Game of Thrones is an American fantasy drama television series created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. It is an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin's series of fantasy novels, the first of which is A Game of Thrones. It is filmed in Belfast and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, Canada, Croatia, Iceland, Malta, Morocco, Spain, and the United States. The series premiered on HBO in the United States on April 17, 2011, and its sixth season ended on June 26, 2016. The series was renewed for a seventh season, which premiered on July 16, 2017, and will conclude with its eighth season in 2018 or 2019.
Set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones has several plot lines and a large ensemble cast but centers on three primary story arcs. The first story arc centers on the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms and follows a web of alliances and conflicts among the dynastic noble families either vying to claim the throne or fighting for independence from the throne. The second story arc focuses on the last descendant of the realm's deposed ruling dynasty, exiled and in hiding while plotting a return to the throne. The third story arc centers on the longstanding brotherhood charged with defending the realm against the ancient threats of the fierce peoples and legendary creatures that lie far North, and an impending winter that threatens the realm.
Game of Thrones has attracted record viewership on HBO and has a broad, active, international fan base. It has been acclaimed by critics, particularly for its acting, complex characters, story, scope, and production values, although its frequent use of nudity and violence (including sexual violence) has attracted criticism. The series has received 38 Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series in 2015 and 2016, more than any other primetime scripted television series. Its other awards and nominations include three Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation (2012–2014), a 2011 Peabody Award, and four nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama (2012 and 2015–2017). Of the ensemble cast, Peter Dinklage has won two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2011 and 2015) and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (2012) for his performance as Tyrion Lannister. Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Diana Rigg, and Max von Sydow have also received Primetime Emmy Award nominations for their performances in the series.
Game of Thrones is roughly based on the storylines of A Song of Ice and Fire, set in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the continent of Essos. The series chronicles the violent dynastic struggles among the realm's noble families for the Iron Throne, while other families fight for independence from it. It opens with additional threats in the icy North and Essos in the east.
Showrunner David Benioff jokingly suggested "The Sopranos in Middle-earth" as Game of Thrones' tagline, referring to its intrigue-filled plot and dark tone in a fantasy setting of magic and dragons. In a 2012 study of deaths per episode, it ranked second out of 40 recent U.S. TV drama series (with an average of 14).
The series is generally praised for what is perceived as a sort of medieval realism. George R.R. Martin set out to make the story feel more like historical fiction than contemporary fantasy, with less emphasis on magic and sorcery and more on battles, political intrigue, and the characters, believing that magic should be used moderately in the epic fantasy genre. Martin has stated that "the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves."
A common theme in the fantasy genre is the battle between good and evil, which Martin says does not mirror the real world. Just like people's capacity for good and for evil in real life, Martin explores the questions of redemption and character change. The show allows the audience to view different characters from their perspective, unlike in many other fantasies, and thus the supposed villains can provide their side of the story. Benioff said, "George brought a measure of harsh realism to high fantasy. He introduced gray tones into a black-and-white universe."
Although the first season is a faithful adaptation of the novel, later seasons have significant changes. According to David Benioff, the show is "about adapting the series as a whole and following the map George laid out for us and hitting the major milestones, but not necessarily each of the stops along the way".
The novels and their adaptations base aspects of their settings, characters, and plot on events in European history. Most of Westeros is reminiscent of high medieval Europe, from lands and cultures, to the palace intrigue, feudal system, castles, and knightly tournaments. A principal inspiration for the novels is the English Wars of the Roses (1455–85) between the houses of Lancaster and York, reflected in Martin's houses of Lannister and Stark. And the scheming Cersei evokes Isabella, the "she-wolf of France" (1295–1358); Isabella and her family (particularly as portrayed in Maurice Druon's historical-novel series, The Accursed Kings) were also a main inspiration for Martin.
Other historical antecedents of series elements include Hadrian's Wall (which becomes Martin's Wall), the legend of Atlantis (ancient Valyria), Byzantine Greek fire ("wildfire"), Icelandic sagas of the Viking Age (the Ironborn), the Mongol hordes (the Dothraki), the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) and the Italian Renaissance (c. 1400–1500). The series' popularity has been attributed, in part, to Martin's skill at fusing these elements into a seamless, credible version of alternate history. Martin acknowledges, "I take [history] and I file off the serial numbers and I turn it up to 11."
Game of Thrones has an ensemble cast estimated as the largest on television; during its third season, 257 cast names were recorded. In 2014, several actor contracts were renegotiated to include a seventh-season option, with raises which reportedly made them among the highest-paid performers on cable TV. In 2016, it was reported that several actor contracts were again renegotiated, with five of the main cast members having increased their salary to £2 million per episode for the last two seasons, making them one of the highest paid actors on television. The main cast is listed below.
Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) is the head of House Stark, whose members are involved in plot lines throughout most of the series. He and his wife, Catelyn Tully (Michelle Fairley), have five children: Robb (Richard Madden), the eldest, followed by Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson), the youngest. Ned's illegitimate son Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his friend, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), serve in the Night's Watch under Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo). The Wildlings living north of the Wall include young Gilly (Hannah Murray), and warriors Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie).
Others associated with House Stark include Ned's ward Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), his vassal Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), and Bolton's bastard son, Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon). Robb falls in love with the healer Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin), and Arya befriends blacksmith's apprentice Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and assassin Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). The tall warrior Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) serves Catelyn and, later, Sansa.
