When HBO first announced that it was adapting Game of Thrones, there was some concern that the channel’s upscale audience wouldn’t embrace a fantasy story. And in that first season, there was very little of the supernatural present; aside from a witch using blood magic to revive Drogo, there was just the slightest hint of the White Walkers in the very first scene, and the birth of dragons in the very last. The rest of the story played more like an historical drama with nobility scheming for power. Anyone who was hoping for a third season of Rome had a reason to keep subscribing.
But George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire season is epic in every sense of the word, and the TV show grew to capture all the elements present in the books. In addition to its fantasy roots, the series has now dipped its toes in just about every genre you can imagine:
The Walking Dead hordes have nothing on the legions of undead the White Walkers have rallied. Shuffling walkers can be easily dispatched, but weapon-wielding fast zombies like the ones who overwhelmed Hardhome? Those are truly terrifying.
Daenerys Targaryen has now twice proven she can’t be harmed by fire. What is that if not a superpower? Bran can control animals (and one simple-minded giant who’s going to make me cry if I keep thinking about it). Jaqen H’ghar can change his face. Melissandre can see the future. Sure, none of these are the result of a vat of radioactive waste or a spider bite, but they’re definitely superhuman abilities which have tremendous effects on the story.
We’ve seen as many different styles of fighting as different cultures on both sides of the Narrow Sea: the water dancing Braavosi, lithe and deadly Dornish women, traditional knights straight out of Arthurian legend, knife-wielding Dothraki, ninja-like Faceless men and women, and the precision of the Unsullied. The fight scenes on Game of Thrones are as good as any on television and more varied than any show in history.
There’s very little technology present in Westeros, but that hasn’t stopped Martin from embracing classic sci-fi themes like time-travel. The paradox of Bran affecting the past to save himself in the future would fit snugly into an episode of Doctor Who. And it’s certainly implied that Qyburn’s attempts to reanimate Sandor Clegane were born more of experiments in a quasi-Steampunk laboratory than Westerosi magic. Also, the undead Mountain bears a striking resemblance to Frankenstein’s monster.
What else would you call Tyrion and Varys on the road to Volantis?
Tyrion has twice been on trial, and while the justice system of Westeros leaves a lot to be desired—trial by combat, torturing prisoners into confessing, etc.—the courtroom drama is worthy of The Good Wife.
There’s not a lot of true love in Game of Thrones, but when it arises, it turns the tide of history, like the tragic romance between Robb Stark and Talisa (and quite possibly Rhaegar and Lyanna). There’s also the unexpected love that blossomed between Khal Drogo and his purchased young bride Daenerys. And not to be too hetero-normative, we also get a sweet bond between Renly Baratheon and Ser Loras Tyrell.
Game of Thrones has Viking pirates in the Iron Islands. A ghost who kills Renly Baratheon. Purple-lipped wizards. Fire-breathing dragons. A psycho killer in Ramsay Bolton. Giants. A virtual werewolf every time Bran warged into Summer. The only thing that seems to be missing are vampires.
There’s a reason that Game of Thrones keeps setting records, debuting at 7.9 million viewers for Season 6 on a premium channel that’s in a fraction of the homes as network or basic cable. And it’s not just that it’s wonderfully written and acted. The show has a little something for everyone, no matter what your tastes are—unless you’re exclusively into police procedurals, space operas and reality TV. But now that HBO has overtaken the books, who knows what to expect from Season 7.