Arts, Television

How ‘Game of Thrones’ Claimed The Silver Age Crown

If you’ve been reading along, and have been forced to bury any worthy counterexample to our tidy little silver hypothesis, we can get into that now.

“What about the first season of True Detective?” An astute, McConaughey-loving individual might say. “What about Mr. Robot?” A morphine loving, renegade Evil Corp employee might offer. And both of those seasons have a bit of a golden glint. Both shows are about anti(ish)-heroes. They captured social media and discussion in much of the same way as the last season of Breaking Bad. And in certain ways those shows were actively consumed and moderately obsessed over, but still, the two are mere seasonal blimps on the radar compared to the Golden Age’s decade long dominance.

One might even raise the bloody banner of Game of Thrones, as the “ahh I gotcha!” counter-example. After another summer in which its ratings continued to rise, reaching 8.11 million live or same day views in its 5th season finale. It trails only The Walking Dead in ratings. But The Walking Dead doesn’t dominate both the critical and popular discussion as Westeros does. It was Game of Thrones that (rightfully or not) claimed victory at the Emmy’s. And if the Golden Age was about the singular dominance of a few exemplary shows and a marriage between what was good and what was popular, how can you not view Thrones as a Gold-era show living and thriving in the “Silver Age” of television?

Well, my brothers and sisters in arms (remotes), Game of Thrones is in so many ways the show that has and will continue to define our Silver Age. As someone once said, the sun never sets on the British Empire. And it’s much the same with television these days, which is fitting. No one’s done television as well as the Brits. You can catch The Leftovers live on Sunday night, then proceed to your Netflix/Amazon/Hulu queue to glide through a few episodes of Narcos, Casual, or The Mindy Project. You’re never far from you what you want to watch, and you’re always being bombarded with more—morning, day, and night, 24/7, 365 days a year. The television landscape spans from NBC to AMC to FX to FXX to HBO and Showtime to Netflix and Amazon. And no show is as structurally ambitious as Game of Thrones. Production-wise, Game of Thrones stretches across continents with several major production units all operating at the same time throughout the year, arranging massive set pieces.  

If the Silver Age is about a horizontal structure—a lot of really good shows instead of a few great ones, then Game of Thrones matches there as well. It’s narratively horizontal with its revolving crew of POV characters taking the audience along the fantasy epic. The show’s main character died three quarters through the first season. And more have fallen along the way. The show is characterized by its characters as a whole, not any one in particular. Granted, sometimes its character-specific arcs can drown like a hedge knight in plate armor (Jaime and Bronn in Dorne, basically just Dorne). But often the shows horizontal arcs fly as true as a straight arrow (Jaime and Brienne in the riverlands, Jon defending The Wall). Through these transcendent moments and battles and less than stellar, sometimes sexist moments, Game of Thrones has rested between pretty good and really good. It’s not the best show on television, but it’s the most important. Game of Thrones is the show that seems to most embody our particular moment in television—that feeling of being overwhelmed, all over place, being a place full of dragons, ice zombies, and curly dark locks.

Game of Thrones is a show that spans mystical continents and delightfully toes the line between hope and despair. But, as I’d like to suggest, the Silver Age of television is as much about how we watch television, as specifically what we’re watching. And while everyone seems to watch Game of Thrones, we’re all watching it at different places and in different ways. Approximately 9 million people watched the season finale, but some probably caught up weeks later, some might have watched the entire series in September, and have just now watched their favorite character fall to poison or daggers in the dark. Maybe you watched the first season and then read all the books before the second season. Maybe you were a book reader from the start. The point is, we all have had pretty different experiences when it comes to Game of Thrones. So while it’s uniformly captured our attention in much of the ways that Breaking Bad did in the days of the Golden Age, we experience and watch it the Silver way.

Game of Thrones, as this all points to, is a complicated show to talk about. It’s the most talked about, blogged about show out there. There’s a population of viewers who can casually reference the Doom of Valyria. There are people who just watch it because it came on before Veep. But Game of Thrones has reached an interesting place. It’s caught up, and in some cases, passed the edge of the books, where we know it can and will go. Now, the show can sort of do what it will, free or at least unhinged from George R. R. Martin’s extensive blueprint. And, unsurprisingly at this point, the Silver Age of television is in the same place—free from the last pinnacle of the Golden Age—staring across at the wide open.

Featured Image By Francisco Ruela / Heights Editor

October 21, 2015