show's previous season some 30 million people watched each episode. This is in an era when drawing 10 million viewers to a TV show is considered an astounding success. And that's for free TV shows – you have to pay to watch “Game of Thrones.” Plus, that 30 million figure doesn't include likely millions more who watched the show on DVDs or through bootlegged sources.
“Throne” isn't just popular, it's good. Argue about excessive violence and sex all you want but the show has so far won 47 primetime Emmy Awards — including Outstanding Drama Series in 2015, 2016 and 2018 — more than any other primetime scripted show ever.
Peter Dinklage has won three Supporting Actor in a Drama Emmys for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister; Lena Heady, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Diana Rigg and Max von Sydow have all also received Emmy nominations. That's a dizzying number of people for one show. And in all probability there are many more nominations to come.
As the end nears, the question hovers: Will “Game of Thrones” be the last television show to draw a truly huge audience?
The TV landscape has changed drastically since the show debuted in 2011. Two years later “House of Cards” debuted on Netflix and the fight for TV eyeballs on broadcast, cable, premium TV and streaming has grown ever more fierce since then. Hulu and Amazon are fully in the streaming game now and new services from Disney and Apple are on the way.
It's going to become more and more difficult for any one series to capture the perpetually distracted culture's imagination. And more expensive. The average cost of a season six “Thrones” episode was $10 million. “Thrones” has raised the bar in every way.
And now it's coming to an end... except of course it's not. HBO has already confirmed a prequel spin-off with Naomi Watts in the lead, and if that does well you can pretty much count on decades of dragons to come.
For now, though, the immediate end is nigh. And it will be interesting to see who survives. If anyone, that is. Remember, this is a show that lopped off the head of its assumed lead character (Sean Bean) in its first season. It has no qualms about going dark. How dark is more the question.
The even more pressing question is whether its massive audience takes the message of “Thrones” to heart. Winter is indeed coming, whatever your definition of winter. Will we take action or will we dither?
One thing's virtually sure: There are no dragons coming to save the day.
"Game of Thrones"
9 p.m. Sunday