In case you missed it, shit hit the fan in Westeros.
There have been television moments that have dominated the headlines before, but the aftermath of the Rains of Castamere episode of Game of Thrones is something different. It’s the first time a show managed to blindside its audience (except those who read the books) in the digital age. For the past 48 hours, it has been nearly impossible to read any mainstream publication or browse Facebook without encountering some news about the most recent GOT episode.
When Lucy and Ricky had a baby, the whole country was already on the edge of their seat. The same could be said for finding out who shot JR. And then there was the hype and disappointment of the Seinfeld finale.
In terms of sheer numbers, the Game of Thrones episodes can’t compare with these or any of the big moments of network television. But network television is dying, and the shows that have the most buzz surrounding them are niche products that have smaller audiences. Even Mad Men, arguably the most prestigious and talked about show on television, is watched by just over 2 million people – a small fraction of the 120 million Americans who tuned in for the finale of M*A*S*H.
In spite of being watched by only
5 million 13 million¹ people (comparable to Dancing with the Stars), a show like GOT makes a much bigger splash than its initial viewership suggests. Being an HBO show automatically gives you a bit more cred, and nudity doesn’t hurt, but most importantly, it has enough crazy fans. Fans that will ensure that things like episode 9 go viral. Fans that do things like this:
Like most viral hits, it’s possible that the episode will not last the test of time and that in the coming years, it will be overshadowed by countless other shocking and viral episodes. Virality has replaced the office water cooler. It gives an outlet for venting emotions that did not exist just years ago. It’s gotten to the point that within a day of the episodes broadcast, a video showing viewers’ reactions has received more than a million views on YouTube. Let’s think about that, 5 million people watched the show, and more than a million people went out of their way to watch people watching the show.
It seems unlikely that a show will ever capture the attention of the entire country like in the heyday of network television. Our collective consciousness is evolving to accommodate and have feelings about shows most folks will never actually see.
1. Update: as a friend pointed out to me, the 5 million figure that I originally sited only counts those who watch the initial broadcast. When taking into consideration HBO Go, DVR, and rebroadcasts (not counting illegal streaming and downloading which are in the millions for sure), the figure rises to more than 13 million legal viewers. Not quite Seinfeld numbers, but certainly better than a random episode of Dancing with the Stars. Thanks Mika!