There’s a new unofficial ratings standard for the entertainment industry. Last Sunday the premiere of Game of Thrones again topped the charts for illegal downloads beating the final episode of The Walking Dead. “We do have to contend with the fact that our show is the most pirated in the world,” said George R.R. Martin, author of the “Game of Thrones” fantasy novels.
I confess I’ve read all of the best-selling series of books by George R. R. Martin known collectively as the Song of Ice and Fire Saga. Sometimes I need to use them as a reference set to figure out what exactly is going on in the myriad plots of the TV version of Game of Thrones. It’s either that or just wait for one of the HBO nude scenes and score in the Game of Thrones drinking game.
To be fair the opening show of season three does make an attempt to mend the plot after last season’s dramatic ending. There are more alliances being made among the Houses of Westeros than on the show Survivor; Stannis has been defeated and Renly assassinated so the powerful houses of the South have hooked up with always Machiavellian Lannisters and the calculating Margaery Tyrell has moved on from Renly to the boy king Joffrey.
Just a child in the books Margaery’s character has been made into a skillful political operator for TV. Almost worth of a role on House of Cards she pats orphans on the head and makes sure the city knows just who is providing the food and prosperity. The population adores her while wicked Cersei can’t travel openly in the King’s Landing without starting a riot.
Rob Stark is still on his endless march to King’s Landing and still innocent enough to be horrified by the work of the Mountain Gregore Clegane at Harrenhall. Practical leadership seems beyond Rob and he’s in a huff at his mother for letting Jaime Lannister free. Jon Snow meets the King Beyond the Wall for the first time and back in King’s Landing Sansa and Littlefinger plot a bit more. Where is Aria when you need a bit of stark family kick ass? Across the ocean Daenerys arrives in Astapor, meets the Unsullied and is saved from yet another assasination attempt by the oh so important Barristan Selmy.
So was there any drama among all this tying up of loose ends? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), perhaps the shortest sexy man to hit the screen, saves the show in a powerful confrontation between Tyrion and his father Tywin Lannister. If you remember Tyrion saved King’s Landing when King Joffrey failed his duty. He was horribly wounded while his nephew cowered. While recuperating the truth about all this has been rewritten and Tywin let’s it be known what he thinks of his malformed son in a exquisite scene of neglect and betrayal.
“With TV, it’s not just about having a great piece of programming now. It’s about delivering that programming on whatever device people want to watch it on, whenever they want to watch it,” HBO Chief Operating Officer Eric Kessler said.
HBO has always been good at providing this kind of steamy well written drama. I’m not so sure the business end of the operation is keeping pace. HBO Chief Executive Richard Plepler is very conscious of the new digital technologies that are affecting his company. For example he’s aware that 18.5 million people watched the Game of Thrones trailer for Season 3 on You Tube and thrilled with the idea that his 29 million viewers can watch HBO programming on mobile devices and tablets. “Exclusivity” is the word he uses a lot but declines comment on efforts such as the “Take My Money” Campaign where consumers beg to be allowed to subscribe to HBO Go as a stand-alone service. It’s not a surprise that Fernando Laguarda VP of Time Warner Cable responded with a snide, “How much would you pay for a health club with just the equipment you use? #Economics Impractical#”
I can’t help but think of what happened to Wang Laboratories in the late eighties. They fundamentally misunderstood the actual applications of advances in technology and kept on applying them to make very good word processors even after nobody was using word processors. I get the feeling that Richard Plepler and Fernado Laguarda have a similar fundamental misunderstanding. While HBO says stand-alone broadband streaming might be a good idea in the future Netflix recently brought us House of Cards and will soon release the Gothic horror series, “Hemlock Grove.” In May Netflix subscribers are going to get new episodes of Arrested Development which brings joy to the heart of any television connoisseur. Fernando you run a Chinese Buffet not a health club and I’m not sure why you think I should pay for all two hundred items on the steam table when I couldn’t possibly eat all that and don’t even like the weird wriggly things.
What’s not to like about big swords and scantily clad wenches? Nothing as far as I’m concerned. I like the show and I’ll be watching it on a friends couch sipping every time someone says Khaleesi and slamming a shot every time a Stark dies. It’s too bad Richard Plepler doesn’t want my fifteen bucks but Netflix is happy to take it and I’m looking forward to new episodes of Arrested Development.