In King's Landing, the capital, Ned's friend King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) shares a loveless marriage with Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) – who has taken her twin, the Kingslayer Ser Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), as her lover. She loathes her younger brother, the dwarf Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who is attended by his mistress Shae (Sibel Kekilli) and the sellsword Bronn (Jerome Flynn). Cersei's father is Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). Cersei also has two young sons: Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman). Joffrey is guarded by the scar-faced warrior, Sandor "the Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann).
The king's Small Council of advisors includes crafty Master of Coin Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and eunuch spymaster Lord Varys (Conleth Hill). Robert's brother, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), is advised by foreign priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and former smuggler Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). The wealthy Tyrell family is primarily represented at court by Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) is the capital's principal religious leader. In the southern principality of Dorne, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) seeks vengeance against the Lannisters.
Across the Narrow Sea, siblings Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) – the exiled children of the last king of the original ruling dynasty, who was overthrown by Robert Baratheon – are running for their lives and trying to win back the throne. Daenerys has been married to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), the leader of the nomadic Dothraki. Her retinue includes exiled knight Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), her aide Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and the sellsword Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman).
In January 2006, David Benioff had a phone conversation with George R. R. Martin's literary agent about the books he represented, and became interested in A Song of Ice and Fire as he had been a fan of fantasy fiction when young but had not read the books before. The literary agent then sent the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire to Benioff. Benioff read a few hundred pages of the first novel, A Game of Thrones, shared his enthusiasm with D. B. Weiss and suggested that they adapt Martin's novels into a television series; Weiss finished the first novel in "maybe 36 hours". They pitched the series to HBO after a five-hour meeting with Martin (a veteran screenwriter) in a restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard. According to Benioff, they won Martin over with their answer to his question, "Who is Jon Snow's mother?" Asked about why they decided to turn the novels into an HBO show instead of a feature film, Benioff said that it would be impossible, considering that the scale of the novels is too big for a feature film and would mean dozen of characters would be discarded. Benioff also added, "a fantasy movie of this scope, financed by a major studio, would almost certainly need a PG-13 rating. That means no sex, no blood, no profanity. Fuck that." Martin himself was pleased with the suggestion that they adapt it as an HBO series, saying that he "never imagined it anywhere else".
Before being approached by Benioff and Weiss, Martin had had other meetings with other scriptwriters, most of them wanting to turn it into a feature film. Martin deemed it "unfilmable" and impossible to be done as a feature film, stating that the size of one of his novels is as long as The Lord of the Rings, which had been adapted as three feature films. "I knew it couldn't be done as a network television series. It's too adult. The level of sex and violence would never have gone through." He then went on to say that the only way this could be achieved is if HBO does it.
The series began development in January 2007. HBO acquired the TV rights to the novels, and Benioff and Weiss were its executive producers. The intention was for each novel to yield a season's worth of episodes. Initially, Benioff and Weiss were to write every episode except one per season which was reserved for Martin (who was co-executive producer). Jane Espenson and Bryan Cogman were later added to write one episode apiece the first season.
The first and second drafts of the pilot script by Benioff and Weiss were submitted in August 2007 and June 2008, respectively. Although HBO liked both drafts, a pilot was not ordered until November 2008; the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike may have delayed the process. The pilot episode, "Winter Is Coming", was first shot in 2009; after a poor reception in a private viewing, HBO demanded an extensive re-shoot (about 90 percent of the episode, with cast and directorial changes).
The pilot reportedly cost HBO $5–10 million, and the first season's budget was estimated at $50–60 million. In the second season, the show received a 15-percent budget increase for the climactic battle in "Blackwater" (which had an $8 million budget). Between 2012 and 2015, the average budget per episode increased from $6 million to "at least" $8 million. The sixth-season budget was over $10 million per episode, for a season total of over $100 million and a series record.
Nina Gold and Robert Sterne are the series' primary casting directors. Through a process of auditions and readings, the main cast was assembled. The only exceptions were Peter Dinklage and Sean Bean, whom the writers wanted from the start; they were announced as joining the pilot in 2009. Other actors signed for the pilot were Kit Harington as Jon Snow, Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon, Harry Lloyd as Viserys Targaryen and Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon. Addy was, according to showrunners Benioff and Weiss, the easiest actor to cast for the show, being that his audition was on point. Catelyn Stark was scheduled to be played by Jennifer Ehle, but the role was recast with Michelle Fairley. Daenerys Targaryen was also recast, with Emilia Clarke replacing Tamzin Merchant. The rest of the first season's cast was filled in the second half of 2009.
Although many of the first-season cast were set to return, the producers had a large number of new characters to cast for the second season. Due to this, Benioff and Weiss postponed the introduction of several key characters and merged several characters into one or assigned plot functions to different characters.
A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin wrote one episode in each of the first four seasons. Martin did not write an episode for the later seasons, since he wanted to focus on completing the sixth novel (The Winds of Winter). Jane Espenson co-wrote one first-season episode as a freelance writer.
Bryan Cogman, initially a script coordinator for the series, was promoted to producer for the fifth season. Cogman, who wrote at least one episode for the first five seasons, is the only other writer in the writers' room with Benioff and Weiss. Before his promotion, Vanessa Taylor (a writer during the second and third seasons) worked closely with Benioff and Weiss. Dave Hill joined the writing staff for the fifth season after working as an assistant to Benioff and Weiss. Although Martin is not in the writers' room, he reads the script outlines and makes comments.
