Watching Game of Thrones

How audiences engage with dark television

The eight-season-long HBO television adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones was an international sensation, generating intense debates and controversies in many spheres. In 2016–17, an international research project gathered more than 10,000 responses to a complex online survey, in which people told of their feelings and judgements towards the series. The project was an ambitious attempt to explore the role that ‘fantasy’ plays in contemporary society. This book presents the project’s major outcomes. It explores people’s choices of favourite characters and survivors. It looks at the way modern works of fantasy relate to people’s sense of their own world, and what is happening to it. It explores the way that particular televisual decisions have generated controversies, most notably in relation to presentations of nudity, sex and sexual violence. The book uses the project’s distinctive methodology to draw out seven ways in which audiences watched the series, and shows how these lead to different responses and judgements. Notably, it leads to a reconsideration of the idea of ‘lurking’ as a problematic way of participating. A pair of complex emotions – relish and anguish – is used to make sense of the different ways that audiences engaged with the ongoing TV show. The book closes with an examination of the debates over the final season, and the ways in which audiences demanded ‘deserved’ endings for all the characters, and for themselves as fans.

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