Is it controversial — a wildfire take, if you will — to claim that Game of Thrones is the most successful show of the 21st century? It has the most Emmy nominations and wins (of any scripted show ever); it’s the last proverbial watercooler show; and let’s not forget the Game of Thrones tours, albums, board games, card games, video games, pinball machines, sneakers, booze, door holders, and countless other merchanding tie-ins. When was the last time The Big Bang Theory was on a package of Oreos or Mountain Dew can?
It’s been a wild ride since the “t*ts and dragons” show premiered on April 17, 2011, but a lot of things had to happen just right — for author George R.R. Martin, for co-showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, for the cast and crew, for HBO — to get here. Let’s take a look at the most notable ways Game of Thrones could have turned out to be a commercial and/or critical disaster.
1. Game of Thrones: The Movie
When all is said and done, when the dragons will have come home to roost (or destroyed Westeros, I dunno), there will have been 73 episodes of Game of Thrones. It’s like — and I’m sorry to my former colleague Alan Sepinwall for this — a 73-hour movie. That sounds awful, but not as awful as combining thousands and thousands of pages of source material into a single film. That was an early option. “The second book, Clash of Kings was the first to make the best-seller lists, and I got inquiries from various producers and filmmakers who were interested in the rights,” Martin told the New York Times before Thrones premiered in 2011. “But they wanted to do it as a feature film, and even then I said it cannot be done as a feature film. You would have to cut it to shreds.”
A single book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series is nearly as long as all three Lord of the Rings novels combined, “so we’re talking 20 films,” Martin continued. “What studio’s going to commit to 20 films?” Of course, adapting Game of Thrones, with its ubiquitous scenes of sex and violence, for television has its own challenges. Thankfully, HBO is all about sex and violence.
2. If the creator and showrunners didn’t play nice
For a massive as huge as Game of Thrones, there’s been shockingly little behind-the-scenes drama. For instance: Martin and Benioff and Weiss have more often than not gotten along. There have been bumps in the road, like when the author “argued against” the absence of Lady Stoneheart, but it’s a mostly peaceful relationship ever since they correctly guessed Jon Snow’s mother. “I’m still here whenever they want to talk to me, and I’m always glad to weigh in,” Martin told Time. “David and Dan have come to Santa Fe and we’ve discussed many of the ultimate developments, those landmarks that I spoke to at the end of the road that we’re both driving for. So I don’t need to be quite as involved as I was at the beginning.” Many authors would demand complete creative control. Not Martin (who also could have gone the Alan Moore route and badmouthed the project from the get-go). He has faith in Benioff and Weiss to not screw things up. And they’ve done a good job of not letting him down.