Benioff and Weiss sometimes assign characters to particular writers; for example, Cogman was assigned to Arya Stark for the fourth season. The writers spend several weeks writing a character outline, including what material from the novels to use and the overarching themes. After these individual outlines are complete, they spend another two to three weeks discussing each main character's individual arc and arranging them episode by episode. A detailed outline is created, with each of the writers working on a portion to create a script for each episode. Cogman, who wrote two episodes for the fifth season, took a month and a half to complete both scripts. They are then read by Benioff and Weiss, who make notes, and parts of the script are rewritten. All ten episodes are written before filming begins, since they are filmed out of order with two units in different countries.
Benioff and Weiss write each of their episodes together, with one of them writing the first half of the script and the other the second half. After that they begin with passing the drafts back and forth to make notes and rewrite parts of it.
Benioff and Weiss intend to adapt the entire, still-incomplete A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels for television. After Game of Thrones began outpacing the published novels in the sixth season, the series was based on a plot outline of the future novels provided by Martin and original content. In April 2016, the showrunners' plan was to shoot 13 more episodes after the sixth season: seven episodes in the seventh season and six episodes in the eighth. Later that month, the series was renewed for a seventh season with a seven-episode order. As of 2017[update], seven seasons have been ordered and filmed, adapting the novels at a rate of about 48 seconds per page for the first three seasons.
|Season||Ordered||Filming||First aired||Last aired||Novel(s) adapted||References|
|Season 1||March 2, 2010||Second half of 2010||April 17, 2011||June 19, 2011||A Game of Thrones|||
|Season 2||April 19, 2011||Second half of 2011||April 1, 2012||June 3, 2012||A Clash of Kings and some early chapters from A Storm of Swords|||
|Season 3||April 10, 2012||July – November 2012||March 31, 2013||June 9, 2013||About the first two-thirds of A Storm of Swords|||
|Season 4||April 2, 2013||July – November 2013||April 6, 2014||June 15, 2014||The remaining one-third of A Storm of Swords and some elements from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons|||
|Season 5||April 8, 2014||July – December 2014||April 12, 2015||June 14, 2015||A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons and original content, with some late chapters from A Storm of Swords and elements from The Winds of Winter|||
|Season 6||April 8, 2014||July – December 2015||April 24, 2016||June 26, 2016||Original content and outlined from The Winds of Winter, with some late elements from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons|||
|Season 7||April 21, 2016||August 2016 – February 2017||July 16, 2017||August 27, 2017||Original content and outlined from The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring|||
The first two seasons adapted one novel each. For the later seasons, its creators see Game of Thrones as an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire as a whole rather than the individual novels; this enables them to move events across novels, according to screen-adaptation requirements.
Principal photography for the first season was scheduled to begin on July 26, 2010, and the primary location was the Paint Hall Studios in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Exterior scenes in Northern Ireland were filmed at Sandy Brae in the Mourne Mountains (standing in for Vaes Dothrak), Castle Ward (Winterfell), Saintfield Estates (the Winterfell godswood), Tollymore Forest (outdoor scenes), Cairncastle (the execution site), the Magheramorne quarry (Castle Black) and Shane's Castle (the tourney grounds). Doune Castle in Stirling, Scotland, was also used in the original pilot episode for scenes at Winterfell. The producers initially considered filming the whole series in Scotland, but decided on Northern Ireland because of the availability of studio space.
The first season's southern scenes were filmed in Malta, a change in location from the pilot episode's Moroccan sets. The city of Mdina was used for King's Landing. Filming was also done at Fort Manoel (representing the Sept of Baelor); at the Azure Window on the island of Gozo (the Dothraki wedding site) and at San Anton Palace, Fort Ricasoli, Fort St Angelo and St. Dominic monastery (all used for scenes in the Red Keep).
Filming of the second season's southern scenes shifted from Malta to Croatia, where the city of Dubrovnik and nearby locations allowed exterior shots of a walled, coastal medieval city. The Walls of Dubrovnik and Fort Lovrijenac were used for scenes in King's Landing and the Red Keep. The island of Lokrum, the St. Dominic monastery in the coastal town of Trogir, the Rector's Palace in Dubrovnik, and the Dubac quarry (a few kilometers east) were used for scenes set in Qarth. Scenes set north of the Wall, in the Frostfangs and at the Fist of the First Men, were filmed in November 2011 in Iceland: on the Vatnajökull glacier near Smyrlabjörg, the Svínafellsjökull glacier near Skaftafell and the Mýrdalsjökull glacier near Vik on Höfðabrekkuheiði.
Third-season production returned to Dubrovnik, with the Walls of Dubrovnik, Fort Lovrijenac and nearby locations again used for scenes in King's Landing and the Red Keep. Trsteno Arboretum, a new location, is the garden of the Tyrells in King's Landing. The third season also returned to Morocco (including the city of Essaouira) to film Daenerys' scenes in Essos. Dimmuborgir and the Grjótagjá cave in Iceland were used as well. One scene, with a live bear, was filmed in Los Angeles. The production used three units (Dragon, Wolf and Raven) filming in parallel, six directing teams, 257 cast members and 703 crew members.
