Culture Trips

Game of Thrones at 10: can a deluge of publicity preserve its legacy? | Television

It’s time to crack open Cersei’s favourite Dornish wine and fill an incongruous takeaway coffee cup to the brim: Game of Thrones is 10 years old. To mark the occasion, HBO has inaugurated the Iron Anniversary, a month-long celebration honouring the grandiose but battle-scarred show based on George RR Martin’s as yet uncompleted cycle of fantasy doorstop novels. In traditional GoT fashion, there are merchandising tie-ins, from figurines to a commemorative IPA. But the main thrust of the Iron Anniversary seems to be the series itself: a ceremonial reminder that all eight seasons and 73 instalments are still available to watch on HBO Max (or Sky Atlantic/Now/Amazon Prime in the UK); the campaign announcements encourage fans to return to their favourite bloodthirsty battle episode or embark on a binge-watch “MaraThrone”.

But does the biggest TV drama of the last decade need such a huge PR push? Bizarrely, it seems the answer is yes. The Iron Anniversary may initially sound like a self-aggrandising flex – commissioning a dragon-themed Fabergé egg isn’t cheap – but it also feels like a conscious attempt to draw a line under the unfortunate way GoT wrapped up in 2019. What should have been a victory lap somehow turned into a car crash, tainting the legacy of the most Emmy-garlanded TV drama in history. That wobbly eighth season – with on-screen storylines and behind-the-scenes rumours endlessly analysed by hungry fans and media – caused a passionate and vitriolic backlash, with more than a million viewers signing a petition calling for an alternative ending by “competent writers”. When the compromised ending finally arrived, complete with a personality transplant for Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys, it seemed to snuff out Thrones-mania at a stroke, an unwelcome final twist in a rug-pulling franchise built on them.

This very messy, public breakup between a fantasy juggernaut and its fanbase is why there is no real GoT conversation in 2021. What else is there to say? From the third season onwards, the coverage was so intense that every conceivable theory was aired and exhausted. Any new discussion is still likely coloured by the oversized reaction to the ending. But give it a few years and opinions will likely soften, new generations will discover the show and the great reassessment will begin. With that endgame in mind, the Iron Anniversary seems like a strategic attempt at reputation management, smoothing out some of GoT’s critical wrinkles by encouraging fans to appreciate the whole grand tale rather than just the flame-out at the end.

Besides, the more immediate Thrones legacy is how it changed the TV industry. As well as making us all familiar with the far-flung realms and waterways of Westeros, it proved that there was a huge potential audience for sprawling, big-budget stories based on dense genre bestsellers. Without GoT so successfully blending high fantasy with the low cunning of cut-throat politicking, it seems unlikely that Netflix would have saddled up with The Witcher (a franchise popularised by a video game but based on a series of darkly witty fantasy stories by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski). Since 2017, Amazon has been trundling along with a Lord of the Rings show that has already eclipsed GoT in sheer spending terms, with the first season reportedly costing an unprecedented $450m (£290m). Apple TV+’s See boasted not only Westeros-style action but also one of the series’ early stars, Jason Momoa. Even the science-fiction series Krypton borrowed from the George RR Martin blueprint, grafting a cosmic power struggle between great family houses on to its short-lived Superman prequel. Elsewhere, Disney and Marvel have shown that there is still a considerable appetite for ambitious, franchise-extending, world-building on the small screen, from The Mandalorian to WandaVision.

HBO is certainly betting on the appetite for similar material. The company recently signed up Martin to a new five-year deal to work on original projects and advise on various spin-offs. Scroll down through the making-of videos and cast quizzes on the Iron Anniversary landing page and you will find an understated introduction to House of the Dragon, a prequel series starring Paddy Considine, Olivia Cooke, Rhys Ifans and more. Set 300 years before GoT, it will focus on the dragon-wielding House Targaryen before its ignominious fall. That show could debut as soon as 2022, and HBO reportedly has five other Thrones-adjacent series in various stages of development, as well as a possible animated spinoff.

Ironically, the fact that the original series is streamable and so more accessible than ever means GoT may always require some sort of PR stunt to offer viewers a pressing reason to click play. Technically, the next Iron Anniversary should not be until 2031, but expect other wheezes in the meantime. A promo blowout in June 2023 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the notorious Red Wedding? It would certainly make for a memorable Fabergé egg.

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