Muse Reporting on the arts and culture

The secret to Game of Thrones’ success

Entertainment | What the show’s popularity said about society and story
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 5/24/19, 03:04 pm

Last Sunday evening, the world seemed divided into two camps: the people watching the Game of Thrones series finale on HBO and the people watching the people who watched Game of Thrones. The way the show engrossed a swath of society—19.3 million people tuned in to the finale—was impressive to some and irritating to others but next to impossible to ignore.

The HBO adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels was notoriously indecent, depicting orgies, abuse, and rape—some of which was described in the books and much of which was embellished on screen. Beyond that, it embraced nihilism and showed disdain for organized religion, noted Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Seminary and a WORLD News Group board member, on his podcast The Briefing earlier this week.

But plenty of shows have had all of that without inspiring the mass devotion that Thrones did. To understand why so many people liked the series, it helps to understand the appeal of its genre. Fantasy novels thrive at the intersection of disillusionment and imagination. It is no coincidence that fantasy fiction came into its own when J.R.R. Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings in 1954, not long after World War II. Enchanted stories of magical worlds can soothe hearts and minds weary from the bitter disappointment of life’s unfixable problems like disease, violence, and suffering. (Though an avid reader as a child, I had little interest in fantasy until the year after my parents’ divorce, when I suddenly devoured the The Chronicles of Narnia, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Wrinkle in Time.)

Enter A Song of Ice and Fire, one of the most popular fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings. Martin’s tale is enchanted and relatable. He gives his characters the same flaws, insecurities, and struggles as the rest of us but then gifts each with something special to help them on their way—some get swords, some get spells, and some get dragons.

The books were best-sellers long before HBO got hold of the story, but the TV series made it accessible to an increasingly distracted public that may not enjoy sitting down with a thousand-page book (or five). On top of that, the story has a millennial-friendly, environmentalist worldview, and HBO spared no expense in bringing the dazzling world of Game of Thrones to life on screen. The recipe was just right for the cultural moment, and fans ate it up and loved it.

Until they didn’t. The final season brought its own disillusionment, with viewers complaining about the plot, the writing, the pacing, the overuse of symbolism, the underuse of symbolism, and even the lighting. There are online petitions to get HBO to redo all or parts of the final season—one on already had more than 1.5 million signatures as of Friday morning.

Fans’ reaction to the end of Game of Thrones is possibly even more frustrating than their original obsession with it. Our niche marketing–obsessed world is starting to treat art—whether literature, music, fine art, or drama—as a customizable, consumable good. It’s not enough to critique art; we want it made to our specifications, and if it’s not, we want to send it back for a do-over like a hamburger with too much mustard. That attitude, when taken to its natural end, would mean the end of art and the deflation of imagination.

Thankfully, George R.R. Martin, who has yet to publish the final two books of the series (he gave the HBO showrunners a synopsis so they could wrap up the series), seems to be resisting those childish demands. In a blog post Monday about the end of the series and the future of the books, he made a simple proposal: “I’ll write it. You read it. Then everyone can make up their own mind, and argue about it on the internet.”

PBS PBS A scene from the “Mr. Ratburn and His Special Friend” episode of Arthur

Alabama and Arkansas say no to Arthur

Public television networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air the 22nd season premiere of the children’s cartoon Arthur for its depiction of a same-sex wedding.

The episode that aired nationwide on May 13 and titled “Mr. Ratburn and his Special Friend” centers on Arthur, the anthropomorphic aardvark, and his friends’ discovery that their third-grade teacher, a male rat, is marrying a local chocolatier named Patrick.

“Parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision,” Mike Mckenzie, Alabama Public Television’s director of programming, told “We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for Arthur also watch the program.”

Arthur, intended for ages 4–8, first aired in 1996 with an opening song telling children to “believe in yourself.” In April, Arkansas and Alabama’s public television networks reportedly learned from the show’s producers that the season premiere would feature a same-sex nuptial, prompting both stations to air a rerun instead.

“In realizing that many parents may not have been aware of the topics of the episode beforehand, we made the decision not to air it,” Julie Thomas, marketing director at the Arkansas Educational Television Network, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a petition to remove the episode by One Million Moms, a division of the American Family Association, has reached nearly 19,000 signers. —Mary Jackson

Associated Press/Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision (file) Associated Press/Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision (file) Kristen Wiig

Entertainers boycott ‘Y’allywood’ over abortion law

Georgia’s growing entertainment industry is facing a boycott from some Hollywood actors and producers in retaliation for the state’s passage of a law protecting unborn babies.

The Lionsgate comedy Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, starring Kristin Wiig, and Reed Morano’s Amazon series The Power announced this week they have pulled production from Georgia, joining a growing list of celebrities, including Jason Bateman and Alyssa Milano, and film companies shunning the state. Bill Block, chief executive of Miramax studio, told The Wall Street Journal he would avoid filming in Georgia for its “intolerant legislation.”

Georgia’s new law protects unborn babies from abortion after they have a detectable heartbeat. It is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Most major studios have remained quiet about the law, however, in a state that offers them generous tax incentives. Many media outlets noted this silence, a marked difference from Hollywood’s united front against Georgia’s religious exemption bill in 2016, which was ultimately vetoed.

Meanwhile, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, canceled a long-planned trip to Hollywood, Calif., and said recently that his party stands behind the pro-life law “even though it makes C-list celebrities squawk.” —M.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong Artist Gustavo Zermeno Jr. at a mural dedicated to Nipsey Hussle in Los Angeles


A Los Angeles grand jury indicted Eric J. Holder Jr., 29, in the fatal shooting of Grammy-nominated rapper Nipsey Hussle in March. The six-count indictment includes murder, attempted murder, and assault with a firearm. If convicted, Holder, who pleaded not guilty, would face the maximum sentence of life in prison.

Earlier this month, Holder’s lawyer, Chris Darden, quit the case, citing threats to him and his family, including his children. Darden was a prosecutor in the famous 1995 trial of former football star O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of murder.

Holder, a gang member, was taken into custody two days after Hussle’s death, which was ruled a homicide. According to video evidence cited by the Los Angeles Police Department, Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Asghedom, had a personal dispute with Holder that day, and Holder returned later with a gun and opened fire. Two other people were wounded in the shooting. It is unclear how the two men knew each other, but police said the incident was not gang-related. —M.J.

Don’t mess with Mickey Mouse

Last week, Muse reported on Disney’s mobilization against Netflix, which is expected to become a frontal assault when the Disney Plus streaming service launches later this year. In Forbes this week, investment analyst Stephen McBride further explained why Netflix is in serious trouble and why Disney remains such a formidable foe as entertainment moves online. One word: content. —L.L.

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • Rich277
    Posted: Sat, 05/25/2019 11:18 am

    I’m confused about TV ratings and the inordinate attention given them.  While I am aware that 19.3 million viewers is a lot compared to what other shows get, doesn’t this also mean that 280 million Americans were not watching it that night?  How exactly do these numbers translate into the amount of money that advertisers will pay for 30 seconds of airtime?

  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Sat, 05/25/2019 09:46 pm

    I'd like to suggest that "Fantasy novels thrive [no only] at the intersection of disillusionment and imagination." In particular what novels like The Lord of the Rings provides is a saga, a depiction of past and future events, not unlike what Scripture provides in speaking, for example, of the Promised Land, the Desert Wanderings, and the Last Days. In broad strokes each person can locate themselves in a history that has gone and is to come. Granted the Lord of the Rings need not be taken as that final battle and its victory by all, but still it appeals for the very same reason, even if you do not literally take it to be your history and that of mankind.