Game of Thrones is an American fantasy drama television series created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for HBO.
It is an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels, the first of which is A Game of Thrones (1996).
The show was both produced and filmed in Belfast (Northern Ireland) and elsewhere in the UK. Filming locations also included Canada, Croatia, Iceland, Malta, Morocco, and Spain. The series premiered on HBO in the US on 17 April 2011, and concluded on 19 May 2019, with 73 episodes broadcast over eight seasons.
Set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones has a large ensemble cast and follows several story arcs. One arc is about the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and follows a web of alliances and conflicts among the noble dynasties, either vying to claim the throne or fighting for independence from it. Another focuses on the last descendant of the realm’s deposed ruling dynasty, who has been exiled to Essos and is plotting a return to the throne. A third story arc follows the Night’s Watch, a brotherhood defending the realm against the fierce peoples and legendary creatures of the North.
Game of Thrones attracted a record viewership on HBO and has a broad, active, and international fan base.
Critics praised the series for its acting, complex characters, story, scope, and production values, although its frequent use of nudity and violence (including sexual violence) was criticised.
The final season, especially its last two episodes, received significant criticism for its condensed story and creative decisions, with many considering it a disappointing conclusion.
The series received 58 Primetime Emmy Awards, the most by a drama series, including Outstanding Drama Series in 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019. Its other awards and nominations include three Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation, a Peabody Award, and five nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama.
Many critics and publications have named the show as one of the best television series of all time.
Game of Thrones is based roughly on the storylines of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, set in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the continent of Essos.
The series utilises several simultaneous plot lines.
- The first story arc follows a dynastic conflict among competing claimants for succession to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, with other noble families fighting for independence from the throne.
- The second covers the exiled scion’s actions to reclaim the throne.
- The third chronicles the threat of the impending winter and the legendary creatures and fierce peoples of the North.
Showrunner David Benioff jokingly suggested “The Sopranos in Middle-earth” as Game of Thrones’ tagline, referring to its intrigue-filled plot and dark tone in a fantasy setting of magic and dragons.
Cast and Characters
Game of Thrones has an ensemble cast estimated to be the largest on television. In 2014, several actors’ contracts were renegotiated to include a seventh-season option, with salary increases which reportedly made them among the highest-paid performers on cable television. In 2016, several actor’s contracts were again renegotiated, reportedly increasing the salary of five of the main cast members to $1 million per episode for the final two seasons, which would make them the highest-paid actors on television.
Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean) is the head of House Stark, whose members are involved in plot lines throughout the series. He and his wife, Catelyn Tully (Michelle Fairley), have five children: Robb (Richard Madden), the eldest; followed by Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), and Rickon (Art Parkinson). Ned’s illegitimate son Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his scholarly friend Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) serve in the Night’s Watch under Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo). The Wildlings living north of the Wall include the young Gilly (Hannah Murray), and the warriors Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie).
Others associated with House Stark include Ned’s ward Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), his vassal Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), and Bolton’s bastard son Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon). Robb falls in love with the healer Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin), and Arya befriends the blacksmith’s apprentice Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and the assassin Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). The tall warrior Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) serves Renly Baratheon and, later, Catelyn.
In King’s Landing, the capital, Ned’s friend, King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), shares a loveless marriage with Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), who has taken her twin brother, the “Kingslayer” Ser Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), as her lover. She loathes her younger brother, the dwarf Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who is attended by his mistress Shae (Sibel Kekilli) and the sellsword Bronn (Jerome Flynn). Cersei’s father is Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), and she has two young sons: Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman). Joffrey is guarded by the scar-faced warrior Sandor “the Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann).
The King’s Small Council of advisors includes the crafty Master of Coin Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and the eunuch spymaster Lord Varys (Conleth Hill). Robert’s brother Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is advised by foreign priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and former smuggler Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). The wealthy Tyrell family, led by its matriarch Olenna, is represented at court by Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) is the capital’s religious leader. In the southern principality of Dorne, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) seeks vengeance against the Lannisters.
Across the Narrow Sea, siblings Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) – the surviving children of the last “mad” king of the original ruling dynasty, who was overthrown by Robert Baratheon – are in exile and try to regain the Iron Throne. Daenerys marries Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), the leader of the nomadic Dothraki and later has three dragons. Her retinue includes the exiled knight Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), her aide Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), the sellsword Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman), and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), who leads Daenerys’ army of elite eunuch-warriors, the Unsullied.
