AFP: It’s most expensive, most watched, most pirated and most decorated show in television history. As Game of Thrones begins its eighth and final season on April 14, here’s a look back on all that it has achieved over the last eight years.
The show’s record-breaking run began in 2011 on HBO but and wasn’t exactly an overnight phenomenon. But its audiences have never stopped growing thereafter and by 2014, GOT had overtaken HBO's flagship hit, The Sopranos.
By its seventh season (aired in 2017), the figures were stratospheric. The finale set an all-time with 16.5 million people watching live or streaming on the day of transmission in the US alone, and 15 million more tuning in later.
Viewing records also tumbled in many of the 186 countries in which GoT is shown, with Britain's Sky Atlantic and OCS in France showing episodes in the middle of the night in sync with their US premieres.
If we take illegal downloading into account, more than one billion people watched pirated copies of the seventh season. Talk about mind-boggling!
The upcoming season is reportedly the most expensive season of TV ever shot, with a budget of $15 million per episode, taking the overall season cost to $90 million. Although much of this has gone on lavish locations and special effects, the final two episodes will be one hour and 20 minutes long - almost the length of Hollywood movies.
But HBO knows there is little danger of them not getting their money back, with the franchise so far earning them more than $1 billion, according to the New York Times. The massive investment has also brought a record-breaking trove of 47 Emmy Awards from 128 nominations.
After four episodes of season five leaked before the official release, producers massively overhauled their security. To throw hackers and pirates off, showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss have shot several versions of the final episode, a tactic already used for The Sopranos and Breaking Bad.
Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, admitted that even she had been fooled into believing a red herring version of the denouement. To make sure no one was snooping, the producers took measures to stop drones overflying their shoots as well.
Game of Tourists
The series has also been a boon for tourism, particularly in Northern Ireland, where much of the series was shot. Fans flood in to visit locations in the region which had previously been best known for violent sectarianism. Iceland and the Spanish cities of Girona and Osuna near have seen their visitor numbers rocket from special GoT tours too.
But the Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik, the setting for King's Landing, discovered you can have too much of a good thing. It has had to put limits on the number of visitors it can receive in its picturesque medieval centre.
Dothraki baby names
Dogs, goldfish and lots of babies have also been named after characters from the series, with Arya - together with its alternative spelling Aria - entering the top 20 most popular names for girls in Britain last year.
Khaleesi, the honorary title in the imaginary Dothraki language given to Daenerys Targaryen, has also become popular, with 466 little girls in the US and 77 in France named after the queen of dragons last year.
The series has been something of a mixed blessing for pets too. Peter Dinklage, who plays "the Imp" Tyrion Lannister, had to appeal to fans to stop buying Siberian husky dogs who look similar to the dire wolves in the show. Animal rights campaigners had complained that the number of huskies abandoned in Britain has risen seven-fold since the show started.
While he was still in the White House, Barack Obama admitted to being a GoT enthusiast. He even asked HBO to bend their strict rules to allow him a sneak preview of the sixth season.
His successor Donald Trump has made wide use of the "Winter is coming" motto of the House of Stark. Much to the irritation of the channel and several of its actors, the US president has adapted the line several times in his tweets, including about Iran - "sanctions are coming" - and his border wall with Mexico - "The wall is coming."
The president, however, does not appear to have learned the lesson of the Wall in GoT, which has proved utterly ineffective against illegal immigration of Wildlings and zombie White Walkers.
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