See also: Synopsis of A Song of Ice and Fire and World of A Song of Ice and Fire
Game of Thrones is roughly based on the storylines of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series by George R. R. Martin, set in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the continent of Essos. The series follows several simultaneous plot lines. The first story arc follows a war of succession among competing claimants for control of the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, with other noble families fighting for independence from the throne. The second concerns the exiled scion's actions to reclaim the throne; the third chronicles the threat of the impending winter, as well as the legendary creatures and fierce peoples of the North.
Cast and characters
Main article: List of Game of Thrones characters
Game of Thrones has an ensemble cast which has been estimated to be the largest on television. In 2014, several actors' contracts were renegotiated to include a seventh-season option. By the final season, five of the main cast members made $1 million per episode, making them among the highest paid television performers.
Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) is the head of House Stark. He and his wife, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), have five children: Robb (Richard Madden), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), and Rickon (Art Parkinson). Ned also has an illegitimate son, Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who, along with his scholarly 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 the young Gilly (Hannah Murray), and the warriors Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie).
Others associated with House Stark include Ned's ward Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), Ned's vassal Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), and Roose's illegitimate son, Ramsay (Iwan Rheon). Robb accepts help from the healer Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin), while elsewhere, Arya befriends the blacksmith's apprentice Gendry Rivers (Joe Dempsie) and the assassin Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). The tall warrior, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), eventually comes to serve the Starks.
In King's Landing, the capital, Ned's old friend, King Robert I Baratheon (Mark Addy), shares a loveless political marriage with Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Her younger twin brother, Ser Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), serves on the Kingsguard. The third and youngest Lannister sibling is the dwarf Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who is attended by his mistress Shae (Sibel Kekilli) and the sellsword Bronn (Jerome Flynn). Cersei's father is Tywin (Charles Dance), head of House Lannister and richest man in Westeros. Cersei has, among three children, two sons, Myrcella: 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, among others, the crafty Master of Coin, Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen), and the eunuch spymaster, Lord Varys (Conleth Hill). In Dragonstone, Robert's younger brother, Stannis (Stephen Dillane), is advised by the foreign priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and former smuggler Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). In the Reach, the Tyrell family, led by its matriarch Olenna (Diana Rigg), is represented at court by Margery (Natalie Dormer), the matriarch's granddaughter. The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) is eventually given power as a religious leader. In the southern principality of Dorne, the warrior Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) seeks vengeance against the Lannisters.
Across the Narrow Sea, in Pentos, siblings Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) (colloquially referred to as "Dany") are in exile, with the former plotting to reclaim his father's throne. Daenerys is forced into marrying Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), a leader of the nomadic Dothraki. Her retinue eventually comes to include the exiled knight Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), her aide Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), the sellsword Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman), and the elite soldier Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson)
Main article: Themes in A Song of Ice and Fire.
The series has been praised by both television critics and historians for what was 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 said that, "the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves". Academics have classified the series as neo-medieval which focuses on the overlapping of medieval history and popular fantasy.A common theme in the fantasy genre is the battle between good and evil, which Martin says does not mirror the real world. Martin explores the relationship between good and evil through the questions of redemption and character change. The series allows the audience to view different characters from their perspective, unlike in many other fantasies.
In early seasons, under the influence of the A Song of Ice and Fire books, main characters were regularly killed off, and this was credited with developing tension among viewers. Martin stated in an interview that he wanted to depict war and violence in a realistic way, which sometimes mean the hero or main characters could be injured or killed. In later seasons, critics pointed out that certain characters had developed "plot armor" to survive in unlikely circumstances and attributed this to Game of Thrones deviating from the novels to become more of a traditional television series. In a 2012 study, out of 40 recent television drama shows, Game of Thrones ranked second in deaths per episode, averaging 14. A scientific study conducted in 2018 stated that about 60% of the major characters died as a result violence and war.