Conception and Development
In January 2006, David Benioff had a telephone conversation with George R.R. Martin’s literary agent about the books he represented. Having been a fan of fantasy fiction when he was younger, he became interested in A Song of Ice and Fire, which he had not read. The literary agent sent Benioff the series’ first four books. Benioff read a few hundred pages of the first novel, A Game of Thrones, shared his enthusiasm with D.B. Weiss, and suggested that they adapt Martin’s novels into a television series; Weiss finished the first novel in “maybe 36 hours”. They pitched the series to HBO after a five-hour meeting with Martin (himself a veteran screenwriter) in a restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard. According to Benioff, they won Martin over with their answer to his question, “Who is Jon Snow’s mother?”
Before being approached by Benioff and Weiss, Martin had had meetings with other scriptwriters, most of whom wanted to adapt the series as a feature film. Martin, however, deemed it “unfilmable” and impossible to be made into a feature film, saying that the size of one of his novels is as long as The Lord of the Rings, which had been adapted as three feature films. Benioff agreed it would be impossible to turn the novels into a feature film as their scale is too grand for a feature film, and dozens of characters would have to be discarded. Benioff added, “a fantasy movie of this scope, financed by a major studio, would almost certainly need a PG-13 rating. That means no sex, no blood, no profanity. Fuck that.” Martin was pleased with the suggestion that they adapt it as an HBO series, saying that he “never imagined it anywhere else”.
The series began development in January 2007. HBO acquired the television rights to the novels, with Benioff and Weiss as the series’ executive producers and Martin as a co-executive producer. The intention was for each novel to yield a season’s worth of episodes. Initially, Martin would write one episode per season while Benioff and Weiss would write the rest of the episodes. Jane Espenson and Bryan Cogman were added later to write one episode each for the first season. The first and second drafts of the pilot script by Benioff and Weiss were submitted in August 2007] and June 2008, respectively. Although HBO liked both drafts, a pilot was not ordered until November 2008. The pilot episode, “Winter Is Coming”, was shot in 2009; after its poor reception following a private viewing, HBO demanded an extensive re-shoot (about 90% of the episode, with cast and directorial changes). The pilot reportedly cost HBO $5-10 million to produce, while the first season’s budget was estimated at $50-60 million. For the second season, the series received a 15% budget increase for the climactic battle in “Blackwater” (which had an $8 million budget). Between 2012 and 2015, the average budget per episode increased from $6 million to “at least” $8 million. The sixth-season budget was over $10 million per episode, for a season total of over $100 million, a record for a series’ production cost. By the final season, the production budget per episode was estimated to be $15 million.
The series is praised for what is perceived as a sort of medieval realism. George R.R. Martin set out to make the story feel more like historical fiction than contemporary fantasy, with less emphasis on magic and sorcery and more on battles, political intrigue, and the characters, believing that magic should be used moderately in the epic fantasy genre. Martin has said that, “the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves”.
A common theme in the fantasy genre is the battle between good and evil, which Martin says does not mirror the real world. Just like people’s capacity for good and for evil in real life, Martin explores the questions of redemption and character change. The series allows the audience to view different characters from their perspective, unlike in many other fantasies, and thus the supposed villains can provide their side of the story. Benioff said, “George brought a measure of harsh realism to high fantasy. He introduced gray tones into a black-and-white universe.”
In early seasons, under the influence of the A Song of Ice and Fire books, main characters were regularly killed off, and this was credited with developing tension among viewers. In later seasons, critics pointed out that certain characters had developed “plot armour” to survive in unlikely circumstances and attributed this to Game of Thrones deviating from the novels to become more of a traditional television series. The series also reflects the substantial death rates in war. In a 2012 study, out of 40 recent television drama shows, Game of Thrones ranked second in deaths per episode, averaging 14.
Inspirations and Derivations
Although the series’ first season closely follows the events of the first novel, there were significant changes made for later seasons. According to David Benioff, the TV adaptation is “about adapting the series as a whole and following the map George laid out for us and hitting the major milestones, but not necessarily each of the stops along the way”. Aspects of the novels’ plots and their adaptations are based upon settings, characters, and events in European history. Most of Westeros is reminiscent of high medieval Europe, from its geography and castles, to its cultures, the feudal system, palace intrigues, and the knights’ tournaments. A principal inspiration for the novels is the English Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) between the houses of Lancaster and York, reflected in Martin’s houses of Lannister and Stark. The scheming Cersei Lannister evokes Isabella, the “she-wolf of France” (1295-1358). She and her family, as portrayed in Maurice Druon’s historical novel series, The Accursed Kings, were a main inspiration of Martin’s.
