As ‘Game of Thrones’ approaches its final act, it’s teasing season
We can never know about the days to come, but we think about them anyway. That’s how the many months leading up to the eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” have been. Zealous anticipation — up against a slow TV production where those who fail to abide by rigid spoiler rules are Ned Stark-ed — is all we have.
For HBO publicity, as with the PR departments at most entertainment entities, our anticipation — so painful, so pleasurable — is their opportunity. Notice how HBO lets information about “Game of Thrones” come out in dribs and drabs, carefully stoking our excitement over the long run with even the very tiniest of details. It’s micro-promo. Earlier this month, a mere few seconds of “Game of Thrones” imagery in a general ad for HBO’s roster created a windfall of articles trying to extrapolate from it, as Daenerys Targaryen and Sansa Stark were seen together for the first time. Other bits that have been released, one by one, as part of the drip-drip-drip of advance press: the number of episodes (six); the length of the episodes (more than 60 minutes); the directors (David Nutter: episodes one, two, and four; Miguel Sapochnik: three and five; David Benioff and D.B. Weiss: six); and the budgets ($15 million per episode).
Say it five times fast: Reddit catnip.
Even the premiere date for the final season became a chance for HBO to tease us, as the cable channel released the return month (April) and let that sit in our imaginations for a few months before releasing the specific day of the return (the 14th). It’s all free advertising, in a way, as the media tracks and expands each one of these bits, putting the title in front of our eyes over and over again; but you know that. I admire the mastery with which HBO has worked the media for its landmark show, including planting tidbits through its actors and surrogates. I admire it, even though that kind of mass puppetry can be concerning when we’re talking about something more important than a TV series.
And we let ourselves get baited again and again, which is part of the joy of being a fan. HBO is doing what we expect it to do, especially as the series’ full stop approaches. “Game of Thrones” has become one of a fast-dying breed; thanks to streaming, good serial storytelling rarely gets told serially, over time, these days. “Game of Thrones” is one of the last major hits considered to be what the industry has called “appointment TV.” There aren’t many scripted shows left — “This Is Us,” maybe? — that inspire us to plan around and put on our schedule, instead of the other way around.
I expect the series finale of “Game of Thrones” to draw significant numbers — not “M*A*S*H” or even “Seinfeld” finale numbers, since those series ended before cable and streaming fragmented the TV medium into smaller niches. But by today’s standards, the “Game of Thrones” finale ratings will be huge. Viewers aren’t just going to say goodbye to a beloved series; they’re also going to find out who wins the game of thrones — if anyone wins, that is. A long, detailed, epic game is going to be solved (more sensibly, I hope, than “Lost” was solved) and even non-fans may be enticed to find out how. You will not be able to avoid the show this spring, as each of the last six episodes builds to what will surely be a climactic event. It’ll be a peak of Peak TV.
As I look over the many shows premiering between now and mid-April, I see a few with promise — “Russian Doll,” “PEN15,” and “The Umbrella Academy,” to name a few. But they all move into the background a bit in light of the end of “Game of Thrones,” which has surpassed “The Sopranos” as HBO’s most-watched show of all time, which will finally feature Dany and Sansa in the same scene, and which premieres in 2019, in April, on the 14th.