Game of Thrones certainly wasn’t the first successful fantasy novel series. Nor was it the first to be adapted successfully for the screen. But George R.R. Martin’s works have been more influential than any other 21st-century fantasy works – even Harry Potter – for a number of reasons.
Of course, when talking about GoT, there should be a separation between the books and television show. But only up to a point. The rules that the books broke generally broke the same rules on screen.
It’s clear, of course, GoT is a huge money spinner. Not only was it able to create a world where we could have sequels and prequels, but the intellectual property has been used elsewhere, including video games and online casino slots like Game of Thrones Power Stacks. There are also countless board games, t-shirts, and just about any other type of merchandise you can think of.
No Rings of Power without GoT
But while its legacy is one of commercial success, it has left an imprint on popular culture. For a start, Got upped the stakes for what a television show could be. When you look at Amazon shelling out $1 billion+ to create Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, there is no way that would have happened had GoT not been so successful beforehand.
Indeed, it’s hard to think of anything that came close as “epic” television before GoT came around. Sure, you had big tv shows like The Sopranos on HBO, but there was nothing on the scale of GoT. Each week was like a new movie coming out, with water-cooler moments like the Red Wedding to discuss.
However, GoT didn’t just create an appetite for epic television, it changed the rules for fantasy. More specifically, it introduces us to adult fantasy. The swearing, sex, and violence might not be to everyone’s tastes, but it changed the opinions of many as to what fantasy could be. Again, we are talking about the legacy and influence of GoT here, and we would suggest a show like The Boys, which has gore, sex, and swearing in abundance, would not be made without having being preceded by GoT. Yes, we should point out that The Boys was originally a comic book series that preceded the GoT television series, but it’s unlikely it would have been adapted had GoT not shown an appetite for the darker side of fantasy and sci-fi.
A sense that no character is safe
Perhaps one of the most interesting legacies was unpredictability. The moment, in both the books and tv shows, that Ned Stark was executed changed our perceptions about storylines. How could we go on without the de facto protagonist? This was furthered by the infamous Red Wedding.
The above was a deliberate ploy by George R.R. Martin. The author once spoke about how in books and movies we always know that the hero is going to get to the end of the journey. Sure, there might be a situation like Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame coming to a glorious end, but Ned Stark died when things were just getting started.
The point for Martin, as such, was that readers – and tv viewers – would know that any character could be in ‘real’ jeopardy. Other books and tv shows have now followed that blueprint.
Right now, the new Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon series is streaming. It remains to be seen whether it, or the sequel following Jon Snow, can capture the lightning in a bottle again. Regardless, even if they flop, the legacy of GoT has changed pop culture.
It has shifted our expectations about fantasy works and how eventful television can be, and it has influenced other works to be edgier and take more risks. Its impact will probably be around long after names like Stark and Targaryen have been forgotten.