Living in a fantasy world with Game of Thrones

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As the historical epic Game of Thrones returns for a new series, Sarah Hughes meets the fans who prefer role-play to reality

It's the babies that suggest Game of Thrones fans might be more devoted than most. George R R Martin, the author of the best-selling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire on which the television series is based, has a fan section on his website, a little corner where readers can send him things to tickle his fancy. There are cakes baked in the style of the great Stark castle of Winterfell, intricate dragon tattoos bearing the Targaryen words “Fire and Blood” and most of all there are pictures of babies. Babies called Arya and Bran and Sansa, toddlers named Tyrion and Daenerys beaming gummily, little Jaimes and Rickons grinning at something just out of shot.

“There are definitely a bunch of people out there named after characters from the series,” admits Elio Garcia, who runs Westeros.org, the biggest fan community for the Song of Ice and Fire series with more than 56,000 members. “Lots of people have named pets Ghost [after Jon Snow's silent direwolf] as well.”

The devotion doesn't stop there. Committed fans, many of whom refer to themselves as The Brotherhood without Banners in reference to an outlaw group from the series, do everything from role playing and running Tumblr and Twitter accounts in the name of Martin's characters to selling striking prints, customised playing cards and intricate jewellery on Etsy and eBay.

It's also a fanbase that is growing by the day. Like The Sopranos and Mad Men, Game of Thrones, which returns to Sky Atlantic tonight, is at that point when it is moving beyond its core base and into mass culture. Not only is it both HBO and Sky Atlantic's most watched show (pulling in nearly 12 million viewers for the former and 5.6 million for the latter), it was also the most pirated TV show on the internet last year with 4.3 million downloads per episode and one of the fastest- selling DVD releases of the year.

Other television shows from Glee and 30 Rock to The Thick of It and Peep Show are falling over themselves to reference it. Sports Illustrated launched its Power 50 issue by featuring NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the Iron Throne of Westeros (the kingdom at the heart of the show) while The Economist used it to discuss conflict between technology giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

Meanwhile, the internet is filled with pastiche videos and tributes to the show's anti-heroes and heroines, and Swedish power-metal band HammerFall even recorded a song about the Night's Watch called “Take the Black”.

Most tellingly of all, you could barely move in the US this Halloween for people dressed as Game of Thrones characters: there were Jon Snows huddled under thick black cloaks, Robert Baratheons, war hammers in hand, and an army of Daenerys Targaryens, blond wigs flowing and dragons perched on their shoulder. It seems that everyone wants to be Khaleesi, if only for a day.

So why this show and why now? “Even in the age of Netflix and on- demand access to everything, there's still something to be said about building hype around a show you have to wait for each week,” says Jacob Klein, editor of HBOWatch.com, adding that Game of Thrones is “clearly the cable network's flagship programme right now… the material is so deep that there's just so much to talk about and have visceral reactions to. That's part of what fuels the hype.”

It's also the case that Game of Thrones with its epic tale of a divided kingdom, its portentous strap line “Winter Is Coming” and its willingness to throw in a gratuitous sex scene every 20 minutes or so, is ripe for send-ups. As such it's been parodied on everything from Saturday Night Live to The Simpsons while one of the best moments in the final season of The Thick of It was the discovery that slimy Conservative lackey Phil is a huge fan.

At the same time, those parodies only work because the world created by Martin and adapted for television by David Benioff and D B Weiss is so compelling. If Game of Thrones was hokum the references would fall flat – instead it's well crafted, wittily scripted and just over the top enough to keep you tuning in each week. “The show – and the books – have such a wide range of influences from real history such as the Hundred Years War to things like horror and more obvious fantasy elements, and that appeals to a wide range,” says Adam Whitehead, who runs UK fantasy blog The Wertzone. “It brings together fans of The Walking Dead, The Tudors, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.”

As such, television networks are falling over themselves to find the next Game of Thrones. Television schedules are filling up with historical dramas from The White Queen to Marco Polo or big budget fantasy fare such as Da Vinci's Demons and upcoming pirate drama Crossbones. As Adrian Hodges, the scriptwriter behind the BBC's new adaptation of The Three Musketeers, recently admitted: “Game of Thrones is a reference point. It's a much more sexual and violent world than the one we're going to create but in the sense of the seriousness and reality of it.” Similarly, David S Goyer, the writer behind Da Vinci's Demons, said he hoped his show would “appeal to Game of Thrones fans”, adding “people are loving historical fantasy and escapism right now, which tends to happen when times are hard and there's uncertainty in the world.”

For the original fan base, the show's growth is a mixed blessing. “It is hard not to think back to the days when the forum had a couple of hundred people on it and miss that perspective,” admits Garcia. “You know how it is, some of the older members have that sense of 'oh we liked it before it was cool' like when you discover a band before anyone else.”

Not that Garcia is really complaining. He and his fiancé Linda Antonsson have served as unofficial consultants on the television series and are finishing work on The World of Ice and Fire, a companion book to the novels, due out later this year. “It's certainly true that the show is booming in popularity,” he says. “It's at that point in zeitgeist where it seems as though everyone is talking about it.”

'Game of Thrones' returns to Sky Atlantic HD tonight at 9pm. The first two seasons will also be available on On Demand

Hit and myth: Game of Thrones goodies

'Game of Thrones' accounts for 75 per cent of all HBO Europe's branded-goods sales, making it the fastest-growing merchandise property for the cable channel globally, outpacing previous hits 'Sex and the City' and 'True Blood'.

Dragon's Egg Paperweight

Ok, so it won't hatch dragon babies but it's pretty to look at and a girl can dream. £45.

Game of Thrones trainers, Hear Me Roar bag and key chain

Let your feet do the talking in customised Converse All Stars. £78. Carry them in the Hear Me Roar bag and get back inside with the Lannister keychain

Game of Thrones playing cards

See if Queen Cersei can trump King Joffrey or if the Mother of Dragons beats all with this customised deck of cards. £7.46 plus shipping.

Iron Throne Beer

What's better than watching 'Game of Thrones'? Watching 'Game of Thrones' while drinking specially themed beer of course.

Life-sized Iron Throne

Yes, that's right, it's a life-sized copy of the Iron Throne. Yours for only $30,000 – one for the wealthy despot in your life.

Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
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.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape