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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.

Martin Barker, Clarissa Smith, and Feona Attwood

Game of Thrones – a cultural phenomenon of our times. Initially the name of the first book in George R. R. Martin's trilogy in (probably) seven parts – a book series that began quite small but went on to break various records for sales. Then, the adopted title of the eight-season HBO TV series – at its outset the most expensive TV series ever filmed, beginning with modest audiences but soon the triumphal topper of lists and winner of awards (including Emmys, for four years running). A rare case where a book-based TV

in Watching Game of Thrones
Jack Holland

Chaos is a ladder. Lord Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger) Introduction In mid-April 2016, HBO was hyping the new sixth season of Game of Thrones , due to start in one week. Such was the success of the show that commentators were noting how all others trailed far behind HBO’s standard-bearer. 1 Posters and trailers, alongside programmes recapping the ten most shocking moments to date, helped to ignite the passions of avid viewers eagerly awaiting the show’s return and, potentially, several of its key cast members. Viewers were teased and enticed to

in Fictional television and American Politics
From 9/11 to Donald Trump
Author: Jack Holland

American television was about to be revolutionised by the advent of video on demand in 2007, when Netflix, having delivered over one billion DVDs, introduced streaming. This book explores the role that fictional television has played in the world politics of the US in the twenty-first century. It focuses on the second golden age of television, which has coincided with the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald J. Trump. The book is structured in three parts. Part I considers what is at stake in rethinking the act of watching television as a political and academic enterprise. Part II considers fictional television shows dealing explicitly with the subject matter of formal politics. It explores discourses of realpolitik in House of Cards and Game of Thrones, arguing that the shows reinforce dominant assumptions that power and strategy inevitably trump ethical considerations. It also analyses constructions of counterterrorism in Homeland, The West Wing, and 24, exploring the ways in which dominant narratives have been contested and reinforced since the onset of the War on Terror. Part III considers television shows dealing only implicitly with political themes, exploring three shows that make profound interventions into the political underpinnings of American life: The Wire, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. Finally, the book explores the legacies of The Sopranos and Mad Men, as well as the theme of resistance in The Handmaid's Tale.

Martin Barker, Clarissa Smith, and Feona Attwood

In a review of the TV show on the eve of season 8, Matthew Reisener ( 2019 ), Chief of Staff at the US Center for the National Interest (a conservative foreign-policy body established in the 1980s by Richard Nixon), praised Game of Thrones as providing ‘an excellent lens through which to examine theoretical debates and global problems facing contemporary international relations scholars’. He went on to suggest that Tywin Lannister's cruel realism contrasted with those leaders who sought to live by values such as ‘justice’ or by goals such as

in Watching Game of Thrones
Abstract only
‘If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention’
Martin Barker, Clarissa Smith, and Feona Attwood

When we launched our questionnaire, season 6 of Game of Thrones was underway, and seasons 7 and 8 had not yet entered production. The responses we gathered captured GoT in mid-flight. Of course, it would be fascinating to have also taken responses to the series finale, but in light of the raging disappointment which occurred in the immediate aftermath of those final six episodes it seems likely that the only information that we might have gleaned would be centred on whether the ending was satisfactory, and the revisioning of earlier seasons

in Watching Game of Thrones
Martin Barker, Clarissa Smith, and Feona Attwood

How can we most usefully talk about the many different kinds of people who have watched Game of Thrones in ways that go beyond simplisms such as ‘everyone is different’? What groups do they fall into, and what labels best capture the nature of these groups? The trouble is that all our vocabularies for naming them come heavily freighted with implications and judgements. ‘Audience’, ‘viewers’, ‘watchers’, ‘spectators’: these words sound fairly neutral. But even the most neutral terms, when we look at their uses, carry

in Watching Game of Thrones
Martin Barker, Clarissa Smith, and Feona Attwood

The decision to research the reception of Game of Thrones did not arise in a vacuum. This was the third in a line of ambitious projects on audiences for contemporary fantasy. In 2003, the first such project – gathering responses to the films of the Lord of the Rings , with funding support from the United Kingdom's Economic and Social Research Council – managed to gather just under 25,000 responses from across the world to a complex survey, recruiting participants mainly online, but also on paper outside cinemas in some countries. In 2014, a

in Watching Game of Thrones
Martin Barker, Clarissa Smith, and Feona Attwood

In this final chapter, we look at just one aspect that might mark GoT as quality TV: its unpredictability. In part, this has been prompted by the marketing and transmedia activities in the lead up to the TV show's finale, which we discuss in our Postscript and by Gierzynksi's prognosticating article in the Chicago Tribune , in which he stated: I'm hoping ‘Game of Thrones’ has an unhappy ending because, sadly, unhappy endings mimic reality. I recognize the need to occasionally escape from the

in Watching Game of Thrones
Martin Barker, Clarissa Smith, and Feona Attwood

Game of Thrones has been beset with controversies since its early seasons. Its sexual explicitness, various deviations from Martin's books, shock moments (especially for those who did not know the books), physical threats and conflicts (from individual acts of cruelty to battle scenes), the way that particular peoples and cultures were presented, and so on, have all generated wide and very public debates. These were reflected in many comments that we received, particularly in answers to Questions 15 and 16, which asked

in Watching Game of Thrones