Other historical antecedents of series’ elements include: Hadrian’s Wall (which becomes Martin’s Wall), the Roman Empire, and the legend of Atlantis (ancient Valyria), Byzantine Greek fire (“wildfire”), Icelandic sagas of the Viking Age (the Ironborn), the Mongol hordes (the Dothraki), the Hundred Years’ War, and the Italian Renaissance. The series’ popularity has been attributed, in part, to Martin’s skill at fusing these elements into a seamless, credible version of alternate history. Martin acknowledges, “I take [history] and I file off the serial numbers and I turn it up to 11.”
Nina Gold and Robert Sterne were the series’ primary casting directors. Through a process of auditions and readings, the main cast was assembled. The only exceptions were Peter Dinklage and Sean Bean, whom the writers wanted from the start; they were announced as joining the pilot in 2009. Other actors signed for the pilot were Kit Harington as Jon Snow, Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon, Harry Lloyd as Viserys Targaryen, and Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon. According to the showrunners, Benioff and Weiss, Addy was the easiest actor to cast for the series because of his audition performance. Some characters in the pilot were recast for the first season. The role of Catelyn Stark was played initially by Jennifer Ehle, but the role was recast with Michelle Fairley. The character of Daenerys Targaryen was also recast, with Emilia Clarke replacing Tamzin Merchant. The rest of the first season’s cast was selected in the second half of 2009.
Although many of the cast returned after the first season, the producers had many new characters to cast in each of the following seasons. Because of the large number of new characters, Benioff and Weiss postponed introducing several key characters in the second season and merged several characters into one, or assigned plot functions to different characters. Some recurring characters were recast over the years; for example, Gregor Clegane was played by three different actors, while Dean-Charles Chapman, who played Tommen Baratheon, also played a minor Lannister character.
Game of Thrones used seven writers over its six seasons. Series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the showrunners, wrote most of each season’s episodes. A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin wrote one episode in each of the first four seasons. Martin did not write an episode for the later seasons, since he wanted to focus on completing the sixth novel (The Winds of Winter). Jane Espenson co-wrote one first-season episode as a freelance writer.
Bryan Cogman, initially a script coordinator for the series, was promoted to producer for the fifth season. Cogman, who wrote at least one episode for the first five seasons, was the only other writer in the writers’ room with Benioff and Weiss. Before Cogman’s promotion, Vanessa Taylor – a writer during the second and third seasons – worked closely with Benioff and Weiss. Dave Hill joined the writing staff for the fifth season after working as an assistant to Benioff and Weiss. Although Martin was not in the writers’ room, he read the script outlines and made comments.
Benioff and Weiss sometimes assigned characters to particular writers; for example, Cogman was assigned to Arya Stark for the fourth season. The writers spent several weeks writing a character outline, including what material from the novels to use and the overarching themes. After these individual outlines were completed, they spent another two to three weeks discussing each main character’s individual arc and arranging them episode by episode. A detailed outline was created, with each of the writers working on part of it to create a script for each episode. Cogman, who wrote two episodes for the fifth season, took a month and a half to complete both scripts. They were then read by Benioff and Weiss, who made notes, and parts of the script were rewritten. All ten episodes were written before filming began since they were shot out of order by two units in different countries. Benioff and Weiss wrote their episodes together; one wrote the first half of the script, the other, the balance. They then passed the drafts back and forth to make notes and do rewrites.
Adaptation Schedule and Episodes
After Game of Thrones story line began outpacing the published novels in the sixth season, the series was based on a plot outline of the future novels provided by Martin along with original content. In April 2016, the showrunners’ plan was to shoot 13 more episodes after the sixth season: seven episodes in the seventh season and six episodes in the eighth. Later that month, the series was renewed for a seventh season with a seven-episode order. Eight seasons were ordered and filmed.
The first two seasons adapted one novel each. For the later seasons, its creators saw Game of Thrones as an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire as a whole rather than the individual novels; this enabled them to move events across novels as the screen adaptation required.
|Season||Ordered||Filming||First Aired||Last Aired||Novel(s) Adapted|
|1||02 March 2010||Second Half of 2010||17 April 2011||19 June 2011||A Game of Thrones|
|2||19 April 2011||Second Half of 2011||01 April 2012||03 June 2012||A Clash of Kings|
|3||10 April 2012||July 2012 to November 2012||31 March 2013||09 June 2013||A Storm of Swords|
|4||02 April 2013||July 2013 to November 2013||06 April 2014||15 June 2014||A Storm of Swords|
|5||08 April 2014||July 2014 to December 2014||12 April 2015||14 June 2015||A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons, and original content|
|6||08 April 2014||July 2015 to December 2015||24 April 2016||26 June 2016||Outline from The Winds of Winter and original content|
|7||21 April 2016||August 2016 to February 2017||16 July 2017||27 August 2017||Outline from a Dream of Spring and original content|
|8||30 July 2016||October 2017 to July 2018||14 April 2019||19 May 2019||Outline from a Dream of Spring and original content|
Principal photography for the first season was scheduled to begin on July 26, 2010; the primary location was the Paint Hall Studios in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Exterior scenes in Northern Ireland were filmed at Sandy Brae in the Mourne Mountains (standing in for Vaes Dothrak); Castle Ward (Winterfell); Saintfield Estates (the Winterfell godswood); Tollymore Forest (outdoor scenes); Cairncastle (the execution site); the Magheramorne quarry (Castle Black); and Shane’s Castle (the tourney grounds). Doune Castle in Stirling, Scotland, was also used in the original pilot episode for scenes at Winterfell. The producers initially considered filming the entire series in Scotland, but decided on Northern Ireland because of the availability of studio space.
