It has gripped an ever-growing army of fans across the world with its epic battle scenes, racy plots and, of course, dragons since first gracing our screens in 2011.
And as the final season of Game Of Thrones premieres next week, more viewers than ever are set to tune in, eager to find out the latest twists and turns in the fight for the coveted Iron Throne. More than one billion viewers in 170 different countries are expected to watch each episode in the final season – which kicks off on April 15.
It comes after records were smashed by season seven finale The Dragon And The Wolf – which saw a magnificent display of firepower as a dreaded White Walker dragon destroyed the Wall at Eastwatch. The episode was watched by 16.5 million people in the US when live and streaming figures are combined.
Even the sixth season finale, which saw Jon Snow declared king of the north, mustered 8.9million live views. But this, the six-part final season, is expected to outdo all previous years’ efforts. Rolling Stone magazine’s chief critic Alan Sepinwall believes the HBO programmes increasing success is down to its uniqueness.
He said: ‘It’s viscerally thrilling in a way that almost nothing in TV has ever been before.’ ‘It does things you never expect TV to be able to do in terms of dragons flying and burning up entire armies and zombies storming down a mountain.’ ‘When Game Of Thrones debuted, back in 2011, TV was a totally different place.
‘Netflix, Hulu and Amazon hadn’t begun to create their own programming, and the audience for great shows wasn’t splintered across niche genres and formats. ‘It was actually possible and enjoyable to keep up with Game Of Thrones and other great shows like Homeland, Breaking Bad and Mad Men as they unfolded week by week.’
He added: ‘Now dozens of original shows, documentaries and mini-series are dumped on to streaming services every month and even the best of them reach much smaller, fragmented audiences.’
Despite its popularity, some viewers have been unwilling to pay to watch it. Game Of Thrones has become one of the most torrented shows in recent years, only overtaken by The Walking Dead last year. This means that actual viewing figures could be significantly higher – as illegal streaming sites do not count towards the statistics.
Any threat of spoilers for the closely guarded final season have been handled by the production team. There were even reports the crew considered using eagles and falcons to combat drones that were being used to spy on filming venues in Northern Ireland. But they opted for the simpler solution of recording confidential scenes near Belfast airport, where drones cannot fly.
The popularity of the show is clear, but it has not been without its controversies. A backlash came after Jaime Lannister graphically raped his sister Cersei in the season four episode Breaker Of Chains. It was even described as ‘the most screwed up sex scene ever broadcast on television’.
Jamie and his cold-hearted sister are believed to continue to play key parts in the final series, with huge battle scenes a chance for the Kingslayer to win back audiences. The Battle Of Winterfell, a showdown between the White Walkers and humans, is set to top the Emmy award-winning Battle Of The B* from season six by being one of the longest and most expensive battles in television history.
The episode is reported to last for 90 minutes and to reunite main characters including Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister as well as faces not seen since the first episode.
There are also at least five Game Of Thrones prequels in the works, and last year it was announced that HBO is to make a pilot for one of them. It’s been co-created by Jonathan Ross’s wife Jane Goldman – whose writing credits include the X-Men and Kingsman films – and George RR Martin, author of the books on which Game Of Thrones is based.
The synopsis says, ‘The series chronicles the world’s descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour. ‘And only one thing is for sure: from the horrifying secrets of Westeros’s history to the true origin of the White Walkers, the mysteries of the East to the Starks of legend… it’s not the story we think we know.’ A tease yes, but HBO president Casey Bloys also said, ‘It will feel different but still Game Of Thrones. ‘It’s 8,000 years before, so it’s a very different setting, a very different time in Westeros.’