Monday 19 August 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'As 'Game of Thrones' wraps up, will we see the likes of it again?'

Gripping: Arya Stark stands in the ashes in last week’s episode
Gripping: Arya Stark stands in the ashes in last week’s episode
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

I was late coming to Game Of Thrones.

Having once been a fan of swords'n'sandals fiction, I grew out of that phase by the time I was 13 and moved on to more serious - in other words, pretentious - literary material.

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After all, who wants to be reading about mythical kingdoms and damsels in distress when you've just discovered Catcher In The Rye and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas?

So I ignored the whole thing when it started with little fanfare all the way back in 2011 until I checked out the box set.

Even then, I remained unmoved. Yeah, it was good. Yeah, Ned Stark's surprise execution was an indication that this was going to be a different beast but it wasn't until the Red Wedding that I really began to sit up and take notice.

That scene remains one of the most powerful moments in recent TV history and finally banished memories of my own wedding, when the best man made his speech in under three minutes on the grounds that was the length of a good pop song and inadvertently insulted my new father-in-law.

Now, in the eight years since it debuted, Game of Thrones has been hailed as a masterpiece by some and as a masterpiece of lurid sexploitation by others.

For that reason in particular, it has almost become more interesting for the reactions it provoked than many of the episodes themselves.

It has also been hailed as the last of the 'event-TV shows' because since it first aired, the whole landscape of television has changed beyond all recognition.

The arrival of streaming services like Netflix forever altered the way we watch things and while people had to wait every week to watch Game of Thrones at the same time, consumers can now watch entire seasons of their favourite shows in one sitting.

The fact that fans were only able to watch each new episode at the same time gave viewers the sense that they were sharing a common experience together.

Will we see such a phenomenon again?

American magazines like Vulture doubt it. Indeed, there are growing claims that for all the joys of streaming services, they have taken much of the fun out of how we watch our favourite shows, which usually involves the sense of anticipation for the next episode, by just dumping the whole season at the same time.

It is probably fair to say that while there will always be some big network TV show that we can all get our teeth into, we won't be seeing a behemoth quite like GoT again.

Eight years is a long time, culturally speaking, and we have become much more timid and censorious society since the first episode, 'Winter Is Coming', aired.

HBO has always pushed the boundaries, ever since its first big show, the brilliant prison drama OZ (my favourite show of all time, as it happens) changed the nature of what could be put on screen. But as brilliant as OZ was, it was a niche programme, and Game of Thrones can justifiably claim to be the first mainstream drama to include incest, castration and routine rape and torture.

The most strident criticisms of GoT were also the most valid - the bare boobs and exposed willies were unusual enough, but the violence against the female protagonists was frequently uncomfortable to watch.

But having said that, it's hardly as if the male characters fared much better and that was often forgotten when the critics accused the show of being little more than torture porn as written by a deeply disturbed 13-year-old boy.

I've stayed up every Sunday night this season for the simulcast and every Sunday night I've gone to bed grumbling that I'd never make that mistake again. And yet every week I still found myself waiting up.

Last week's episode was the first time I was happy to lose sleep to catch it.

The scene of Arya walking through the smoking wreckage of a city drew comparisons with the carpet bombing of Dresden, although I found it more reminiscent of Threads, the terrifying nuclear war drama that completely freaked out an entire generation.

Yes, you could drive a bus through some of the plot holes, but what has been a true testament to its lure was the fury it has consistently provoked amongst its fans.

Some of that fury was, as you would expect, totally deranged. But it was also a sign of the ownership those fans felt and I've also found myself shouting like a nutter at the screen when things didn't go the way I thought they should.

Despite that, I will stay up late again tomorrow night to see how this true epic finally plays out.

Do I have a clue how it will end? Absolutely none. But I have a feeling I'll be shouting at the screen, for the last time, around half three on Monday morning.

Farewell Game of Thrones. You've been brilliant, perplexing, inconsistent but seldom less than watchable and yes, it probably is the last time we'll have that communal experience of enjoying a marquee TV show.

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