Game of Thrones: Success of the HBO series, from A to Z

Hugh Montgomery traces how the series has grown into the television event

No one is likely to have missed the fact that, in eight days’ time, season 4 of Game of Thrones begins. That’s because HBO’s adaptation of George R R Martin’s fantasy series has grown into the television event to end them all, generating the kind of hype that most Hollywood blockbusters can only dream of. But why has it slayed popular culture so? Here, we present the greatness of Game of Thrones, from A to Z.

Arya A teen hero so badass, it feels wrong to even mention her age: she can wield a sword just as easily as she can out-eyeball Charles Dance. 

Beards Recent contentions that we have reached "peak beard" will remain specious, as long as GoT is on our screens. From Littlefinger's devilish haute-goatee to Jon Snow's lustrous, icicle-frosted bumfluff, it's a trove of aspirational facial hair.

Catchphrases Once upon a time, we used to get to autumn and simper about it "getting a bit nippy outside" - but now, instead, we can drop our voices two octaves, stare into the middle distance, and declare "Winter is coming" like the pop-cultural genii we are. And in what way is that not progress?

Dragons Were the show ever to devolve into silliness (what? "devolve" you say? Oh shush), we'd have to keep watching if only to see what kind of Armageddon the Khaleesi's fire-breathing brood might yet cause. And this is going to be a real breakout season for the scaly scamps, speculation suggests.

Expense That's to say thank God the rights were acquired by a big US network ready to spunk limitless money all over the screen rather than, say, a beleaguered UK one; for evidence of why, see the Beeb's Game of Thrones bandwagon-jumper The White Queen and its minimalist battle scenes.

Jon Snow, played by Kit Harrington, on the other side of the Wall Jon Snow, played by Kit Harrington, on the other side of the Wall Fancy Dress Parties Obviously one of the key reasons for its existence. And given that, according to British lore, you are never more than six miles from a GoT cast member, getting one to grace your shindig in full costume is an eminently feasible coup de théatre.

Genre Its masterstroke, in terms of mass appeal, is the fact that it's a fantasy series with so few obvious fantasy elements that you're tempted to call it a historical drama - until you remember that there was absolutely no century in which you had to be on guard for "shadow-babies".

Humour Not its chief selling point, but the show does leaven the trauma with the occasional zinger, usually dispensed by Peter Dinklage's patron saint of sarcasm Tyrion Lannister and Diana Rigg's magnificent Lady Olenna Redwyne, who would totally beat Downton's Countess Violet in a battle of the quipping dynastic battleaxes.

Intricacy You know those impatient sorts who complain about not understanding what's going on? They probably don't let passengers off the Tube before boarding too. You need to relax: sharing in the disorientation of the poor patsies of Westeros is all part of the fun.

Joffrey A pusillanimous hate-figure extraordinaire, on to whom the GoT fanbase likes to displace its quiet rage and existential despair at the end of a long Monday. All credit to actor Jack Gleeson, the man behind the absolute ... monarch.

Killing There's a shedload of violence, but it's of the horrifically consequential rather than breezy, action-movie kind, as anyone knows who remembers that thing that happened in Series 3 episode 9 that shall remain nameless but caused a nation to swear off television for at least the next 12 hours. And that's probably the kind we need more of, really.

Lannisters Domineering patriarchs, wayward sons, conniving daughters, and a little light incest: they may be dressed in breastplates and vermilion, but at heart, they're just your traditional soap brood. Now where's that Religious Festival Day special with Cersei throwing the roast kid and all the trimmings at Jaime's noggin?

Music  You'd think that a quasi-medieval series would settle for a few lute waftings. Instead it's given us songs by cult US rockers The National and the Hold Steady and last month's bizarrely entertaining GoT hip-hop mixtape .

New character Oberyn Martell New character Oberyn Martell Names We can't list them all, so let's just take a representative journey from Daenerys Targaryen to Hot Pie: which is to say they run the gamut from ridiculously baroque to pastry products.

Odd couples  Brienne and Jaime, Tyrion and Shae, Tyrion and Sansa, Arya and Tywin, Arya and the Hound: those buddy-comedy spin-off movies are all ready to roll.

Pace  For all the fighting and shagging, the tempo is generally pretty slow, nicely reflecting the hard slog of conquest. (Though arguably we didn't need quite the slog that was Alfie Allen's Theon Greyjoy spending the entirety of season 3 undergoing castration foreplay while chained up in a dungeon.)

Queerness All power to a fantasy drama that realistically acknowledges the existence of gay people! So far, we've had the relationship between the late prince Renly and his knight Loras Tyrell, and in this series we are promised the arrival of bisexual couple Oberyn Martell and Ellaria Sand.

Realpolitik Values are for those who don't value their heads and the acquisition of power is the only good reason to get up in the morning; for those who like their cynical view of politics indulged, GoT beats Question Time hands down.

Speeches In a tale of war and royalty, you should really expect some rhetorical doozies and these the scriptwriters have duly provided - our favourite, so far, being Tyrion's anti-Churchillian turn at Season 2's climactic Battle of Blackwater Bay, where, true to character, he told his troops to forget all the patriotic "for king and kingdom" stuff and fight only for themselves.

Throne That's the Iron one, made from a thousand swords of the vanquished and the best piece of small-screen seating since Chandler and Joey's recliners.

Uncertainty In many shows, shock deaths come on like rating-chasing tactics; in GoT, they're only natural. The Grim Reaper, it brilliantly reminds us, is no respecter of position on the cast list - or on the social spectrum - and the only certainty is, as ever, that any character played by Sean Bean is doomed.

Vice/virtue If you are anything like this GoT audience member, you are probably mooning over the chastened nature and strange nobility of a guy who once paralysed a child after being caught having sex with his own sister. Suffice to say, it messes with your moral compass.

Women  How ironic that the television show with the best selection of female characters (OK, Orange is the New Black excepted) should be about an uber-patriarchal society. Or depressing. But still, good on it.

X-rated The nudity is a controversial, but at least interesting, subject. On one hand, all the boobiness might be a reflection of the show's aforementioned patriarchal world. Or on the other, a reflection of our porny one.

Youth The child actors are uniformly ace. The only problem is that their child status is disappearing fast - as George R R Martin has noted anxiously: "Time is passing very slowly in the books and very fast in real life."

Zombies  We're not flagging here at all, honest, but the White Walkers are a bit zombie-like and we do like a bit of trumped-up horror-movie theatrics just to remind us that GoT is only a TV show and not, you know, everything.

Game of Thrones returns on Sky Atlantic, Monday 7 Apr

Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
exhibition Gillian Orr traces the movement from Bram Stoker to Kate Bush
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone