A primer for the few uninitiated viewers – Regina Leader-Post

Posted: Monday, April 14, 2014

To Westeros and Essos, lands where eunuchs are political power players, nymphomaniac dwarfs drink their way through the kingdom’s brothels, and weddings are no fun unless at least three people get their throats slit.

It is this sadistic setting that plays home to one of the most popular television series of our times: Game of Thrones.

The fourth season premiere attracted a record 6.6 million viewers on HBO. Millions more watched a second showing and tens of millions around the world illegally down loaded the show. Those numbers were up more than 50 per cent from last year’s opener.

You may have avoided watching Game of Thrones on account of it being a bit too, well … dragony.

In reality it is pure soap opera, sex and gore, and family politics dressed up in corsets and fabulous costumes.

Thrones is based on a series (as yet uncompleted) of books by George R. R. Martin that have sold more than 15 million copies.

Its huge success is testament to its wide-ranging appeal: it has won 10 Emmys, several Screen Actors Guild awards, and is most illegally downloaded show of all time.

The show’s U.S. creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, admitted last month that they send preview DVDs to U.S. President Barack Obama. “One perk of being the most powerful man in the world,” they told Vanity Fair, “is, yes, you get to see episodes early.”

The series is loved by everyone from Madonna – who Instagrammed a picture of herself in a costume borrowed from the show – to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who reportedly holds Thrones-themed barbecues serving goat and “obscure animal parts”.

So what is the appeal of Game of Thrones? And what on earth is it about? Thrones is a fiendishly complicated thing, peopled by umpteen characters in several lands. It is set on the fictional continent of Westeros (and, to a far lesser extent, Essos), where several dynasties (or “Houses”, as families are known) are fighting for control of the totally terrifying-looking Iron Throne.

There are the Baratheons, the Lannisters, the Starks. There are the Greyjoys and the Tyrells and the legendary Targaryens, who once kept dragons, but have now been exiled across the Narrow Sea.

Beyond The Wall (a giant slab of ice in the far north of Westeros), are the feral Wildlings and possibly the sinister White Walkers, or the “Others”, as they are also known, a group of humanoids last seen 8,000 years ago, when they invaded Westeros, bringing a winter that lasted a generation. The Wall is guarded by a rag-tag band of criminals and bastards known as the Night’s Watch. Are you with me at the back? If it sounds utterly ridiculous, then that’s because it is. Indeed, it is astounding that the books took off as a television show – the original pilot made for HBO is said to have been so bad that a Hollywood producer told Benioff and Weiss that they had a “massive problem”.

But HBO stuck with this strange program that is filmed almost entirely in Northern Ireland and filled with washed-up British soap actors who now find themselves wildly famous on both sides of the Atlantic.

“We ended up writing (HBO) this letter,” Benioff revealed, “explaining why this would work in terms of: ‘This is what you guys do, whether it’s taking the cop show, with The Wire, or gangster shows, with The Sopranos, and making them dirty and reinventing them.’ No one had really done fantasy in that way.”

Martin has not finished writing the books – another two are due. In a world of spoiler alerts and Internet leaks, this is one of the few programs where we genuinely don’t know what is going to happen next.

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