The fourth season returned to Dubrovnik and included new locations, including Diocletian's Palace in Split, Klis Fortress north of Split, Perun quarry east of Split, the Mosor mountain range, and Baška Voda further south. Thingvellir National Park in Iceland was used for the fight between Brienne and the Hound. Filming took 136 days and ended on November 21, 2013. The fifth season added Seville, Spain, used for scenes of Dorne. The sixth season, which began filming in July 2015, returned to Spain and filmed in Girona and Peniscola. Filming also returned to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Filming of the seven episodes of season 7 began on August 31, 2016, at Titanic Studios in Belfast, with other filming in Iceland, Northern Ireland and many locations in Spain. Spain filming locations included Seville, Cáceres, Almodovar del Rio, Santiponce, Zumaia and Bermeo. The series also filmed in Dubrovnik, which is used for location of King's Landing. Filming continued until the end of February 2017 as necessary to ensure winter weather in some of the European locations.
Each ten-episode season of Game of Thrones has four to six directors, who usually direct back-to-back episodes. Alex Graves, David Nutter, and Alan Taylor have directed the most episodes of the series, with six each. Daniel Minahan directed five episodes, and Michelle MacLaren, Mark Mylod, Jeremy Podeswa, Alik Sakharov, and Miguel Sapochnik directed four each. Brian Kirk directed three episodes during the first season, and Tim Van Patten directed the series' first two episodes. Neil Marshall directed two episodes, both with large battle scenes: "Blackwater" and "The Watchers on the Wall". Other directors have been Jack Bender, David Petrarca, Daniel Sackheim, Michael Slovis and Matt Shakman. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have directed two episodes together but only credited one each episode, which was determined after a coin toss.
Alik Sakharov was the pilot's cinematographer. The series has had a number of cinematographers, and has received seven Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series nominations.
Oral Norrey Ottey, Frances Parker, Martin Nicholson, Crispin Green, Tim Porter and Katie Weiland have edited the series for a varying number of episodes. Weiland received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series in 2015.
Michele Clapton was costume designer for Game of Thrones' first five seasons before she was replaced by April Ferry. Clapton will return to the show as costume designer for the seventh season.
The costumes used in the show drew inspiration from a number of sources, such as Japanese and Persian armour. Dothraki dress resembles that of the Bedouin (one was made out of fish skins to resemble dragon scales), and the Wildlings wear animal skins like the Inuit. Wildling bone armor is made from molds of actual bones, and is assembled with string and latex resembling catgut. Although the extras who play Wildlings and the Night's Watch often wear hats (normal in a cold climate), members of the principal cast usually do not so viewers can distinguish the main characters. Björk's Alexander McQueen high-neckline dresses inspired Margaery Tyrell's funnel-neck outfit, and prostitutes' dresses are designed for easy removal. All clothing used is aged for two weeks so it appears realistic on high-definition television.
About two dozen wigs are used for the actresses. Made of human hair and up to 2 feet (61 cm) in length, they cost up to $7,000 each and are washed and styled like real hair. Applying the wigs is time-consuming; Emilia Clarke, for example, requires about two hours to style her brunette hair with a platinum-blonde wig and braids. Other actors, such as Jack Gleeson and Sophie Turner, receive frequent hair coloring. For characters such as Daenerys (Clarke) and her Dothraki, their hair, wigs and costumes are processed to appear as if they have not been washed for weeks.
For the first three seasons, Paul Engelen was Game of Thrones' main makeup designer and prosthetic makeup artist with Melissa Lackersteen, Conor O'Sullivan and Rob Trenton. At the beginning of the fourth season Engelen's team was replaced by Jane Walker and her crew, composed of Ann McEwan and Barrie and Sarah Gower.
For the series' large number of visual effects, HBO hired British-based BlueBolt and Irish-based Screen Scene for season one. Most of the environment builds were done as 2.5D projections, giving viewers perspective while keeping the programming from being overwhelming. In 2011 the season-one finale, "Fire and Blood", was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Visual Effects.
Because the effects became more complex in subsequent seasons (including CGI creatures, fire, and water), German-based Pixomondo became the lead visual-effects producer; nine of its twelve facilities contributed to the project for season two, with Stuttgart the lead. Scenes were also produced by British-based Peanut FX, Canadian-based Spin VFX, and U.S.-based Gradient Effects. "Valar Morghulis" and "Valar Dohaeris" earned Pixomondo Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
For season four, HBO added German-based Mackevision to the project. The season-four finale, "The Children", won the 2014 Emmy Award for Visual Effects. Additional producers for season four included Canadian-based Rodeo FX, German-based Scanline VFX and U.S.-based BAKED FX. The muscle and wing movements of the adolescent dragons in seasons four and five were based largely on those of a chicken. Pixomondo retained a team of 22 to 30 people which focused on visualizing Daenerys Targaryen's dragons, with the average production time per season of 20 to 22 weeks. For the fifth season, HBO added Canadian-based Image Engine and U.S.-based Crazy Horse Effects to its list of main visual-effects producers.
Unusual for a television series, the sound team receives a rough cut of a full season and approaches it as a ten-hour feature film. Although seasons one and two had different sound teams, one team has been in charge of sound since then. For the show's blood-and-gore sounds, the team often uses a chamois. For dragon screams, mating tortoises and dolphin, seal, lion and bird sounds have been used.
The series' title sequence was created by production studio Elastic for HBO. Creative director Angus Wall and his collaborators received the 2011 Primetime Emmy Award for Main Title Design for the sequence, which depicts a three-dimensional map of the series' fictional world. The map is projected on the inside of a sphere which is centrally lit by a small sun in an armillary sphere. As the camera moves across the map, focusing on the locations of the episode's events, clockwork mechanisms intertwine and allow buildings and other structures to emerge from the map. Accompanied by the title music, the names of the principal cast and creative staff appear. The sequence concludes after about 90 seconds with the title card and brief opening credits indicating the episode's writer(s) and director. Its composition changes as the story progresses, with new locations replacing those featuring less prominently or not at all.
