End game

     The premiere episode of the final season of HBO’s epic fantasy series Game of Thrones will likely be the most talked about television event in quite some time. For most fans, this show is the definition of Must-See TV. If you DVR Game of Thrones, expect spoilers to be revealed at the office water cooler. I’d compare it to the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of the nighttime soap opera Dallas but then I’d really be dating myself.

     I first became aware of George R.R. Martin’s novel A Game of Thrones when it was published 23 years ago. While working in downtown Boston, my favorite lunch hour activity was perusing the shelves at Barnes and Noble bookstore to check out the latest releases. The cover of the Game of Thrones novel caught my eye, mostly because the author’s name resembled The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien. I passed on purchasing a copy. It looked too historical for my taste. The synopsis on the book jacket sounded heavy on the sword, light on the sorcery. Over the years, as I watched subsequent volumes appear on bookstore shelves, I regretted my decision.

     When HBO premiered Game of Thrones on a Sunday night in April 2011, I settled into my place on the sofa with a big bowl of popcorn. I was ready for a fantasy world to unfold before my eyes. The series, because of its serious treatment of the fantasy genre, became an instant success with readers of the novels. The show also found a new audience of television viewers who recognized the superb acting, excellent writing and top-notch production values. Compared to most television shows, Game of Thrones stood out as a weekly masterpiece of entertainment, allowing viewers to escape into a fully realized world for an hour every Sunday night – the perfect antidote to the approaching Monday morning work week.

     I was instantly caught up in the sweeping drama of the feuding families from the seven kingdoms of the imaginary continent of Westros. Part Shakespeare, part Star Wars, the twisted family legacies and back-stabbing politics of Game of Thrones satisfied the sci-fi soap opera fan inside me. With powerful characters like Daenerys Targaryen, the mother of all dragons and Cersei Lannister, the mother of bastard Prince Joffrey, I was completely hooked on the show. Like many viewers, I wanted more.

     Over the years the show delivered more – flying fire-breathing dragons with princesses riding their backs, undead White Walkers who make the grumbling zombies on The Walking Dead seem like a mild annoyance, gigantic Direwolves, magic three-eyed ravens, and of course dwarves, witches and evil queens. Everything a fanboy could ask for.

     Because of the scope of the storyline there are some drawbacks. The sheer number of characters, bloodlines and allegiances makes trying to follow the expansive plot line challenging at times. The amount of time between broadcast seasons forces viewers to re-watch episodes to try to remember what happened since the last time they watched. To catch up, I watched a whole season On Demand only to realize, after sitting through most of the nine episodes, I had already seen them.

     Game of Thrones may be coming to an end with its final season, but the story will go on. A prequel is already in the works that takes place a thousand years before the current storyline. For the foreseeable future, George R.R. Martin will spend his days (and nights) writing stories his fans are clamoring for. Everyone needs some form of escape from the horrors of today’s modern world. There’s a reason people love the world the author has created. No matter how horrific his fictional events are, they don’t come close to the real life horror on the nightly news. Getting lost in a fantasy realm of mystery, magic and murder seems like a great way to take your mind off things.

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