Game of Thrones finale: Why the show ruled our lives for 8 long years

HBO's cultural phenomenon is coming to end, but will it also be the last show we all watch together?

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects. CNET's "Living off the Grid" series. https://www.cnet.com/feature/home/energy-and-utilities/living-off-the-grid/ Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Eric Mack
3 min read

What comes next?


As Game of Thrones gets set to end for good Sunday night, the political/fantasy/zombie epic with several buddy and road movies embedded has reached that rare level of pop culture relevance where people who don't even watch the show are now talking about it. What's more, people are now regularly talking about how much people are talking about the show.

"It's been a wild ride and is clearly one of the most important of the cable appointment-viewing programs of its era," said Rick Stevens, a professor of media studies at the University of Colorado Boulder

Appointment viewing is the rapidly disappearing concept of planning your schedule around when a particular show or event is available to watch. Before the advent of streaming, on-demand TV services and YouTube, almost all viewing was appointment viewing, but today it's a designation primarily enjoyed by live sports and one-off events like the Academy Awards.

HBO's Thrones has managed to buck the trend and maintain its status as one of the last dramatic series to command an appointment-viewing audience. Stevens say this is thanks to die-hard fans who devour each episode as soon as it becomes available to participate in the online discussion around it. 

"More people watched the Sopranos, but the extension of Game of Thrones fan discourse into social media spaces and conventions has been something unique ... It's the sense of the cultural moment, the access to relevant conversations, and the fear of spoilers that fuel the drive for appointment viewing."

Watch this: Game of Thrones season 8 episode 5: Everybody hurts

If the past five Sundays of your life have been anything like what's gone down in my house, you know that GoT night doesn't end with the credits and watching (perhaps hate-watching is more accurate for some) the "behind the episode" commentary with producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. 

What comes next is at least a solid 20 minutes of cruising Twitter and Instagram for the best reactions and most hilarious memes inspired by what millions of us all just watched. 

"For Game of Thrones, participating in the reaction media that quickly spreads across social media platforms during or immediately after programming is a key part of the participatory feel to a fan," Stevens said. "Within seconds, reaction posts and videos flow into people's networks, within an hour memes begin to shape."

View this post on Instagram

Assembly required. #gameofthrones

A post shared by Ed Adams (@enadams) on

Stevens says he's heard the chatter that GoT will mark the last appointment-viewing show, but he suspects that's not actually the case and others will emerge soon. The big mystery is which show has enough juice to replace the epic struggle for the Iron Throne

Stevens doesn't see another obvious ongoing replacement

"Walking Dead is an ongoing example of a show that was once as prominent as Game of Thrones. Westworld is another current example, though its fan base is smaller than Game of Thrones," he said, adding that science fiction and fantasy don't overlap as much as some people think. "HBO's Watchmen series might become one of those, though I suspect it won't have quite the broad-based appeal of Game of Thrones."

The next Game of Thrones could easily be something no one is watching just yet, like one of the many comic books, fantasy novels or sci-fi works that have been optioned in the wake of GoT's success, like HBO's upcoming His Dark Materials

To me, the leading contender is clear: Hollywood, let me introduce you to something called Crowd Control.

Game of Thrones stars, from season 1 through today

See all photos

Originally published May 17.