The first season’s southern scenes were filmed in Malta, a change in location from the pilot episode’s Moroccan sets. The city of Mdina was used for King’s Landing. Filming also took place at Fort Manoel (representing the Sept of Baelor); at the Azure Window on the island of Gozo (the Dothraki wedding site); and at San Anton Palace, Fort Ricasoli, Fort St. Angelo and St. Dominic monastery (all used for scenes in the Red Keep). Filming of the second season’s southern scenes shifted from Malta to Croatia, where the city of Dubrovnik and nearby locations allowed exterior shots of a walled, coastal medieval city. The Walls of Dubrovnik and Fort Lovrijenac were used for scenes in King’s Landing, though, exteriors of some local buildings in the series, for example, the Red Keep and the Sept of Baelor, are computer-generated. The island of Lokrum, the St. Dominic monastery in the coastal town of Trogir, the Rector’s Palace in Dubrovnik, and the Dubac quarry (a few kilometres east) were used for scenes set in Qarth. Scenes set north of the Wall, in the Frostfangs and at the Fist of the First Men, were filmed in November 2011 in Iceland on the Vatnajökull glacier near Smyrlabjörg; the Svínafellsjökull glacier near Skaftafell; and the Mýrdalsjökull glacier near Vik on Höfðabrekkuheiði. Filming also occurred at the harbor in Ballintoy, Northern Ireland.
Third-season production returned to Dubrovnik, with the Walls of Dubrovnik, Fort Lovrijenac and nearby locations again used for scenes in King’s Landing and the Red Keep. Trsteno Arboretum, a new location, is the garden of the Tyrells in King’s Landing. The third season also returned to Morocco (including the city of Essaouira) to film Daenerys’ scenes in Essos. Dimmuborgir and the Grjótagjá cave in Iceland were used as well. One scene, with a live bear, was filmed in Los Angeles. The production used three units (Dragon, Wolf and Raven) filming in parallel, six directing teams, 257 cast members and 703 crew members. The fourth season returned to Dubrovnik and included new locations, including Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Klis Fortress north of Split, Perun quarry east of Split, the Mosor mountain range and Baška Voda farther south. Thingvellir National Park in Iceland was used for the fight between Brienne and the Hound. The fifth season added Seville, Spain, used for scenes of Dorne, and Córdoba.
The sixth season, which began filming in July 2015, returned to Spain and filmed in Navarra, Guadalajara, Seville, Almeria, Girona and Peniscola. Filming also returned to Dubrovnik, Croatia. The filming of the seven episodes of season seven began on 31 August 2016, at Titanic Studios in Belfast, with other filming in Iceland, Northern Ireland and many locations in Spain, including Seville, Cáceres, Almodovar del Rio, Santiponce, Zumaia and Bermeo. Filming continued until the end of February 2017, as necessary, to ensure winter weather in some European locations. Filming for season eight began in October 2017 and concluded in July 2018. New filming locations included Moneyglass and Saintfield in Northern Ireland for “The Long Night” battle scenes.
Each ten-episode season of Game of Thrones had four to six directors, who usually directed back-to-back episodes. Alan Taylor directed seven episodes, the most of any director. Alex Graves, David Nutter, Mark Mylod, and Jeremy Podeswa directed six episodes each. Daniel Minahan directed five episodes, and Michelle MacLaren, Alik Sakharov, and Miguel Sapochnik directed four each; MacLaren is the only female director of the entire series’ run. Brian Kirk directed three episodes during the first season, and Tim Van Patten directed the series’ first two episodes. Neil Marshall directed two episodes, both with large battle scenes: “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall”. Other directors have been Jack Bender, David Petrarca, Daniel Sackheim, Michael Slovis and Matt Shakman. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have directed two episodes together but were credited with only one each, which was determined after a coin toss. For season eight, David Nutter and Miguel Sapochnik, who worked on previous episodes, directed the first five episodes. Benioff and Weiss were credited as both the writers and directors of the show finale “The Iron Throne”.
