Games of Thrones: The Last Great Communal Viewing Experience?

By Aanika Patel, Class of 2020

On April 14th, HBO’s Game of Thrones will premiere its final season after first airing eight years ago. For some this moment has been years in the making while for others it’s something they know they’ll be forced to watch with friends, significant others or possibly anyone they find themselves next to that evening. No other show since possibly the series finale of Mad Men or Lost has a show dominated the cultural moment than Game of Thrones. Even if you don’t watch the show you may feel like you do with words such as “Shame” and “Red Wedding” seeping into Monday morning conversation. The lead-up to the event has spawned elaborate watching guides and countdowns with sites from Vulture to the New York Times dedicating banner space on their sites to curated content on the show. In an era where there is possibly too much quality content and not enough hours in the day, how did Game of Thrones become the show we all watch together?

The experience of watching TV has evolved dramatically in the modern era. When the Friends finale aired, the DVR was just emerging. We had no choice but to watch cultural moments as they were happening. As the DVR became more prominent the length of time from original airtime to viewing time began to spread. With the advent of streaming platforms, that distance has continued to grow with people choosing to digest entire seasons of shows in one sitting.

Despite Game of Thrones beginning its run in the era of streaming TV, HBO’s big budget and the elaborate size and scale of the franchise has made watching this program in particular feel more like installments of a movie rather than the traditional multi-camera sitcom or hour-long drama on network TV. Game of Thrones has set itself apart by being the kind of show where each episode has the potential to have the shocking and buzzworthy moments that you don’t want to be spoiled. While traditional programming builds to a midseason or full season finale, Game of Thrones has those moments sprinkled throughout every episode. With multiple interweaving plotlines, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss as well as writer George R.R. Martin have created a story and viewing experience that forced us to pay attention at every moment.

Other media conglomerates have or are trying to replicate the Game of Thrones formula and to fill the vacuum the franchise will leave behind. Amazon with its $250 million rights deal with the Tolkien estate and commitment to produce within two years on Prime Video is the biggest player on this path.  As we change the way we consume content and talk about cultural moments, however, Game of Thrones is the last vestige of the era before the domination of streaming TV that brought us together once a week in quiet rooms to share the experience week over week. The series finale of Game of Thrones will air on May 19, 2019.