Inspirations and derivations
Although the series's first season closely follows the events of the first novel, there were significant changes made for later seasons. According to Benioff, the TV adaptation 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". Aspects of the novels' plots and their adaptations are based upon settings, characters, and events in European history. Most of Westeros is reminiscent of high medieval Europe, from its geography and castles to its cultures, the feudal system, palace intrigues, and the knights' tournaments. Like medieval Europe, most of the houses in the series use the patriarchal system of power. The series also includes elements of gothic fiction, including torture tropes.
A principal inspiration for the novels is the English Wars of the Roses (1455–1485) between the houses of Lancaster and York, reflected in Martin's houses of Lannister and Stark. The scheming Cersei Lannister evokes Isabella, the "She-Wolf of France" (1295–1358).She and her family, as portrayed in Maurice Druon's historical novel series, The Accursed Kings, were a main inspiration of Martin's. Other historical antecedents of series elements include: Hadrian's Wall (which becomes Martin's Wall), the Roman Empire, and 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, and the Italian Renaissance. The series's popularity has been attributed, in part, to Martin's skill at fusing these elements into a seamless, credible version of alternate history.
Conception and development
The A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels was popular before Game of Thrones.The series has sold more than 90 million copies worldwide with the novels being translated into 45 different languages. George R. R. Martin received multiple fantasy writing awards and nominations, including a World Fantasy Award and multiple Locus Awards, for the series. Writing for Time magazine in 2005 after the release of A Feast for Crows, journalist Lev Grossman called Martin the "American Tolkien", stating he is a "major force for evolution in fantasy".
In January 2006, David Benioff had a telephone conversation with Martin's literary agent about the books he represented. Having been a fan of fantasy fiction when he was younger, he became interested in A Song of Ice and Fire, which he had not read. The literary agent sent Benioff the series's first four books. 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 (himself a veteran screenwriter) in a restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard. According to Benioff, they won Martin over by knowing the answer to his question, "Who is Jon Snow's mother?"
Before being approached by Benioff and Weiss, Martin had had meetings with other scriptwriters, most of whom wanted to adapt the series as a feature film. Martin, however, deemed it "unfilmable", saying 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. Benioff agreed it would be impossible to turn the novels into a feature film as their scale is too big for a feature film, and dozens of characters would have to be discarded. Benioff 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 was pleased with the suggestion that they adapt it as an HBO series, saying that he "never imagined it anywhere else".
The series began development in January 2007.HBO acquired the television rights to the novels, with Benioff and Weiss as the series' executive producers and Martin as a co-executive producer. The intention was for each novel to yield a season's worth of episodes. Initially, Martin would write one episode per season while Benioff and Weiss would write the rest. Jane Espenson and Bryan Cogman were added later to write one episode each for 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 pilot episode, "Winter Is Coming", was shot in 2009; after its poor reception following 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 to produce, while the first season's budget was estimated at $50–60 million. For the second season, the series 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, a record for a series's production cost. By the final season, the production budget per episode was estimated to be $15 million.
Nina Gold and Robert Sterne were 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.According to Benioff and Weiss, Addy was the easiest actor to cast for the series because of his audition performance.Some characters in the pilot were recast for the first season. The role of Catelyn Stark was played initially by Jennifer Ehle, but the role was recast with Michelle Fairley.The character of Daenerys Targaryen was also recast, with Emilia Clarke replacing Tamzin Merchant. The rest of the first season's cast was selected in the second half of 2009.
Although many of the cast returned after the first season, the producers had many new characters to cast in each of the following seasons. Because of the large number of new characters, Benioff and Weiss postponed introducing several key characters in the second season and merged several characters into one, or assigned plot functions to different characters.Some recurring characters were recast over the years; for example, Gregor Clegane was played by three different actors, while Dean-Charles Chapman played both Tommen Baratheon and a minor Lannister character.
Game of Thrones used seven writers over its six seasons. Benioff and Weiss wrote most of each season's episodes. 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.