Michele Clapton was the costume designer for Game of Thrones’ first five seasons before she was replaced by April Ferry. Clapton returned to the series as its costume designer for the seventh season. For the first three seasons, Paul Engelen was Game of Thrones’ main makeup designer and prosthetic makeup artist with Melissa Lackersteen, Conor O’Sullivan, and Rob Trenton. At the beginning of the fourth season, Engelen’s team was replaced by Jane Walker and her crew, composed of Ann McEwan and Barrie and Sarah Gower. Over 130 makeup artists and prosthetic designers worked on the show.
The designs for the series’ costumes were inspired by several sources, such as Japanese and Persian armour. Dothraki dress resembles that of the Bedouin (one was made of fish skins to resemble dragon scales), and the Wildlings wear animal skins like the Inuit. Wildling bone armour is made from molds of actual bones and is assembled with string and latex resembling catgut. Although the extras who played Wildlings and the Night’s Watch often wore hats (normal in a cold climate), members of the principal cast usually did not so viewers could recognise them. Björk’s Alexander McQueen high-neckline dresses inspired Margaery Tyrell’s funnel-neck outfit, and prostitutes’ dresses were designed for easy removal. All the clothing used during the production was aged for two weeks, so it had a realistic appearance on high-definition television.
About two dozen wigs were used by the actresses. Made of human hair and up to 61 centimetres (2 ft) in length, they cost up to $7,000 each and were washed and styled like real hair. Applying the wigs was time-consuming; Emilia Clarke, for example, required about two hours to style her brunette hair with a platinum-blonde wig and braids. Other actors, such as Jack Gleeson and Sophie Turner, received frequent hair coloring. For characters such as Daenerys (Clarke) and her Dothraki, their hair, wigs and costumes were processed to appear as if they had not been washed for weeks.
For the large number of visual effects used in the series, HBO hired British-based BlueBolt and Irish-based Screen Scene for season one. Most of the environment builds were done as 2.5D projections, giving viewers perspective while keeping the programming from being overwhelming. In 2011, the season one finale, “Fire and Blood”, was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Visual Effects. The visual effects crew consisted of both on-set VFX supervisors and concept artists along with visual effect editors in post-production.
Because the effects became more complex in subsequent seasons (including CGI creatures, fire, and water), German-based Pixomondo became the lead visual effects producer; nine of its twelve facilities contributed to the project for season two, with Stuttgart the lead studio. Scenes were also produced by British-based Peanut FX, Canadian-based Spin VFX, and US-based Gradient Effects. “Valar Morghulis” and “Valar Dohaeris” earned Pixomondo Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
HBO added German-based Mackevision to the project in season four. The season four finale, “The Children”, won the 2014 Emmy Award for Visual Effects. Additional producers for season four included Canadian-based Rodeo FX, German-based Scanline VFX and US-based BAKED FX. The muscle and wing movements of the adolescent dragons in seasons four and five were based largely on those of a chicken. Pixomondo retained a team of 22 to 30 people focused solely on visualising Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, with the average production time per season of 20 to 22 weeks. For the fifth season, HBO added Canadian-based Image Engine and US-based Crazy Horse Effects to its list of main visual-effects producers. Visual effect supervisor Joe Bauer said that the VFX team worked on more than “10,000 shots of visual effects” throughout all eight seasons. More than 300 artists worked on the show’s visual effects team. The show won eight Creative Arts Emmy Awards for visual effects, winning for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in seven consecutive seasons.
The series’ title sequence was created for HBO by production studio Elastic. Creative director Angus Wall and his collaborators received the 2011 Primetime Emmy Award for Main Title Design for the sequence, which depicts a three-dimensional map of the series’ fictional world. The map is projected on the inside of a sphere which is centrally lit by a small sun in an armillary sphere. As the camera moves across the map, focusing on the locations of the episode’s events, clockwork mechanisms intertwine and allow buildings and other structures to emerge from the map. Accompanied by the title music, the names of the principal cast and creative staff appear. The sequence concludes after about 90 seconds with the title card and brief opening credits detailing the episode’s writer(s) and director. Its composition changes as the story progresses, with new locations replacing those featuring less prominently or not at all. Entertainment Weekly named the title sequence one of the best on television, calling it an “all-inclusive cruise of Westeros”.
