Heresy of the Week – Softly softly gets fantasy into the mainstream

game of thrones white walker
Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

After years of lingering in the side streets, with the astounding success of Game of Thrones fantasy fiction seems to have finally broken through into the mainstream — through a strategy of introducing fantastical elements so gradually that many viewers don’t notice.

Picture Jerry. Jerry doesn’t really go in for fantasy and science-fiction, and all that incredible stuff. He likes his fiction gritty, realistic, set in the world where he lives, or somewhere close by. He watches Game of Thrones, reluctantly at first after a friend reassured him that it’s basically a gory historical drama, but over time becoming more and more of an avid fan. Jerry sits down to watch “The Children”, having eagerly awaited it, and somewhere between the roaring dragons and the reanimated skeletons it dawns on him:

“Hang on…this is make believe!”

Yes, I know how it absurd it sounds, but Jerry exists. in fact, there are lots of Jerrys, who at various points throughout Game of Thrones’ now-four season run have realised that the show they’re watching is the sort of thing they wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole.

It’s some fairly impressive audience drawing, getting people who definitely don’t like that sort of thing to sit down and not just watch but obsessively enjoy a show with zombies, dragons, magic and that wrinkly sod with the blue eyes (no, not Pycelle…).

It isn’t a mystery though. Bit by bit the series has turned up the fantastical dial, so slowly that much of the audience didn’t notice. Yes, it opens with White Walkers and that creepy blue-eyed kid, but then it makes the audience wait until the last shot of the last episode to hit you with the dragons.

Other genre shows could learn from this. Not necessarily in terms of tuning out the fantastical, but in that it wasn’t that fantasy element which was the draw. People don’t watch Game of Thrones for the dragons — or if they do, they’re spending large parts of each season disappointed — but for the boobs, the blood, and the endless plot twists. Also the characters, the acting, and the god-damn-story.

Because that’s what counts. Above all else, it is the story that counts. And Game of Thrones gets that. That’s why it’s the hottest show of the moment. It’s not why it’s the most downloaded show for the last however many years, but that’s a different matter. But if more fantasy had Game of Thrones‘ approach, maybe more people would “like” fantasy.


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