I realize that not everyone is a “Game of Thrones” fan, but for those of us who are, Sunday night has been a long time coming.
It’s been almost two years — since Aug. 27, 2017, in fact — since the Season Seven finale of the HBO series aired, but on Sunday, Season Eight arrives.
It’s only six episodes long, although to be fair, a handful of them run 90 minutes or more. And it’s the final season, so at last we may find out who gets to sit on the Iron Throne.
For those of you who, like me, have kept up with this show since the beginning, Sunday might as well be Christmas, Easter and your Name Day (that’s “GoT”-speak for birthday), all rolled into one.
If you’re unfamiliar, the show — based on the series of fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin titled “A Song of Fire and Ice” — is set in the fantasy realm of Westeros. It combines the chivalry and Old World warfare worthy of a medieval tale with the political machinations that make the Trump White House seem like “Romper Room” by comparison. (Admittedly, that’s a low bar.)
There are dragons and giants and magical undead creatures called White Walkers, and despite the seemingly overpopulated cast, each character is well defined as an individual, replete with traits that make the evil men (and women) redeemable at times and our heroes fundamentally flawed. Even the nastiest of nasty on “Game of Thrones” can be viewed sympathetically in the right light: Ramsay Bolton, for example, has a few choice scenes in Season Five in which we get a glimpse of what made him so unimaginably cruel. (It involves his father describing how he was conceived, but I’ll say no more.)
I know this because a month ago, my wife and I decided to go back and rewatch every single episode leading up to the Season Eight premiere. As I type this, it’s Monday afternoon, and we’re only halfway through Season Five, so we’ve got some serious binge watching to do. Not that I’m complaining, because as I revisit each storyline, I’m led further to one inevitable conclusion: “Game of Thrones” might be the best television series ever made.
Sure, there are plenty of great shows out there, from “MASH” to the “Andy Griffith Show” to “The Wire” to “The Sopranos.” But going back through the labyrinth that is the “GoT” narrative, I’ve come to a new appreciation for just how rich the storytelling is. Throughout the series, the writers have given us clues about what’s coming; in fact, before the opening credits of the very first episode, the driving storyline of this final season is revealed: The army of the dead, controlled by the White Walkers, is coming to the realms of men.
Nasty times are afoot, and while we’ve endured a number of meandering side roads to get here, everything has served the greater narrative, and this final season has the potential to be a water cooler episode like no TV program since “Who Shot J.R.?” in the 1980s.
Now, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s cool. Consider, however, just how popular “Game of Thrones” is: Season Seven regularly drew 10 million viewers per episode, and in 2016, the show won 12 Primetime Emmy Awards. The production budget has grown from roughly $6 million per episode during Season Two to more than $10 million per episode now. One upcoming episode, detailing a gigantic battle against the army of the dead, reportedly took three months to film.
Needless to say, this isn’t family entertainment. There’s a healthy dose of sex and nudity and plenty of bloody violence, which is often the case in a time period, fictional though it may be, when the only power that women had was that afforded them by their bodies, and when cleaving open the skulls of your enemies was as common as filing a lawsuit in today’s more civilized times.
Those things aren’t what make the show so compelling, of course. Martin’s story appeals on a number of levels — our childhood love of fairy tales, the attraction some of us have to sweeping, Tolkien-like epics of other worlds; brutal and epic swordplay that put “Braveheart” to shame; the Machiavellian orchestrations of characters we love to hate and hate to love.
Some viewers, I’m sure, tune in specifically for the violence and the sex. And I have no doubt that just as many tune out because of the very same things. Perhaps you’re one of those individuals who prefer your entertainment a little more wholesome.
I understand. Please excuse the rest of us, however, while we lose our collective minds over the show’s return on Sunday night. If you work with us on Monday, and you’re a casual fan, it’s probably best to avoid us. There’s going to be a whole lot of chatter going on, because we only have five more episodes left.
“Winter is coming,” they’re fond of saying on the show. On Sunday, winter arrives, and I have a feeling it’s going to be a brutal one.