We haven't had a TV for years now, but in the last few months, we've watched the whole series, glued to the drama of Westeros and the battle for the Iron Throne.
As a viewer, I have been addicted to the story, and as a writer, I bow my head to a master story creator and world builder. It must be the ambition of every creative to see their work loved as widely as Game of Thrones now is. The adaptation to screen is fantastic, creating new fans outside the realms of the fantasy genre and drawing more into the books.
Even if you haven't watched it, here are my lessons learned from the fantastic books and TV series.
(1) High stakes = excitement, anticipation and addiction in your audience
- Control of the Iron Throne which guides all the battles. Who will rule the Seven Kingdoms?
- Life and death. The body count is truly incredible, with no character safe from the executioner's axe. Each character is fighting for survival – against the other families, against the cold and the supernatural forces of the north, against their own kind. Favorite characters are killed off all the time, and the shock of their deaths makes the uncertainty of existence ever more real.
- Family honor. What use is your life if you haven't upheld the honor of the family?
- Religion. As the Lord of Light seems nascent, the followers of the Seven, as well as the Old Gods still fight for their believers.
(2) Take the audience out of their lives for a time
Life is hard, and in Westeros, life is even harder. To watch, or to read, is to live vicariously in a world where most die by the sword, or by the hand of famine, or war. To be immersed in this story is to leave behind a mundane commute, a row with a partner or child, a hated job and financial worries, even for just an hour.
How about a demon shadow assassin born from the body of the Red Woman? Or the White Walkers, the undead?
(3) Give everyone a character to root for
There's a character for everyone in Game of Thrones, whatever your gender, age or sexual appetite.
I write about kick-ass women in my own fiction, so I was thrilled to find lots of strong women in the saga. Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, is much more than a pretty blonde. ‘Drakarys,' she says, and men are burned to dust. Arya Stark and Brianne of Tarth, feisty women who fight. I even find Ceisei Lannister, the evil Queen, fascinating, unflinching from murder, incest and lust.
There are interesting characters like Tyrion Lannister, the Imp, a dwarf whose arc moves from being a lecherous drunk into running the kingdom, loving and being hurt. I've read more of the books, so I won't say where he ends up …
(4) Create humorous breaks in the carnage
The audience needs time to breathe, a moment of calm and a smile in between the bloodshed. Shakespeare did this so well in his tragedies, and George RR Martin does the same, creating funny interludes when things are getting too dark. The jokes often come out of Tyrion's mouth in the TV adaptation, with Bron as a sidekick, although I have noted in the book that there are fewer quips. One such moment is the squire Poderick's sexual prowess, despite his innocence in bed.
(5) Evoke emotion
Game of Thrones has it all.
The loving father murdered in front of his daughters; the girl who loses her beloved pet; the beaten and abused wife; the mother whose sons are murdered; the fighter who loses his sword hand and his whole reason to be; the mocked outsider.
The emotional roller-coaster of the series hooks you in – and the TV show more than the book because it tightens the action and enhances it, cutting out the long lists of tourneys and the conquest of knights. The theme music even evokes a Pavlovian response in devotees. At least it certainly does for me now! I heard it played recently in the London Underground by a busker with an electric guitar, and I gave him some money because my heart swelled and I wanted more!
Are you a Game of Thrones fan? What have you learned from either the books or the TV series? Please join the conversation in the comments below.