They say that nearly 20 million people watched the Game of Thrones series finale. They say that it was the biggest TV phenomenon of the 2010s, that Brad Pitt apparently put up $120,000 at auction for the chance to watch the show with one of its stars... and was outbid. That it was appointment viewing and that people actually named human children “Khaleesi.”
But did any of that actually happen, or were we all in the grip of a powerful delusion?
HBO Max wants us to think it was all real, at least. The streamer released a new trailer for House of the Dragon, a Game of Thrones prequel series that debuts in August. I’ll give it to them that something about it all feels familiar—the swords, bodices, CGI dragons, and all-pervasive gray hue do trigger some kind of sensory memory. But the idea that this franchise, with its cheesy wigs and that dinky-looking pointy chair, was once something that ruled my Sunday nights feels highly implausible at this point.
It’s true that I have vague memories of a show ending with its hero being sent to a frozen penal colony. When I wrack my mind, visions surface of a spunky little sister who, for some reason, decided to just sail away on a boat to nowhere. Other sufferers of this possible case of mass hypnosis hold that this finale was so bad that it immediately erased the show from cultural memory, which is why it today seems possible that the entire existence of something called “Game of Thrones” was actually a plot by a Sacha Baron Cohen, Nathan Fielder type of trickster-Svengali.
But I’m not entirely sure that the quality of season eight was the only factor in the supposed show’s vanishing act from the cultural consciousness. Even if Thrones was more than just a fever dream, and even if it had been uniformly excellent (and I feel a hazy certainty that even at the best of times it was not), there’s unlikely to be endless appetite for continued discussion and analysis of a series that almost every regular TV viewer has already seen. The last episode of The Sopranos attracted around half the viewers that the Thrones finale episode allegedly did, which means that, on top of just being a much better show, there were far more people who didn’t watch The Sopranos during its original run and who could later discover it and re-inject it into the discourse. If Game of Thrones ever aired on television—and at this point, knowledge of whether it did or not has been lost to history—it had the highly profitable misfortune of being both somewhat mediocre and reaching its saturation point while still on the air. When (if?) the series called it quits, the spell broke.
So I’m not sure about this whole House of the Dragon thing, a prequel to a TV series that may not have been real in the first place. But will I watch it? Obviously.