How Game of Thrones conquered all: The success of the fantasy phenomenon, from A to Z
Hugh Montgomery traces how the series has grown into the television event
No one is likely to have missed the fact that, in eight days’ time, season 4 of Game of Thrones begins. That’s because HBO’s adaptation of George R R Martin’s fantasy series has grown into the television event to end them all, generating the kind of hype that most Hollywood blockbusters can only dream of. But why has it slayed popular culture so? Here, we present the greatness of Game of Thrones, from A to Z.
Arya A teen hero so badass, it feels wrong to even mention her age: she can wield a sword just as easily as she can out-eyeball Charles Dance.
Beards Recent contentions that we have reached "peak beard" will remain specious, as long as GoT is on our screens. From Littlefinger's devilish haute-goatee to Jon Snow's lustrous, icicle-frosted bumfluff, it's a trove of aspirational facial hair.
Catchphrases Once upon a time, we used to get to autumn and simper about it "getting a bit nippy outside" - but now, instead, we can drop our voices two octaves, stare into the middle distance, and declare "Winter is coming" like the pop-cultural genii we are. And in what way is that not progress?
Dragons Were the show ever to devolve into silliness (what? "devolve" you say? Oh shush), we'd have to keep watching if only to see what kind of Armageddon the Khaleesi's fire-breathing brood might yet cause. And this is going to be a real breakout season for the scaly scamps, speculation suggests.
Expense That's to say thank God the rights were acquired by a big US network ready to spunk limitless money all over the screen rather than, say, a beleaguered UK one; for evidence of why, see the Beeb's Game of Thrones bandwagon-jumper The White Queen and its minimalist battle scenes.
Fancy Dress Parties Obviously one of the key reasons for its existence. And given that, according to British lore, you are never more than six miles from a GoT cast member, getting one to grace your shindig in full costume is an eminently feasible coup de théatre.
Jon Snow, played by Kit Harrington, on the other side of the Wall
Genre Its masterstroke, in terms of mass appeal, is the fact that it's a fantasy series with so few obvious fantasy elements that you're tempted to call it a historical drama - until you remember that there was absolutely no century in which you had to be on guard for "shadow-babies".
Humour Not its chief selling point, but the show does leaven the trauma with the occasional zinger, usually dispensed by Peter Dinklage's patron saint of sarcasm Tyrion Lannister and Diana Rigg's magnificent Lady Olenna Redwyne, who would totally beat Downton's Countess Violet in a battle of the quipping dynastic battleaxes.
Intricacy You know those impatient sorts who complain about not understanding what's going on? They probably don't let passengers off the Tube before boarding too. You need to relax: sharing in the disorientation of the poor patsies of Westeros is all part of the fun.
Joffrey A pusillanimous hate-figure extraordinaire, on to whom the GoT fanbase likes to displace its quiet rage and existential despair at the end of a long Monday. All credit to actor Jack Gleeson, the man behind the absolute ... monarch.
Killing There's a shedload of violence, but it's of the horrifically consequential rather than breezy, action-movie kind, as anyone knows who remembers that thing that happened in Series 3 episode 9 that shall remain nameless but caused a nation to swear off television for at least the next 12 hours. And that's probably the kind we need more of, really.
Lannisters Domineering patriarchs, wayward sons, conniving daughters, and a little light incest: they may be dressed in breastplates and vermilion, but at heart, they're just your traditional soap brood. Now where's that Religious Festival Day special with Cersei throwing the roast kid and all the trimmings at Jaime's noggin?
One of the young stars of Game of Thrones has said that he would like to play the character that everyone loves to hate on the show: Joffrey Baratheon.
Music You'd think that a quasi-medieval series would settle for a few lute waftings. Instead it's given us songs by cult US rockers The National and the Hold Steady and last month's bizarrely entertaining GoT hip-hop mixtape .
Names We can't list them all, so let's just take a representative journey from Daenerys Targaryen to Hot Pie: which is to say they run the gamut from ridiculously baroque to pastry products.
Odd couples Brienne and Jaime, Tyrion and Shae, Tyrion and Sansa, Arya and Tywin, Arya and the Hound: those buddy-comedy spin-off movies are all ready to roll.
Pace For all the fighting and shagging, the tempo is generally pretty slow, nicely reflecting the hard slog of conquest. (Though arguably we didn't need quite the slog that was Alfie Allen's Theon Greyjoy spending the entirety of season 3 undergoing castration foreplay while chained up in a dungeon.)
Queerness All power to a fantasy drama that realistically acknowledges the existence of gay people! So far, we've had the relationship between the late prince Renly and his knight Loras Tyrell, and in this series we are promised the arrival of bisexual couple Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand.
Realpolitik Values are for those who don't value their heads and the acquisition of power is the only good reason to get up in the morning; for those who like their cynical view of politics indulged, GoT beats Question Time hands down.
Speeches In a tale of war and royalty, you should really expect some rhetorical doozies and these the scriptwriters have duly provided - our favourite, so far, being Tyrion's anti-Churchillian turn at Season 2's climactic Battle of Blackwater Bay, where, true to character, he told his troops to forget all the patriotic "for king and kingdom" stuff and fight only for themselves.
Throne That's the Iron one, made from a thousand swords of the vanquished and the best piece of small-screen seating since Chandler and Joey's recliners.
Uncertainty In many shows, shock deaths come on like rating-chasing tactics; in GoT, they're only natural. The Grim Reaper, it brilliantly reminds us, is no respecter of position on the cast list - or on the social spectrum - and the only certainty is, as ever, that any character played by Sean Bean is doomed.
Vice/virtue If you are anything like this GoT audience member, you are probably mooning over the chastened nature and strange nobility of a guy who once paralysed a child after being caught having sex with his own sister. Suffice to say, it messes with your moral compass.
Women How ironic that the television show with the best selection of female characters (OK, Orange is the New Black excepted) should be about an uber-patriarchal society. Or depressing. But still, good on it.
X-rated The nudity is a controversial, but at least interesting, subject. On one hand, all the boobiness might be a reflection of the show's aforementioned patriarchal world. Or on the other, a reflection of our porny one.
Youth The child actors are uniformly ace. The only problem is that their child status is disappearing fast - as George R R Martin has noted anxiously: "Time is passing very slowly in the books and very fast in real life."
Zombies We're not flagging here at all, honest, but the White Walkers are a bit zombie-like and we do like a bit of trumped-up horror-movie theatrics just to remind us that GoT is only a TV show and not, you know, everything.