What makes HBO’s epic ‘Game of Thrones’ so fascinating?

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The incredible HBO series has exceeded our expectations, even after the never-ending glut of hype, to deliver jaw-dropping drama that leaves viewers exhausted. Yet, despite being emotionally drained after every episode for seven seasons, the war-weary fans find the strength to binge “Game of Thrones” over and over, as if they were the super-warriors of the show’s Unsullied, marching under the command of their Queen. But sadly the end is near.

The epic fantasy series Game of Thrones will return for its eighth and final season on Sunday, April 14, offering just six episodes to devour like the show’s hungry dragons.

Game of Thrones has become a worldwide sensation thanks to the phenomenal storytelling. The show is an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels, the first of which is A Game of Thrones. Martin serves an executive producer, creative consultant and scriptwriter on the television series. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss created the television series and serve as executive producers, showrunners and the main writers who have a knack for killing off main characters unexpectedly, leaving fans gobsmacked.

In April 2011 HBO premiered the first season of Game of Thrones. The 10 episodes transported viewers to the fantastical continent of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms—lands of kings, queens, barbarians, direwolves, black magic, palace intrigue, and bloody wars. It was all woven together into an intricate tale of fantasy, history and imagination. To create spectacular visuals, a dedicated cast and crew filmed on the island of Malta and in the misty forests of Northern Ireland to help bring this world to life the first season. Later seasons had them filming in Iceland, Spain, Morocco, Croatia, Scotland, Canada and even the U.S.

To catch up some late-comers to the show: the huge ensemble cast has included Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings) as Ned Stark, who was killed off the first season stunning everyone, yet it set the riveting plot in motion for the House Stark, whose family includes Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Rickon (Art Parkinson), and Ned’s “illegitimate son” Jon Snow (Kit Harington). The Stark’s adversaries in the capital, King’s Landing, are the Lannisters: Cersei (Lena Headey), her brother/l over Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and their smart resourceful dwarf brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). But it is across the Narrow Sea that Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) proves to be a match for them all. As “The Mother of Dragons” and child of the last true king, she seeks to win back the Iron Throne. The list of outstanding cast members could fill columns. Suffice to say everyone is brilliant no matter how big, small, or bloody brief the role.

Oh, and did I mention that they all have to put aside their differences to battle the White Walkers—reanimated corpse soldiers akin to icy zombies, led by the Night King (Vladimir Furdik), warlord of the underworld. They are on the march to overrun the Westeros. It’s just awesome!

When the cast and creative team of Game of Thrones were first introduced at the Television Critics Association’s press tour, David Benioff, producer/writer described the show as The Sopranos meets “Middle Earth.”

George R.R. Martin made a point of explaining that he had turned his back on writing for television because of all the networks’ budget and creative restrictions. The author said, “I decided to go back to prose. I don’t have to worry about a budget or about it being producible. I’m going to have hundreds of characters in giant battles and magnificent castles, and I don’t have to worry about it, they’ll never make this in television or film.” No one had ever done science fiction and fantasy on that scale before, then HBO gave Game of Thrones the green light.

Casey Bloys, president HBO programming, has reported that there is a satisfying ending to the show (finale airs Sunday, May 19), after which fans can rejoice that a pilot for a prequel will be shot this summer. But for now, Game of Thrones the final season premieres April 14 on HBO. Tune in.

Margie Barron is a member of the Television Critics Association and has written for a variety of top publications for more than 38 years, and was half of the husband and wife writing team of Margie and Frank Barron.

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