Spoiler alert from Sunday’s episode…
“The only reason we watched [Game of Thrones] was for Sean Bean,” groused EW reader Steve. “Way to go HBO, time to switch to Showtime.”
That’s a pretty common reaction among some viewers after watching Sunday’s episode of HBO’s fantasy series, especially among those who didn’t read the Thrones novel by George R. R. Martin. With the show’s ninth hour taking the unprecedented step of killing off a drama series’ main character (and its best known actor) in the first season, some fans are threatening to never watch the program again.
“Most of you who think this was some sort of brilliant move or something don’t understand the difference between a book audience and a TV audience,” argued EW reader Tamcamry. “TV audiences need to invest in characters. Most of the other characters I don’t care much about. While the show will probably still appeal to the ‘wow’ crowd, it’s mass appeal just got beheaded.”
HBO executives knew what they were getting into when they took on Thrones, and programming president Sue Naegle says axing Ned Stark made the show creatively more attractive. “I loved it,” Naegle says. “The book series was filled with unexpected twists and turns. I loved this idea we’d bring together the group of characters, then once you started to believe all the tropes of heroes, you pull the rug out from under them. It’s the opposite of feeling manipulated.”
The story and world of Thrones, Naegle says, is bigger than any one character. “Sean brings a giant following,” she says, “but Thrones is not just about the promise you’re going to see one of your favorite actors week in and week out. The star is the story.”
Some readers said that they felt tricked by the show’s marketing, since they thought Bean was the star and therefore untouchable. “Marketing is designed to bring people into something,” Naegle says.
Among fans of the novels, and those who were less focused on Bean’s character, the episode is winning high praise for its, um, execution. The episode titled “Baelor” is also being submitted for several Emmy categories.
“I knew it was coming. Still, it was shocking, horrific, and fantastic,” wrote @ninaberry on Twitter.
Ratings for Sunday’s episode are likely impacted by the NBA Finals and Tony Awards, though it will still be interesting to try and compare the numbers to next week’s season finale and see if outraged viewers make good on their promise and quit watching the show. Fan site winter-is-coming.net predicted newbie TV viewers will return, just like fans of the novel who famously said they threw Martin’s book across the room and then later picked it back up. “Lots of new viewers threatening that they won’t watch anymore,” the site tweeted. “I don’t believe them. They will be back.”
Overall, Thrones ratings have been rising during its first season, with a second season already ordered. Even with climbing viewership, Naegle says the network is sticking with its fairly conservative 10-episode order for next year. “We’d love to do more,” she says. “But it’s a very rigorous shoot. Doing more episodes might make it difficult to deliver the same quality.”
Not all fan reactions gave a clear sense of whether the viewer planned to return, however. Many were like @dirtyvicar on Twitter who simply wrote: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”