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, was the only other writer in the writers' room with Benioff and Weiss. Before Cogman's 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 was not in the writers' room, he read the script outlines and made comments.
Benioff and Weiss sometimes assigned characters to particular writers; for example, Cogman was assigned to Arya Stark for the fourth season. The writers spent several weeks writing a character outline, including what material from the novels to use and the overarching themes. After these individual outlines were completed, they spent another two to three weeks discussing each main character's individual arc and arranging them episode by episode. A detailed outline was created, with each of the writers working on part of it 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 were then read by Benioff and Weiss, who made notes, and parts of the script were rewritten. All ten episodes were written before filming began since they were shot out of order by two units in different countries. Benioff and Weiss wrote their episodes together; one wrote the first half of the script with the other writing the second half. They then passed the drafts back and forth to make notes and do rewrites.
Adaptation schedule and episodes
Main article: List of Game of Thrones episodes
After Game of Thrones story line began outpacing the published novels in the sixth season, the series was based on a plot outline of the future novels provided by Martin along with original content. Before season four, Martin stated there was an issue with the television series being released before the source material could be written. According to Benioff, Martin gave the showrunners an outline on the final two books of the series. 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. HBO announced in June 2016 that the eighth season would be the final for the series.
Principal photography for the first season was scheduled to begin on July 26, 2010; 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 entire series in Scotland, but decided on Northern Ireland because of the availability of studio space and tax credits.
The walled city of Dubrovnik
The walled city of Dubrovnik stood in for King's Landing in season two.
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 also took place 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, though exteriors of some local buildings in the series, for example, the Red Keep and the Sept of Baelor, are computer-generated. 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. Filming also occurred at the harbor in Ballintoy, Northern Ireland.
Ballintoy Harbour was Lordsport on the Iron Islands.
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's 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 farther south. Thingvellir National Park in Iceland was used for the fight between Brienne and the Hound.The fifth season added Seville, Spain, used for scenes of Dorne, and Córdoba.
The sixth season, which began filming in July 2015, returned to Spain and filmed in Navarra, Guadalajara, Seville, Almeria, Girona and Peniscola. Filming also returned to Dubrovnik, Croatia. The filming of the seven episodes of season seven began on August 31, 2016, at Titanic Studios in Belfast, with other filming in Iceland, Northern Ireland and many locations in Spain, including Seville, Cáceres, Almodovar del Rio, Santiponce, Zumaia and Bermeo. Filming continued until the end of February 2017, as necessary, to ensure winter weather in some European locations. Filming for season eight began in October 2017 and concluded in July 2018. New filming locations included Moneyglass and Saintfield in Northern Ireland for "The Long Night" battle scenes.
Effect on locations
Northern Ireland Screen, a UK government agency financed by Invest NI and the European Regional Development Fund, helped fund Game of Thrones. Tourism Ireland has a Game of Thrones-themed marketing campaign similar to New Zealand's Tolkien-related advertising. According to First Minister Arlene Foster, the series has given Northern Ireland the most publicity in its history apart from The Troubles. The production of Game of Thrones and other TV series 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).After filming had finished, HBO converted its filming locations in Northern Ireland into tourist attractions to be opened in 2019. By 2019, 350,000 visitors, or one sixth of all tourists, came to Northern Ireland annually because of Game of Thrones.
Tourism organizations elsewhere reported increases in bookings after their locations appeared in Game of Thrones. Between 2014 and 2016, Hotels.com reported hotel bookings increased by 285 percent in Iceland and 120 percent in Dubrovnik. In 2016, bookings doubled in Ouarzazate, Morocco, the location of Daenerys' season three scenes. Dubrovnik also saw an increase in overnight tourist stays after episodes aired.However, the increase in tourism driven by the series—estimated to be responsible for half of its annual increase over many years—led to concerns about "over-tourism" and its mayor imposing limits on tourist numbers in the city.Following the series finale, HBO announced in April 2019 a new exhibition and tourist attraction containing show props and set pieces.The attraction, titled Game of Thrones Studio Tour, will be located at former show filming location Linen Mill Studios outside Belfast.Studies showed that the series had an overall positive economic impacts for both Northern Ireland and Dubrovnik. Despite the positive economic results, the impact from Game of Thrones–related tourist activities could damage historical sites and other locations of cultural value.