Ramin Djawadi composed the series’ music. The first season’s soundtrack, written about ten weeks before the series’ premiere, was published by Varèse Sarabande in June 2011. Soundtrack albums for subsequent seasons have been released, with tracks by the National, the Hold Steady and Sigur Rós. Djawadi composed themes for each of the major houses and some main characters. Some themes evolved over time. Daenerys Targaryen’s theme was simple and became more powerful after each season. At first, her theme was played by a single instrument, a cello, and Djawadi later incorporated more instruments into it. Djawadi was nominated twice for a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for his work on the show. In addition to the originally scored music, Columbia Records released the For the Throne: Music Inspired by the HBO Series Game of Thrones companion album on 26 April 2019.
The Westerosi characters of Game of Thrones speak British-accented English, often (but not consistently) with the accent of the English region corresponding to the character’s Westerosi region. The Northerner Eddard Stark speaks in actor Sean Bean’s native northern accent, and the southern lord Tywin Lannister speaks with a southern accent, while characters from Dorne speak English with a Spanish accent. Characters foreign to Westeros often have a non-British accent.
Although the common language of Westeros is represented as English, the producers charged linguist David J. Peterson with constructing Dothraki and Valyrian languages based on the few words in the novels. Prior to production, Peterson wrote 300 pages of Dothraki language material, including translation and word function. Dothraki and Valyrian dialogue is often subtitled in English. It has been reported that during the series these fictional languages were heard by more people than Welsh, Irish, and Scots Gaelic combined Language-learning company Duolingo began offering courses in High Valyrian in 2017. It was reported that 1.2 million people signed up for the course between 2017 and 2020.
Game of Thrones, particularly the first seven seasons, received critical acclaim, although the series’ frequent use of nudity and violence has been criticized. The series has an overall rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics and publications have called the show among the best HBO series of all time. The series was highly anticipated by fans before its premiere. James Poniewozik said the pilot episode set “a very large table”, while Ti Singh of Den of Geek said the show “is here to stay”.
Game of Thrones was broadcast by HBO in the US and by its local subsidiaries or other pay television services in other countries, at the same time as in the US or weeks (or months) later. The series’ broadcast in China on CCTV, began in 2014, but was heavily edited to remove scenes of sex and violence, in accordance with the Chinese practice of censoring Western television series to prevent what the People’s Daily called “negative effects and hidden security dangers”. This resulted in viewer complaints about the incoherence of what remained. Broadcasters carrying Game of Thrones included Fox Showcase in Australia; HBO Canada, Super Écran, and Showcase in Canada; HBO Latin America in Latin America; Sky Television Network’s SoHo and Neon in New Zealand and Sky Atlantic in the UK and Ireland. In India, two versions of the series were aired; Star World aired a censored version of the series on television at the same time as the US, while an uncensored version was made available for live viewing on the Hotstar app.
On 23 January 2015, the last two episodes of season four were shown in 205 IMAX theatres across the US, the first television series to be shown in this format. The show earned $686,000 at the box office on its opening day and $1.5 million during its opening weekend; the week-long release grossed $1,896,092. Before the season eight premiere, HBO screened “The Spoils of War” episode from season seven in movie theatres in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The ten episodes of the first season of Game of Thrones were released as a DVD and Blu-ray box set on 06 March 2012. The box set includes extra background and behind-the-scenes material but no deleted scenes, since nearly all the footage shot for the first season was used. The box set sold over 350,000 copies in the week following its release, the largest first-week DVD sales ever for an HBO series. The series also set an HBO-series record for digital-download sales. A collector’s-edition box set was released in November 2012, combining the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the first season with the first episode of season two. A paperweight in the shape of a dragon egg is included in the set.
DVD-Blu-ray box sets and digital downloads of the second season became available on 19 February 2013. First-day sales broke HBO records, with 241,000 box sets sold and 355,000 episodes downloaded. The third season was made available for purchase as a digital download on the Australian iTunes Store, parallel to the US premiere, and was released on DVD and Blu-ray in region 1 on 18 February 2014. The fourth season was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 17 February 2015, and the fifth season on 15 March 2016. Blu-ray and DVD versions of the sixth season were released on 15 November 2016. Beginning in 2016, HBO began issuing Steelbook Blu-ray sets, which include both Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and Dolby Atmos audio options. In 2018, the first season was released in 4K HDR on Ultra HD Blu-ray. Blu-ray and DVD versions of the seventh season were released on 12 December 2017. The final season was released on DVD and Blu-ray on 03 December 2019. The home release also included behind-the-scenes footage and cast commentary. A box set containing all eight seasons, including a cast reunion hosted by Conan O’Brien, was also released on 03 December 2019.