The music for the series was composed by Ramin Djawadi. The first season's soundtrack, written in about ten weeks before the show's premiere, was published by Varèse Sarabande in June 2011. Soundtrack albums for subsequent seasons have been released, with tracks by the National, the Hold Steady and Sigur Rós. Djawadi has composed themes for each of the major houses and also for some of the main characters. The themes may evolve over time, as Daenerys Targaryen's theme started small and then became more powerful after each season. Her theme started first with a single instrument, a cello, and Djawadi later incorporated more instruments for it.
The Westerosi characters of Game of Thrones speak British English, often (but not consistently) with the accent of the English region corresponding to the character's Westerosi region; Eddard Stark (Warden of the North) speaks in actor Sean Bean's native northern accent, and the southern lord Tywin Lannister speaks with a southern accent, while characters from Dorne speak English with a Spanish accent. Characters foreign to Westeros often have a non-British accent.
Although English is the common language of Westeros, the producers charged linguist David J. Peterson with constructing Dothraki and Valyrian languages based on the few words in the novels; Dothraki and Valyrian dialogue is often subtitled in English. It has been reported that during the series these fictional languages have been heard by more people than the Welsh, Irish and Scots Gaelic languages combined.
Game of Thrones is funded by Northern Ireland Screen, a UK government agency financed by Invest NI and the European Regional Development Fund. As of April 2013, Northern Ireland Screen gave the show £9.25 million ($14.37 million); according to government estimates, this has benefited the Northern Ireland economy by £65 million ($100.95 million).
Tourism Ireland has a Game of Thrones-themed marketing campaign similar to New Zealand's Tolkien-related advertising. Invest NI and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board also expect the series to generate tourism revenue. According to Arlene Foster, the series has given Northern Ireland the most non-political publicity in its history. The production of Game of Thrones and other TV series also boosted Northern Ireland's creative industries, contributing to an estimated 12.4-percent growth in arts, entertainment and recreation jobs between 2008 and 2013 (compared with 4.3 percent in the rest of the UK during the same period).
Tourism organizations elsewhere reported increases in bookings after their locations appeared in Game of Thrones. In 2012, bookings through LateRooms.com increased by 28 percent in Dubrovnik and 13 percent in Iceland. The following year, bookings doubled in Ouarzazate, Morocco (the location of Daenerys' season-three scenes). Game of Thrones has been attributed as a significant factor in the boom of tourism in Iceland that had a strong impact on its economy. Tourist numbers increased by 30% in 2015, followed by another 40% in 2016, with a final figure of 2.4 million visitors expected for 2016, which is around seven times the population of the country.
Game of Thrones is broadcast by HBO in the United States and by its local subsidiaries or other pay television services in other countries, at the same time as in the U.S. or weeks (or months) later. The series' broadcast in China on CCTV, begun in 2014, was heavily edited to remove scenes of sex and violence in accordance with a Chinese practice of censoring Western TV series to prevent what the People's Daily calls "negative effects and hidden security dangers". This resulted in viewer complaints about the incoherence of what remained. Broadcasters carrying Game of Thrones include Showcase in Australia; HBO Canada, Super Écran and Showcase in Canada; HBO Latin America in Latin America; SoHo and Prime in New Zealand, and Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The ten episodes of the first season of Game of Thrones were released as a DVD and Blu-ray box set on March 6, 2012. The box set includes extra background and behind-the-scenes material but no deleted scenes, since nearly all the footage shot for the first season was used in the show. The box set sold over 350,000 copies in the first week after release, the largest first-week DVD sales ever for an HBO series, and the series set an HBO-series record for digital-download sales. A collector's-edition box set was released in November 2012, combining the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the first season with the first episode of season two. A paperweight in the shape of a dragon egg is included in the set.
DVD-Blu-ray box sets and digital downloads of the second season became available on February 19, 2013. First-day sales broke HBO records, with 241,000 box sets sold and 355,000 episodes downloaded. The third season was made available for purchase as a digital download on the Australian iTunes Store, parallel to the U.S. premiere, and was released on DVD and Blu-ray in region 1 on February 18, 2014. The fourth season was released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 17, 2015, and the fifth season on March 15, 2016. The sixth season was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 15, 2016. Beginning in 2016, HBO began issuing Steelbook Blu-ray sets which include a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track with Dolby Atmos.
Game of Thrones has been widely pirated, primarily outside the U.S. According to the file-sharing news website TorrentFreak, Game of Thrones has been the most-pirated TV series each year since 2012. Illegal downloads increased to about seven million in the first quarter of 2015, up 45 percent from 2014. An unnamed episode was downloaded about 4,280,000 times through public BitTorrent trackers in 2012, roughly equal to its number of broadcast viewers. Piracy rates were particularly high in Australia, and U.S. Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich issued a statement condemning Australian piracy of the series in 2013.
Delays in availability apart from HBO and its affiliates before 2015 and the cost of subscriptions to these services have been cited as causes of the series' illegal distribution. According to TorrentFreak, a subscription to a service for Game of Thrones would cost up to $25 per month in the United States, up to £26 per episode in the UK and up to $52 per episode in Australia.