Each ten-episode season of Game of Thrones had four to six directors, who usually directed back-to-back episodes.Alan Taylor directed seven episodes, the most of any director. Alex Graves, David Nutter, Mark Mylod, and Jeremy Podeswa directed six episodes each.Daniel Minahan directed five episodes, and Michelle MacLaren, Alik Sakharov, and Miguel Sapochnik directed four each; MacLaren is the only female director of the entire series's run. Brian Kirk directed three episodes during the first season, and Tim Van Patten directed the series's first two episodes. Neil Marshall directed two episodes, both with large battle scenes: "Blackwater" and "The Watchers on the Wall". Other directors include Jack Bender, David Petrarca, Daniel Sackheim, Michael Slovis and Matt Shakman.David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have directed two episodes together but were credited with only one each, which was determined after a coin toss. For season eight, David Nutter and Miguel Sapochnik, who worked on previous episodes, directed the first five episodes. Benioff and Weiss were credited as both the writers and directors of the show finale "The Iron Throne"
Michele Clapton was the costume designer for Game of Thrones' first five seasons before she was replaced by April Ferry. Clapton returned to the series as its costume designer for the seventh season. 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. Over 130 makeup artists and prosthetic designers worked on the show.
The designs for the series's costumes were inspired by several sources, such as Japanese and Persian armor. Dothraki dress resembles that of the Bedouin (one was made 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 played Wildlings and the Night's Watch often wore hats (normal in a cold climate), members of the principal cast usually did not so viewers could recognize them. Björk's Alexander McQueen high-neckline dresses inspired Margaery Tyrell's funnel-neck outfit, and prostitutes' dresses were designed for easy removal. All the clothing used during the production was aged for two weeks, so it had a realistic appearance on high-definition television.
About two dozen wigs were used by the actresses. Made of human hair and up to 61 centimetres (2 ft) in length, they cost up to $7,000 each and were washed and styled like real hair. Applying the wigs was time-consuming; Emilia Clarke, for example, required about two hours to style her brunette hair with a platinum-blonde wig and braids. Other actors, such as Jack Gleeson and Sophie Turner, received frequent hair coloring. For characters such as Daenerys (Clarke) and her Dothraki, their hair, wigs and costumes were processed to appear as if they had not been washed for weeks.
For the large number of visual effects used in the series, 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. The visual effects crew consisted of both on-set VFX supervisors and concept artists along with visual effect editors in post-production.
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 studio. Scenes were also produced by British-based Peanut FX, Canadian-based Spin VFX, and US-based Gradient Effects. "Valar Morghulis" and "Valar Dohaeris" earned Pixomondo Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
HBO added German-based Mackevision to the project in season four. 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 US-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 focused solely 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 US-based Crazy Horse Effects to its list of main visual-effects producers. Visual effect supervisor Joe Bauer said that the VFX team worked on more than "10,000 shots of visual effects" throughout all eight seasons. More than 300 artists worked on the show's visual effects team. The show won eight Creative Arts Emmy Awards for visual effects, winning for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in seven consecutive seasons.
The series's title sequence was created for HBO by production studio Elastic. 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's 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 detailing 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. Entertainment Weekly named the title sequence one of the best on television, calling it an "all-inclusive cruise of Westeros".
Ramin Djawadi composed the series's music. The first season's soundtrack, written about ten weeks before the series'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 composed reoccurring themes for each of the major houses and some main characters. Some themes evolved over time. Daenerys Targaryen's theme was simple and became more complex after each season. At first, her theme was played by a single instrument, a cello, and Djawadi later incorporated more instruments into it. Djawadi was nominated twice for a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for his work on the show. In addition to the originally scored music, Columbia Records released the For the Throne: Music Inspired by the HBO Series Game of Thrones companion album on April 26, 2019.