Game of Thrones has won numerous of awards throughout its run, including 59 Emmy Awards, eight Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Peabody Award; it holds the Emmy-award records for both most wins for a scripted television series, surpassing the record of 37 wins held by Frasier since 2004, and for most nominations for a drama with 161. In 2019, the show’s final season established a new record for most Emmy nominations received in the same year by any regular series with 32, breaking the 25-year-long record of 26 nominations established by NYPD Blue in 1994. In 2013 the Writers Guild of America listed Game of Thrones as the 40th best written series in television history. In 2015 The Hollywood Reporter placed it at number four on their best TV shows ever list, while in 2016 the series was placed seventh on Empire’s “The 50 best TV shows ever”. The same year Rolling Stone named it the twelfth “greatest TV Show of all time”.
Game of Thrones was considered a ratings success for HBO throughout all eight seasons. The show premiere was watched by 2.2 million, and the first season averaged 2.5 million viewers per episode. For its second season, the series had an average gross audience of 11.6 million viewers. The third season was seen by 14.2 million viewers, making Game of Thrones the second-most-viewed HBO series (after The Sopranos). HBO said that Game of Thrones’ average gross audience of 18.4 million viewers (later adjusted to 18.6 million) had passed The Sopranos for the viewership record. The season five episode “The House of Black and White” was simulcasted in 173 countries, becoming the “largest TV drama telecast” according to Guinness World Records.
By the sixth season the average per-episode gross viewing figure had increased to over 25 million, with nearly 40% of viewers watching on HBO digital platforms. In 2016, a New York Times study of the 50 TV shows with the most Facebook likes found that Game of Thrones was “much more popular in cities than in the countryside, probably the only show involving zombies that is”. By season seven, the average viewer numbers had grown to 32.8 million per episode across all platforms. The series finale was viewed by 19.3 million people across HBO’s platforms, becoming the network’s most watched episode. The lead-out show also benefited from the finale’s record viewership. The season two finale of Barry had a viewership of 2.2 million, the most watched episode of the series.
Game of Thrones also set viewership records outside the US on pay-television channels in the UK (with a 2016 average audience of more than five million on all platforms) and Australia (with a cumulative average audience of 1.2 million).
The series and the novels have inspired several video games. The strategy game Game of Thrones Ascent ties into the HBO series, making characters and settings available to players as they appear on television. Behaviour Interactive released a free-to-play mobile game in 2019 called Game of Thrones Beyond the Wall. Reigns: Game of Thrones, a spin-off of the Reigns strategy video game series, is in development by Nerial, published by Devolver Digital, and was released in October 2018.
Merchandise and Exhibition
HBO has licenced a variety of merchandise based on Game of Thrones, including games, replica weapons and armour, jewelry, bobblehead dolls by Funko, beer by Ommegang and apparel. High-end merchandise includes a $10,500 Ulysse Nardin wristwatch and a $30,000 resin replica of the Iron Throne. In 2013 and 2014, a traveling exhibition of costumes, props, armour and weapons from the series visited major cities in Europe and the Americas. Starting 2018, Diageo released several Game of Thrones themed whiskies.
Thronecast: The Official Guide to Game of Thrones, a series of podcasts presented by Geoff Lloyd and produced by Koink, has been released on the Sky Atlantic website and the UK iTunes store during the series’ run; a new podcast, with analysis and cast interviews, is released after each episode. In 2014 and 2015, HBO commissioned Catch the Throne, two rap albums about the series. A companion book, Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones by series writer Bryan Cogman, was published on 27 September 2012. The 192-page book, illustrated with concept art and behind-the-scenes photographs, covers the creation of the series’ first two seasons and its principal characters and families.
After the Thrones is a live aftershow during which hosts Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan discuss episodes of the series. It aired on HBO Now, the Monday following each season six episode. The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, a North American 28-city orchestral tour which performed the series’ soundtrack with composer Ramin Djawadi, began in February 2017 and concluded in April 2017. A second tour followed in 2018 across cities in Europe and North America.
Each season’s Blu-ray and DVD set contains several short animated sequences narrated by the cast playing their characters as they detail events in the history of Westeros. For the seventh season, this was to include the animated prequel series Game of Thrones: Conquest & Rebellion, illustrated in a different animation style than previous videos. The series focuses on Aegon Targaryen’s conquest of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. A week after the series finale, HBO released a behind-the-scenes documentary entitled Game of Thrones: The Last Watch. The programme documented the production of season 8 along with read-throughs and interviews with the cast.
In May 2017, after years of speculation about possible successor series, HBO commissioned Max Borenstein, Jane Goldman, Brian Helgeland, Carly Wray, and Bryan Cogman to develop five individual Game of Thrones successor series; the writers were to be working individually with George R.R. Martin, who also co-wrote two of the scripts. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff said that they would not be involved with any of the projects.