For "combating piracy", HBO said in 2013 that it intended to make its content more widely available within a week of the U.S. premiere (including HBO Go). In 2015, the fifth season was simulcast to 170 countries and to HBO Now users. On April 11, the day before the season premiere, screener copies of the first four episodes of the fifth season leaked to a number of file-sharing websites. Within a day of the leak, the files were downloaded over 800,000 times; in one week the illegal downloads reached 32 million, with the season-five premiere alone ("The Wars to Come") pirated 13 million times. The season-five finale ("Mother's Mercy") was the most simultaneously shared file in the history of the BitTorrent filesharing protocol, with over 250,000 simultaneous sharers and over 1.5 million downloads in eight hours. For the sixth season, HBO did not send screeners to the press, so as to prevent the spread of unlicensed copies and possible spoilers.
Observers, including series director David Petrarca and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, said that illegal downloads did not hurt the series' prospects; it benefited from "buzz" and social commentary, and the high piracy rate did not significantly translate to lost subscriptions. According to Polygon, HBO's relaxed attitude towards piracy and the sharing of login credentials amounted to a premium-television "free-to-play" model. At a 2015 Oxford Union debate, series co-creator David Benioff said that he was just glad that people watched the show; illegally downloaded copies of the show sometimes interested viewers enough to buy a copy of the show, especially in countries where the show was not televised. Co-creator D. B. Weiss had mixed feelings, saying that the show was expensive to produce and "if it doesn't make the money back, then it ceases to exist". However, he was pleased that so many people "enjoy the show so much they can't wait to get their hands on it." In 2015, Guinness World Records called Game of Thrones the most-pirated television program.
Beginning on January 23, 2015, the last two episodes of season four were shown in 205 IMAX theaters across the United States; Game of Thrones is the first TV series shown in this format. The show earned $686,000 at the box office on its opening day and $1.5 million during its opening weekend; the week-long release grossed $1,896,092.
Game of Thrones was highly anticipated by fans before its premiere, and has become a critical and commercial success. According to The Guardian, by 2014 it was "the biggest drama" and "the most talked about show" on television.
Although Game of Thrones was dismissed by some critics before it began, its success has been credited with an increase in the popularity of fantasy themes. On the eve of the second season's premiere, a CNN.com blog post by Joel Williams read, "After this weekend, you may be hard pressed to find someone who isn't a fan of some form of epic fantasy" and cited Ian Bogost as saying that the series continues a trend of successful screen adaptations beginning with Peter Jackson's 2001 The Lord of the Rings film trilogy and the Harry Potter films establishing fantasy as a mass-market genre; they are "gateway drugs to fantasy fan culture". Its success in the face of its genre was attributed by writers to a longing for escapism in popular culture, frequent female nudity and a skill in balancing lighthearted and serious topics (dragons and politics, for example) which provided it with a prestige enjoyed by conventional, top-tier drama series.
The series' popularity increased sales of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels (republished in tie-in editions), which remained at the top of bestseller lists for months. According to The Daily Beast, Game of Thrones was a favorite of sitcom writers and the series has been referred to in other TV series. With other fantasy series, it has been cited for an increase in the purchase (and abandonment) of huskies and other wolf-like dogs.
Game of Thrones has added to the popular vocabulary. The first season's scene in which Petyr Baelish explains his motives (or background) while prostitutes had sex in the background gave rise to the word "sexposition" for providing exposition with sex and nudity. "Dothraki", the series' nomadic horsemen, was ranked fourth in a September 2012 Global Language Monitor list of words from television most used on the Internet. In 2012, the media used "Game of Thrones" as a figure of speech or comparison for situations of intense conflict and deceit, such as the 2012 United States Supreme Court decision regarding healthcare reform legislation, the Syrian Civil War and the ousting of Bo Xilai from the Chinese government.
"Khaleesi" has increased in popularity as a name for baby girls in the United States. In the novels and the TV series, the word is a title meaning the wife of a Khal (warlord) in the Dothraki language held by Daenerys Targaryen, and not actually a name. 
Game of Thrones has received critical acclaim, although the series' frequent use of nudity and violence has been criticized. Its seasons have appeared on annual "best of" lists published by The Washington Post (2011), TIME (2011 and 2012) and The Hollywood Reporter (2012). Seasons two through five received a Metacritic rating of 90 or higher: "universal acclaim", according to the website. Its six seasons average a 95 percent "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the first season was rated 89 percent, the second 96 percent, the third 97 percent, the fourth 97 percent, the fifth 95 percent, the sixth 96 percent and the seventh season 97 percent.
The performances of the cast have also been praised. Peter Dinklage's "charming, morally ambiguous, and self-aware" Tyrion, who earned him Emmy and Golden Globe awards, was noted. "In many ways, Game of Thrones belongs to Dinklage", wrote Mary McNamara of the L.A. Times before Tyrion became the series' central figure in season two. Several critics highlighted performances by actresses and children. Fourteen-year-old Maisie Williams, noted in the first season for her debut as Arya Stark, was singled out for her season-two work with veteran actor Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister).
First-season reviewers said the series had high production values, a fully realized world and compelling characters. According to Variety, "There may be no show more profitable to its network than 'Game of Thrones' is to HBO. Fully produced by the pay cabler and already a global phenomenon after only one season, the fantasy skein was a gamble that has paid off handsomely".
The second season was also well received by critics. Entertainment Weekly praised its "vivid, vital, and just plain fun" storytelling and, according to the Hollywood Reporter, the show made a "strong case for being one of TV's best series"; its seriousness made it the only drama comparable to Mad Men or Breaking Bad. The New York Times gave the series a mixed review, criticizing its number of characters, their lack of complexity and a meandering plot.
