How 'Game of Thrones' conquered TV with drama and dragons

Anderson Cooper, reporting for "60 Minutes," transforms into a White Walker while behind the scenes of "Game of Thrones."

Posted: Apr 11, 2019 8:50 PM
Updated: Apr 11, 2019 8:50 PM

Those uninitiated in the "Game of Thrones" phenomenon must surely wonder what all the fuss is about, especially as the HBO drama becomes increasingly difficult to avoid in the build-up to its series finale. Dragons and debauchery, after all, don't sound like much of a breakthrough.

While there's seldom a simple explanation for why something catches on in Hollywood -- to quote the late screenwriter William Goldman, "Nobody knows anything" -- the show's popularity stems in part from how well it has bridged the gap between movies and TV, between theatrical blockbusters and dense serialized drama.

Related: 'Game of Thrones' is wrapping up and we have SO many questions we need answered

HBO has long since shed its old "It's not TV. It's HBO" slogan. But "Game of Thrones" managed to occupy a realm that falls somewhere beyond conventional TV, answering the question what it would look like if "The Sopranos" and "Star Wars" had a baby, with all the pop-culture hysteria that entails.

"Thrones" also had the benefit of being based on George R.R. Martin's popular novels, bringing a dedicated fan base along with it. Yet much like "The Walking Dead," the series took on a screen life of its own, and in this case actually lapped its source material, wrapping up the story before the author could get around to publishing it.

The keys to its appeal include a deft mix of character-driven drama and carefully layered on fantasy elements. Brilliantly cast, the show could flesh out its characters and story in a way that movies with similar mythological trappings don't have the time or latitude to develop.

Even if sex, violence and dragons aren't your cup of tea (or ale), "Thrones" accomplished what it set out to do --commercially as well as creatively -- in a manner that's virtually unmatched in terms of its scope and scale. In the process, producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have established a bar that will have executives plotting ways to devise what they can tout as "our version of 'Game of Thrones'" for years to come.

It's worth noting, too, that unlike movies, TV has a limited history of massive genre hits. Those that come to mind -- a la "Lost" or "The X-Files" -- were generally more rooted in contemporary reality than Martin's fantasy epic. (The aforementioned "Walking Dead" would be another sort-of exception but has failed to sustain a level of quality that would merit inclusion in that august company.)

The list is equally narrow in terms of premium cable shows that have achieved this sort of cultural reach and acclaim, with "Sopranos" ratings dwarfing other dramas that would join the qualitative part of that conversation, most notably "The Wire."

In the past, TV's bets on epics were largely confined to miniseries, which allowed networks to bill those projects as events. NBC, for example, enjoyed considerable success in the 1990s with adaptations of classic tales like "The Odyssey" and "Gulliver's Travels."

"Game of Thrones" rolled all of that up into a ball and delivered it on a weekly basis -- 10 episodes at a time, through its first six seasons -- yielding a theatrical-quality spectacle that will encompass 73 chapters when all's said and done.

Admittedly, the volume of coverage and praise currently being showered on the show are motivated in part by clickbait, and trying to latch onto the franchise's sizable tail.

Even so, the attention isn't unwarranted. "When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die," the character of Cersei, played by Lena Headey, said early in the show's run. "There is no middle ground."

Go big, in other words, or go home. And the series has won, in a big way, by finding the sweet spot at the nexus of drama and dragons.

"Game of Thrones" begins its final season on April 14. Like CNN, HBO is a unit of WarnerMedia.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 46387

Reported Deaths: 2662
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11434680
Lake4985241
Elkhart313343
Allen2695117
St. Joseph185766
Cass16369
Hamilton1502100
Hendricks1371100
Johnson1244118
Porter69037
Tippecanoe6598
Madison64363
Clark62744
Bartholomew58044
Howard55057
LaPorte54125
Kosciusko5003
LaGrange4646
Jackson4583
Vanderburgh4576
Noble45128
Delaware42949
Boone42743
Hancock42535
Marshall4183
Shelby41825
Floyd37044
Morgan32331
Montgomery29020
Grant28726
Clinton2812
Monroe26328
Dubois2616
White25910
Decatur24732
Henry23615
Lawrence23624
Vigo2278
Harrison20822
Warrick20729
Dearborn20622
Greene18432
Miami1802
Jennings16911
Putnam1658
DeKalb1594
Scott1557
Daviess13916
Orange13323
Wayne1296
Franklin1248
Steuben1242
Perry1239
Ripley1148
Jasper1132
Carroll1092
Wabash1092
Fayette967
Newton9610
Whitley814
Randolph774
Starke773
Huntington702
Wells681
Jay670
Fulton661
Jefferson661
Washington651
Knox630
Pulaski621
Clay594
Rush563
Benton480
Adams471
Gibson462
Owen451
Sullivan441
Brown381
Blackford372
Posey360
Spencer331
Tipton301
Crawford290
Fountain292
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Warren141
Union130
Vermillion130
Pike80
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 52865

Reported Deaths: 2876
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin9338407
Cuyahoga7013366
Hamilton5224198
Marion273138
Lucas2628302
Pickaway217641
Summit1969206
Montgomery178426
Mahoning1752228
Butler144844
Columbiana120960
Stark1052112
Lorain96267
Trumbull86362
Warren75721
Clark7399
Belmont53421
Delaware51815
Tuscarawas51510
Fairfield50316
Medina49132
Lake44316
Miami44231
Ashtabula42144
Portage41858
Licking41611
Geauga39042
Wood38451
Clermont3566
Wayne35452
Richland3185
Allen29740
Mercer2728
Darke23625
Erie22922
Greene2229
Holmes2043
Madison1888
Huron1772
Crawford1357
Ottawa13023
Washington12720
Sandusky12213
Morrow1151
Putnam11516
Hardin11312
Ross1092
Auglaize993
Monroe8617
Coshocton811
Jefferson802
Union801
Hancock761
Hocking767
Muskingum731
Preble661
Lawrence650
Williams652
Clinton620
Guernsey603
Shelby594
Logan581
Wyandot584
Fulton570
Ashland551
Brown531
Carroll513
Defiance483
Fayette460
Highland431
Knox391
Champaign381
Athens371
Scioto360
Seneca332
Perry301
Henry290
Van Wert270
Paulding230
Vinton222
Adams211
Pike200
Jackson170
Gallia141
Harrison121
Meigs110
Noble110
Morgan90
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 91°
Angola
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 90°
Huntington
Scattered Clouds
92° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 93°
Decatur
Scattered Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 91°
Van Wert
Scattered Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 96° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 91°
Hot & Humid Weekend
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events