The Westerosi characters of Game of Thrones speak British-accented English, often (but not consistently) with the accent of the English region corresponding to the character's Westerosi region. The Northerner Eddard Stark 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 the common language of Westeros is represented as English, the producers charged linguist David J. Peterson with constructing Dothraki and Valyrian languages based on the few words in the novels. Before production, Peterson wrote 300 pages of Dothraki language material, including translation and word function. Dothraki and Valyrian dialogue is often subtitled in English. Language-learning company Duolingo began offering courses in High Valyrian in 2017, of which 1.2 million people signed up for between 2017 and 2020.
Game of Thrones was 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 US or weeks (or months) later. Broadcasters carrying Game of Thrones included Fox Showcase in Australia; HBO Canada, Super Écran, and Showcase in Canada; HBO Latin America in Latin America; Sky Television Network's SoHo and Neon in New Zealand and Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom and Ireland.In India, two versions of the series were aired; Star World aired a censored version of the series on television at the same time as the US, while an uncensored version was made available for live viewing on the Hotstar app.
On January 23, 2015, the last two episodes of season four were shown in 205 IMAX theaters across the United States, the first television series to be 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. Before the season eight premiere, HBO screened "The Spoils of War" episode from season seven in movie theaters in New York, Los Angeles, and "Chicago".
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. The box set sold over 350,000 copies in the week following its release, the largest first-week DVD sales ever for an HBO series. The series also 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 US 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. Blu-ray and DVD versions of the sixth season were released on November 15, 2016. Beginning in 2016, HBO began issuing Steelbook Blu-ray sets, which include both Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and Dolby Atmos audio options. In 2018, the first season was released in 4K HDR on Ultra HD Blu-ray. Blu-ray and DVD versions of the seventh season were released on December 12, 2017. The final season was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 3, 2019. The home release also included behind-the-scenes footage and cast commentary. A box set containing all eight seasons, including a cast reunion hosted by Conan O'Brien, was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 3, 2019, and was also released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on November 3, 2020.
Game of Thrones has been widely pirated, primarily outside the US. According to the file-sharing news website TorrentFreak, it was the most pirated television series from 2012 to 2019 (except 2018, when no new episodes were broadcast), and Guinness World Records named it the most-pirated television program in 2015. Illegal downloads increased to about seven million in the first quarter of 2015, up 45 percent from 2014. An unnamed episode was downloaded about 4.28 million times through public BitTorrent trackers in 2012, roughly equal to its number of broadcast viewers. Piracy rates were particularly high in Australia prompting the US Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, to issue a statement in 2013 condemning the practice there. Delays in availability by non-HBO broadcasters before 2015 and the cost of subscriptions to their services have been cited as causes for the series's illegal distribution. According to TorrentFreak, a subscription to a service broadcasting Game of Thrones 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.
In 2013, to combat unauthorized downloads, HBO said it intended to make its content more widely available within a week of the US 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—"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 file sharing protocol, with over 250,000 sharers and over 1.5 million downloads in eight hours. HBO did not send screeners to the press for the sixth season to prevent the spread of unlicensed copies and spoilers. Season seven was either illegally streamed or downloaded an average of 14.7 billion times, with 120 million illegal views for the season finale. According to anti-piracy company MUSO, the eighth season was illegally downloaded or viewed most in India and China. Illegal viewership for the final season was double the number of legal viewers, with 55 million illegal downloads for the season eight premiere "Winterfell", compared to 17.4 million who watched on HBO platforms.
Observers, including series director David Petrarca and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, said that illegal downloads did not hurt the series's prospects; it benefited from "buzz" and social commentary, and the high piracy rate did not significantly translate into 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 panel discussion, series co-creator David Benioff said that he was just glad that people watched the series; illegally downloaded episodes sometimes interested viewers enough to buy a copy, especially in countries where Game of Thrones was not televised. Series co-creator D. B. Weiss had mixed feelings, saying that the series 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."