The third season was very well received by critics, with Metacritic giving it a score of 91 out of 100 (indicating "universal acclaim"). It has a rating of 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8.4 out of 10 based on 44 reviews. The fourth season was also praised; Metacritic gave it a score of 94 out of 100 based on 29 reviews, again indicating "universal acclaim". All episodes had positive reviews of 91 percent or higher on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 97-percent rating (based on 50 reviews) for the season as a whole. The fifth season was also well received by critics and has a score of 91 out of 100 (based on 29 reviews) on Metacritic. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a rating of 95 percent and an average score of 8.6 out of 10 (based on 52 reviews). The sixth season, based on the first episode, was praised by critics. It has a score of 73 out of 100 (based on nine reviews) on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews". The season has a rating of 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8.4 out of 10 based on 29 reviews. After the first episode aired, the seventh season held a rating of 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 8.24 out of 10 based on 26 reviews.The seventh season, based on the first episode has a score of 77 out of 100 (based on twelve reviews) on Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Despite its otherwise enthusiastic reception by critics, Game of Thrones has been criticized for the amount of female nudity, violence, and sexual violence (especially against women) it depicts, and for the manner in which it depicts these themes. The Atlantic called the series' "tendency to ramp up the sex, violence, and—especially—sexual violence" of the source material "the defining weakness" of the adaptation. George R. R. has Martin responded that he feels an obligation to be truthful about history and human nature, and that rape and sexual violence are common in war; that omitting them from the narrative would have rung false and undermined one of his novels' themes, its historical realism. HBO has also defended Weiss and Benioff, "the choices our creative teams make are based on the motivations and sensibilities that they believe define their characters. We fully support the vision and artistry of Dan and David’s exceptional work and we feel this work speaks for itself."
The amount of sex and nudity in the series, especially in scenes that are incidental to the plot, was the focus of much of the criticism aimed at the series in its first and second seasons. Stephen Dillane, who portrays Stannis Baratheon, likened the series' frequent explicit scenes to "German porn from the 1970s". Charlie Anders wrote in io9 that while the first season was replete with light-hearted "sexposition", the second season appeared to focus on distasteful, exploitative, and dehumanizing sex with little informational content. According to The Washington Post's Anna Holmes, the nude scenes appeared to be aimed mainly at titillating heterosexual men, right down to the Brazilian waxes sported by the women in the series' faux-medieval setting, which made these scenes alienating to other viewers. The Huffington Post's Maureen Ryan likewise noted that Game of Thrones mostly presented women naked, rather than men, and that the excess of "random boobage" undercut any aspirations the series might have to address the oppression of women in a feudal society. Saturday Night Live parodied this aspect of the adaptation in a sketch that portrayed the series as retaining a thirteen-year-old boy as a consultant whose main concern was showing as many breasts as possible.
In the third season, which saw Theon Greyjoy lengthily tortured and eventually emasculated, the series was also criticized for its use of torture. New York magazine called the scene "torture porn." Madeleine Davies of Jezebel agreed, saying, "it's not uncommon that Game of Thrones gets accused of being torture porn — senseless, objectifying violence combined with senseless, objectifying sexual imagery." According to Davies, although the series' violence tended to serve a narrative purpose, Theon's torture in "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" was excessive.
A scene in the fourth season's episode "Breaker of Chains", in which Jaime Lannister rapes his sister and lover Cersei, triggered a broad public discussion about the series' depiction of sexual violence against women. According to Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times, the scene caused outrage, in part because of comments by director Alex Graves that the scene became "consensual by the end". Itzkoff also wrote that critics fear that "rape has become so pervasive in the drama that it is almost background noise: a routine and unshocking occurrence". Sonia Saraiya of The A.V. Club wrote that the series' choice to portray this sexual act, and a similar one between Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo in the first season – both described as consensual in the source novels – as a rape appeared to be an act of "exploitation for shock value".
In the fifth season's episode "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken", Sansa Stark is raped by Ramsay Bolton. Most reviewers, including those from Vanity Fair, Salon, The Atlantic, and The Daily Beast, found the scene gratuitous and artistically unnecessary. For example, Joanna Robinson, writing for Vanity Fair, said that the scene "undercuts all the agency that's been growing in Sansa since the end of last season." In contrast, Sara Stewart of The New York Post wondered why viewers were not similarly upset about the many background and minor characters who'd undergone similar or worse treatment. In response to the scene, pop culture website The Mary Sue announced that it would cease coverage of the series because of the repeated use of rape as a plot device, and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill said that she would no longer watch it.
A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones have a broad, active international fan base. In 2012 Vulture.com ranked the series' fans as the most devoted in popular culture, more so than Lady Gaga's, Justin Bieber's, Harry Potter's or Star Wars'. Fans include U.S. president Barack Obama, British prime minister David Cameron, Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans, who framed European politics in quotes from Martin's novels in a 2013 speech.
BBC News said in 2013 that "the passion and the extreme devotion of fans" had created a phenomenon unlike anything related to other popular TV series, manifesting itself in fan fiction, Game of Thrones-themed burlesque routines and parents naming their children after series characters; writers quoted attributed this success to the rich detail, moral ambiguity, sexual explicitness and epic scale of the series and novels. The previous year, "Arya" was the fastest-rising girl's name in the U.S. after it jumped in popularity from 711th to 413th place.
