The Long Night has passed but the cultural impact of Game of Thrones is hard to ignore

Even if you’ve never watched an episode, the cultural impact of Game of Thrones is hard to ignore, writes Aileen C. O’Reilly.

So, it’s finally over...

Everybody OK?

It’s hard to believe that there actually was life PGoT (pre Game of Thrones) but yes, apparently there was, and rumours that Northern Ireland in all its visual breathtaking glory existed prior to the influx of cast and production crew are apparently also true.

I’ve felt a weird, gnawing ache in the pit of my stomach this past week — I’m aware that something’s not quite right and I’ve never even watched a single episode… Some level of support may be needed, not so much to deal with my own feelings as those of my GoT-addicted friends, who are currently walking around like abandoned cult members and as grumpy as bilious dragons.

I’m sitting in a cafe relaxing with a coffee as I write this, listening to music playing and wondering why in the name of God I feel all combative and like I’m missing a flaming arrow or a metal breastplate and why I have the overwhelming urge to roar something in a consonant-laden tongue.

.... and then the penny drops. It’s the Game of Thrones soundtrack I’m listening to.

I know this and I’m in the 0.05% of the world’s coterie of people who have never even sat through an episode (we have our own support group on social media).

I pick up my Mother of Dragons bag (I kid you not) and walk out searching the sky nervously for fire-breathing winged creatures… I’m able to spell Daenerys correctly… I know Westeros is in Northern Ireland and that Targaryen and Stark are houses...

Of course I bloody well know Jason Momoa is Khal Drogo and that when Emilia Clarke first met him on the set he screamed “WIFEY!”, ran across the hall, and rugby-tackled her to the floor.

(… be still my beating ovaries).

Last summer, still without watching nary an episode, something compelled me to grab the Aircoach up to Belfast where I went to the Ulster Museum to see first-hand the Game of Thrones tapestry before staring up in rapt awe and terror at the two fighting dragons in the atrium high above.

But then I remind myself of the perils of passive smoking and realise very quickly that passive Game of Thrones osmosis has already caused a more than passing addiction — not enough to make me start at the beginning and actually watch it, but enough to make me pine for the ability to use key phrases in my day-to-day dealings with people and appear as a member of House of Something-or-other.

I think Daenerys and myself use the same hair colour and I do have a rather vengeful streak when my blood’s up, but that’s about it at present... Up until a few weeks ago a good friend of mine was in the midst of a particularly vitriolic row with her flatmates as she was desperately trying to cram-watch the entire show before all of them watched the final series together.

She was getting more ashen as the pressure mounted, cancelling lunches and nights out in an effort to get a few more episodes under her belt while her flatmates were busy avoiding anyone watching season 8 and getting fierce withdrawal symptoms in the process.

She’s now babbling fluently in a language I can’t even decipher and searching the skies mumbling “Skoriot ñuhyz zaldrizesse ilzi?” (“where are my dragons??” apparently) every time she goes for the bus.

Unfortunately, she is now in the grip of full GoT addiction without the hope of any further help from HBO to feed her habit for at least a year. One can only hope that the start of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials on HBO and BBC 1 at the end of the summer will help her and a lot of other suffering fans smoothly transition to an equally absorbing new obsession in Fantasyland.

So what exactly is it about this particular fantasy series that has turned it into such a culture-drenching phenomenon?

“There are several elements which have ensured its hold on the public imagination” explains social media maven Andrea McVeigh. 

It features strong female characters, which is unusual in much modern TV, and power struggles, which we can all relate to, whether in the workplace or in the broader world of politics.

“Much like fairy stories, it tells human stories in a fantasy setting, and raises issues as to what makes a person good or bad, so we can relate, but at one step removed. And of course, many people love watching a good battle or sex scene, of which there are many!

“People love to get involved in cultural phenomenons — that’s how crazes start and take off and how social media posts can go viral, after all — and this is especially true of the fantasy genre. But even if you’ve never seen an episode you’ll know, through cultural osmosis, roughly what it’s about, that there are dragons and strong women in it and if you’re Irish you’ll probably know that a lot of it was filmed in the north. If you’re Northern Irish you’ll probably also know a bearded man who has appeared as an extra in it!”

Psychotherapist Marie Walsh, clinical director of Leeson Analytic and an avid fan herself, believes there are many valid reasons why the end of the series will leave a vast hole in the fabric of our day-to-day lives.

“Don’t forget, when Game of Thrones started on TV, Barack Obama, this young black king who had been a youth worker, was after becoming president, there was this wonderful change, there was celebration and hope — and now we have Trump and the loss of that hope.

“Ten years ago we had the opening up of the Eastern bloc countries and now we have Putin.

“Subconsciously people are identifying with this TV series as they look at the current state of things worldwide and feel hopeless. Essentially, Game of Thrones is about a group of people who are orphaned. You’re watching as a character is forged through adversity and brutality. 

"It is the same reason that Gladiator became the hugely influential movie that it was — seeing someone lose everything and then having to rebuild their life from nothing, seeing the strength of character that demands is empowering.

There is the added fact that the series is gender-neutral, with women just as powerful, if not more so than their male counterparts. It is also age-neutral, disability-neutral and has powerful eunuchs and, of course, dragons. There is none of the jaded human stereotyping and it is in that our aspirations are rooted. There is empowering hope for all of us.

“Essentially we have watched it to feel a sense of power in an era where we now have none,” she concludes, “So yes, it will leave a large hole in our consciousness as we face into a fitting period spent mourning its loss”.

Personally I’m referring all and sundry to — the opportunity-grabbing website usually dedicated to finding everything from dog groomers to builder — it has taken the dragon by the throat and for the princely sum of €47 per hour will let you whinge to counsellors, who are ardent fans themselves, about your dystopian abandonment issues….

Sikudi nopazmi! (That’s “seven hells!” in High Valyrian and please don’t ask how I know this…)

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