Martin said that all the concepts under discussion were prequels, although he believes the term “successor show” applies better to these projects, as they are not Game of Thrones spin-offs in the traditional sense. He ruled out Robert’s Rebellion (the overthrow of Daenerys’ father by Robert Baratheon) as a possible idea and revealed that some may be set outside Westeros. In September 2018, speaking about the four projects (i.e. not about the Goldman’s project), HBO president of programming Casey Bloys said that some of them had been abandoned completely, while others remained as possibilities for the future; Martin said that: “at least two of them are solidly based on material in Fire and Blood”. In May 2019, Martin stated that two of the projects were still in the script stage, but were “edging closer”. In April 2019, Cogman confirmed his prequel would not be moving forward.
On 08 June 2018, HBO commissioned a pilot to a Game of Thrones prequel series from Goldman as showrunner and Martin as co-creator. The prequel was to take place in the Age of Heroes, a period that begins roughly 10,000 years before the events of Game of Thrones. Notable events of that period include the foundation of powerful Houses, the Long Night when the White Walkers first descended upon Westeros, and the Andal Invasion when the Andals invaded from Essos and conquered most of Westeros. Martin suggested The Long Night as a title for the series. S. J. Clarkson was announced to direct and executive produce the pilot, while Naomi Watts was cast as the female lead playing “a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret”. Other series regulars were to include: Josh Whitehouse, Toby Regbo, Ivanno Jeremiah, Georgie Henley, Naomi Ackie, Denise Gough, Jamie Campbell Bower, Sheila Atim, Alex Sharp, Miranda Richardson, Marquis Rodriguez, John Simm, Richard McCabe, John Heffernan, and Dixie Egerickx. In September 2019, Martin claimed the pilot was in post-production but in October 2019, it was announced that HBO had decided not to move forward with Goldman’s prequel series.
House of the Dragon
In September 2019, Nellie Andreeva of Deadline Hollywood reported that a second prequel from Martin and Ryan Condal that “tracks the beginning of the end for House Targaryen” was close to receiving a pilot order from HBO; the project is not considered an original sixth script, as it builds upon Cogman’s idea from 2017. This prequel, titled House of the Dragon, was picked up straight to series on 29 October 2019. The 10-episode series is to be based on material from Fire and Blood, executive produced by Martin, Vince Gerardis, Condal, and Miguel Sapochnik; the latter two are to be its showrunners as well. In January 2020, HBO stated that the series is scheduled for a 2022 release and that the writing process has begun. Casting for the series started in July 2020.
Game of Thrones Series
- Series 01 (2011).
- Series 02 (2012).
- Series 03 (2013).
- Series 04 (2014).
- Series 05 (2015).
- Series 06 (2016).
- Series 07 (2017).
- Series 08 (2019).
Production & Filming Details
- Creator(s): David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
- Director(s): Tim Van Patten, Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Alan Taylor, Alik Sakharov, Daivd Petrarca, David Nutter, Neil Marshall, Alex Graves, Michelle MacLaren, D.B. Weiss, Michael Slovis, Mark Mylod, Jeremy Podeswa, Miguel Sapochnik, Jack Bender, Matt Shakman, and David Benioff.
- Producer(s): David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Carolyn Strauss, Frank Doelger, Bernadette Caulfield, Bryan Cogman, Miguel Sapochnik, David Nutter, Mark Huffam, Joanna Burn, Frank Doelger, Chris Newman, Greg Spence, Lisa McAtackney, Bryan Cogman, and Duncan Muggoch.
- Writer(s): David Benioff, D.B.Weiss, Bryan Cogman, Dave Hill, George R.R. Martin, Vanessa Taylor, Ethan J. Antonucci, and Jane Espenson.
- Music: Ramin Djawadi.
- Cinematography: Anette Haelmigk, Jonathan Freeman, Robert McLachlan, Fabian Wagner, David Franco, Gregory Middleton, P.J. Dillon, Matthew Jensen, Alik Sakharov, Martin Kenzie, Marco Pontecorvo, Kramer Morgenthau, Chris Seager, Sam McCurdy, and David Katznelson.
- Editor(s): Katie Weiland, Frnaces Parker, Crispin Green, Tim Porter, Oral Norrie Ottey, Martin Nicholson, Jesse Parker, and Yan Miles.
- Production: HBO Entertainment, Television 360, Grok! Television, Generator Entertainment, Startling Television, and Bighead Littlehead.
- Distributor(s): Warner Bros. Television.
- Original Network: HBO.
- Release Date: 17 April 2011 to 19 May 2019.
- Running time: 50-82 minutes (per episode).
- Rating: 15/18 (depends on season).
- Country: US.
- Language: English.