In 2013 about 58 percent of series viewers were male and 42 percent female, and the average male viewer was 41 years old. According to SBS Broadcasting Group marketing director Helen Kellie, Game of Thrones has a high fan-engagement rate; 5.5 percent of the series' 2.9 million Facebook fans talked online about the series in 2012, compared to 1.8 percent of the more than ten million fans of True Blood (HBO's other fantasy series). Vulture.com cited Westeros.org and WinterIsComing.net (news and discussion forums), ToweroftheHand.com (which organizes communal readings of the novels) and Podcastoficeandfire.com as fan sites dedicated to the TV and novel series; and podcasts cover Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones has won dozens of awards since it debuted as a series, including 38 Primetime Emmy Awards, 5 Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Peabody Award. It holds the Emmy-award record for a scripted television series, ahead of Frasier (which received 37). In 2013 the Writers Guild of America listed Game of Thrones as the 40th "best written" series in television history. In 2015 The Hollywood Reporter placed it at number four on their "best TV shows ever" list, while in 2016 the show was placed seventh on Empire's "The 50 best TV shows ever". The same year Rolling Stone named it the twelfth "greatest TV Show of all time".
The 2011 first season received 13 nominations (including Outstanding Drama Series), and won for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (given to Peter Dinklage for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister) and Outstanding Main Title Design. Other nominations included Outstanding Directing ("Winter Is Coming") and Outstanding Writing ("Baelor"). Dinklage was also named Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globe, Satellite and Scream Awards.
The 2013 third season received 16 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Dinklage), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Emilia Clarke), Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Diana Rigg) and Outstanding Writing ("The Rains of Castamere"), winning two Creative Arts Emmys.
In 2014 the fourth season received four Creative Arts Emmys from 19 nominations, which included Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Dinklage), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Lena Headey), Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Rigg), Outstanding Directing ("The Watchers on the Wall") and Outstanding Writing ("The Children").
The 2015 fifth season won the most Primetime Emmy Awards for a series in a year (12 awards from 24 nominations), including Outstanding Drama Series; other wins included Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Dinklage), Outstanding Directing ("Mother's Mercy") and Outstanding Writing ("Mother's Mercy"), and eight were Creative Arts Emmy Awards.
In 2016, the sixth season received the most nominations for the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards (23). It won for Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Directing ("Battle of the Bastards"), Outstanding Writing ("Battle of the Bastards"), and nine Creative Arts Emmys. Nominations included Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Dinklage and Kit Harington), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Clarke, Headey and Maisie Williams), Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Max von Sydow) and Outstanding Directing ("The Door").
The first season averaged 2.5 million viewers for its first Sunday-night screenings and a gross audience (including repeats and on-demand viewings) of 9.3 million viewers per episode. For its second season, the series had an average gross audience of 11.6 million viewers. The third season was seen by 14.2 million viewers, making Game of Thrones the second-most-viewed HBO series (after The Sopranos). For the fourth season, HBO said that its average gross audience of 18.4 million viewers (later adjusted to 18.6 million) had passed The Sopranos for the record. By the sixth season the average per-episode gross viewing figure had increased to over 25 million, with nearly 40 percent of viewers watching on HBO digital platforms. In 2016, a New York Times study of the 50 TV shows with the most Facebook Likes found that Game of Thrones was "much more popular in cities than in the countryside, probably the only show involving zombies that is".
The series set records on pay-television channels in the United Kingdom (with a 2016 average audience of more than five million on all platforms) and Australia (with a cumulative average audience of 1.2 million).
The following graph indicates first-airing viewer numbers in the US:
The series has inspired four video games based on the TV series and novels. The strategy game Game of Thrones Ascent ties into the HBO series, making characters and settings available to players as they appear on television.
HBO has licensed a variety of merchandise based on Game of Thrones, including games, replica weapons and armor, jewelry, bobblehead dolls by Funko, beer by Ommegang and apparel. High-end merchandise includes a $10,500 Ulysse Nardin wristwatch and a $30,000 resin replica of the Iron Throne. In 2013 and 2014, a traveling exhibition of costumes, props, armor and weapons from the series visited major cities in Europe and the Americas.
Thronecast: The Official Guide to Game of Thrones, a series of podcasts presented by Geoff Lloyd and produced by Koink, has been released on the Sky Atlantic website and the UK iTunes store during the series' run; a new podcast, with analysis and cast interviews, is released after each episode. In 2014 and 2015 HBO commissioned Catch the Throne, two rap albums about the series.
A companion book, Inside HBO's Game of Thrones (ISBN 978-1-4521-1010-3) by series writer Bryan Cogman, was published on September 27, 2012. The 192-page book, illustrated with concept art and behind-the-scenes photographs, covers the creation of the series' first two seasons and its principal characters and families.
After the Thrones is a live aftershow in which hosts Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan discuss episodes of the series. It airs on HBO Now the Monday after each sixth-season episode. The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, a 28-city orchestral tour which will perform the series' soundtrack with composer Ramin Djawadi, is scheduled to begin February 15, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri.
After years of speculation about possible spin-off series, HBO in May 2017 commissioned five screenwriters – Max Borenstein, Jane Goldman, Brian Helgeland, Carly Wray and a fifth yet to be announced writer – to develop individual spin-offs of Game of Thrones. All of the writers are to be working individually with George R. R. Martin. D. B. Weiss and David Benioff confirmed that they decided to not be involved with any of the projects, as they want to enjoy the successor shows as fans. According to HBO president of programming Casey Bloys, Martin is co-writing two of the four announced scripts.
Martin's books are essentially the War of the Roses with magic
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