Reception and achievements
Game of Thrones, particularly the first six seasons, received critical acclaim, although the series's frequent use of nudity and violence has been criticized. The series has an overall rating of 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics and publications have called the show among the best HBO series of all time. The series was highly anticipated by fans before its premiere. James Poniewozik said the pilot episode set "a very large table", while Ti Singh of Den of Geek said the show "is here to stay".
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. Entertainment Weekly praised its "vivid, vital, and just plain fun" storytelling and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the series 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 critical response for season three was also positive. Matt Fowler of IGN said the series was "still quite marvelous" praising the character development. TV Guide named the season's penultimate episode "The Rains of Castamere" as number three on their 65 Best Episodes of the 21st Century. The critical acclaim continued into season four, with Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly calling the season " the height of the show's icon-generating powers". The Independent stated that the show deviated significantly from the novels however the "changes benefited the show and condensed the substantial source text admirably well". The critical response to season five was again positive, however, some commentators criticized the sexual assault in the "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" episode. Season six also received favorable reviews. Time criticized the repetitive story lines early in the season, however, its reviewer praised the "Battle of the Bastards" episode as "one of the show's very best". One reviewer also noted the "more woman-friendly" themes throughout the season,with another singling out Arya Stark's story arc.
The show's final two seasons, especially season eight, received more criticism. Season seven was praised for its action sequences and focused central characters, but received criticism for its pace and plot developments that "defied logic". Writing for Vox, Emily VanDerWerff cited the departure from the source material as a reason for the "circular storytelling". Critical reception for season eight was mixed. The Guardian noted the "rushed business" of the plot which "failed to do justice to its characters or its actors". Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Maureen Ryan condemned the season's reductive treatment of women, and "decisions set up and executed with little or no foresight or thoughtfulness", declaring the penultimate episode as "Game of Thrones at its worst". Fan reaction was mixed for the final season. A petition on Change.org started by some fans requested that the final season be remade with different writers. Casey Bloys, HBO's president of programming, said at a Television Critics Association event "the petition shows a lot of enthusiasm and passion for the show but it wasn't something we seriously considered". Despite the criticism of the writing, the music and visual effects were praised.
The cast performances were praised throughout the show's run. Peter Dinklage's "charming, morally ambiguous, and self-aware" portrayal of Tyrion, which earned him Emmy and Golden Globe awards, was acclaimed. "In many ways, Game of Thrones belongs to Dinklage", wrote Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times before Tyrion became the series's central figure in season two. Several critics highlighted performances by actresses and children. Lena Headey's portrayal of the "riveting" Cersei Lannister also received praise. Maisie Williams was singled out as well and her season two work with veteran actor Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister). Stephen Dillane received positive reviews for his performance as Stannis Baratheon, especially in the fifth season, with one critic noting "Whether you like Stannis or not, you have to admit that Stephen Dillane delivered a monumental performance this season." The series was also praised for the portrayal of handicapped and disabled characters. One commentator stated that Tyrion Lannister is a "departure from the archetypal dwarf" often found in other fantasy stories like The Lord of the Rings.
Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly gave the series a 'B' rating, saying that it was ultimately "okay". With both "transcendent moments" and "miserable phases", it was "beloved enough to be criticized by everyone for something". Franich described seasons three and four as "relentless", seasons six's ending having a "killer one-two punch", while seasons seven and eight were "indifferent". The New York Times gave the series a mixed review after the season three finale, criticizing the number of characters, their lack of complexity and a meandering plot.The show, however, appeared on many "best of" lists for the end of the 2010s. Alan Sepinwall, writing for Rolling Stone, placed the series on his "50 Best TV Shows of the 2010s" list, saying its "ability to most of the time keep all of its disparate threads feeling vital and tied to one another, remains a staggering achievement".