Assessing the fortunes of Game of Thrones

June 7, 2012 5:52 pm


Game of Thrones, the medieval fantasy television series adapted from the works of George R.R. Martin and produced by HBO in America, has been growing in popularity since its first air date in April 2011. The programme, which has the feel more of a film that has been split into ten parts instead of a regular show, boasts an impressive list of cast members, shooting locations and award nominations for its first season including 12 Emmy Awards, winning two. It airs in the UK a day after the US and its following appears to be growing on both sides of the Atlantic. However, Game of Thrones does not achieve as high a viewing figure as other US programmes such as How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory and House. A programme will only be allowed to stay on the air if it is being watched by a sizeable amount of viewers; so will Game of Thrones survive another season?

Game of Thrones was billed as the next big thing in US television and, with HBO lavishly financially backing the project, the scale and detail involved in the programme set it apart from your average TV show. The US Dollars can be seen behind the costumes and location settings which include Malta, Croatia, Iceland and Morocco. This was clearly not meant to be filmed entirely in front of a blue screen. There is nothing quite like filming on location and it is refreshing to see a show on this scale and is obviously comfortable filming in diverse and extreme locations. During the second season for example, which came to an end on 3 June 2012, the character of John Snow was pitted against the elements beyond The Wall in the Wild Lands. Filming in Iceland, in the bitter cold, must not have been a pleasant experience for either crew or cast, but it shows a real dedication to get the look of the show right, instead of allowing digital effects do all the work. The cast that has been assembled for the last two seasons have also been impressive. For the first season, the producers recruited Sean Bean as one of the principal cast members. His casting was spot on and certainly hit a note with UK audiences. He is still seen as a national favourite having acted in the TV series Sharpe and in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. His image was used on most of the promotional posters for the show and would have certainly drawn in a large amount of viewers who might not have been instantly interested otherwise.

Sean Bean's acting was received well by UK audiences

However, Game of Thrones has failed to attract significant amount of viewers every week, regardless of what the existing fans think of it. The highest viewing figure for season one was the last episode, “Fire and Blood”, which averaged out at 3.04 million. For the entire first run, the show struggled to break the three million barrier, averaging out at around 2.40 million for the whole season. These figures do not stack up against shows such as House; its first season drew in an average of 13.3 million. Its last season attracted 8.69 million, and while it shows a drop in popularity, it still shows how far Game of Thrones still has to go. The latest seasons of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory also attracted larger average viewing figures, pulling in between 7-12 and 15 million people respectively. In comparison, season two of Game of Thrones attracted 4.20 million at its peak. These figures, on the face of it, do not look encouraging. They highlight the scale of the task that the show has in front of it in order to stay on the air for a few seasons more. The producers will need to act fast in order to establish the programme as a firm fixture in the publics front rooms. The figures above represent the viewing numbers in the US and the UK counterparts make for harder reading for the shows heads. Only 521,900 people tuned in to the final episode of season one. The debut episode, “Winter Is Coming”, was seen by 743,000. Regardless, the show was renewed for a second season and again for a third. HBO must have confidence that the show will come good in the end after a slow start in the US and in the UK.

Having said all of that, viewing figures in the US for season two of Game of Thrones were consistently higher than of any episode in its first run. While the lowest viewing figures for an episode during season one was 2.20 million, (episode two, “The Kingsroad”), the highest in season two was for the last episode, “Valar Morghulis”, which averaged at 4.20. This clearly shows a huge progression and a surge in popularity which suggests that the first season’s low audiences can be explained as a slow start more than public distaste. But, having every episode between 3 and 4 million viewers during the season is still a far cry from other US shows that are imported to the UK. Game of Thrones will have to maintain its apparent growth in popularity both sides of the Atlantic if it is to be renewed for a fourth season.

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