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Who will Rule Westeros? Betting on “Game of Thrones.”

by Glenn Baird - July 29, 2017

Article contains Game of Thrones season 1 spoilers.

As the new season of “Game of Thrones” settles into its second episode certain bookies in the UK are asking the big question: Who will rule Westeros?

Short of the Super Bowl or the World Cup Final, big moments on television fail to draw in the colossal audiences they once did. Tuning in at a certain time to watch your favourite show during its specific time slot is a thing of the past for most us. Now that we have copious numbers of shows to choose from and a myriad of platforms to watch them on, there’s almost no chance that we’ll ever see the dizzying 100 plus million that tuned in for the season finale of “M*A*S*H” again.

Nowadays, the 8.9 million tuning in to watch GOT’s season 6 finale is considered impressive. It’s a number that gains further kudos when you consider that the final episode of the first season only managed to attract 3 million viewers. Since the show’s genesis in 2011, Game of Thrones has steadily grown its fan-base, making small incremental gains as each new season is released.

However, whilst GOT is one of the most popular shows on TV, there are plenty of other shows with similar viewing figures that haven’t drawn the attention of the bookies. If it’s not viewing figures alone, then what is it that sets Game of Thrones apart from the likes of “The Walking Dead” , “Empire” and “The Big Bang Theory” ?

An answer can be found in the that aforementioned season 1 finale. What other show kills off their main character in the final episode of the first season? It was this shocking moment in the books and the TV show that helped generate a burgeoning audience with a taste for shocking twists and turns.

No one simply ponders possibility with “Game of Thrones”. From the very beginning the audience has been wrestling with a plot that cannot be tamed. Unlike “The Walking Dead” this is a show that is clearly going somewhere. It teases and taunts its audience, daring them to predict outcomes, giving with one hand before pulling the rug from beneath our feet with the other. This isn’t “Lost” either; the twists and turns, whilst often shocking and unexpected have a purpose in the grand scheme of things. In “Game of Thrones” the real kings of Westeros are the gripping, twisting, sprawling plot lines.

The novels gained a huge fan-base because of Martin’s compellingly complex story-line and the harsh, gritty reality he conjured on the page. “A Song of Ice and Fire” was the antithesis to Tolkien’s idealised take on good versus evil because there was no guarantee that the good guys, if Westeros can even claim to have any, would win. The drifting plot strands were far reaching and invited fantasy fans to debate at length where they were being led, who might be the next to die, what alliances would be formed and when exactly winter would arrive.

The intrigue then transferred from the page to the screen. A cult fan-base of fantasy readers assimilated with a mainstream audience, with many who would never normally engage in such geekery joining in on the debates.
The fact that the show has reached the mainstream is testament to HBO’s understanding of their audience (although cancelling “Deadwood” in favour of shows like “Entourage” and “True Blood” would suggest otherwise). Lopping off Eddard Stark’s head could be considered the equivalent of shooting Jack Bauer in the head or running over Jerry Seinfeld after one too many observational quips. What could have been commercial suicide, turned out to be a master stroke because it transpired that mainstream audiences could handle the same shocks that fans of the books had learned to love years before. Unlike the short-lived “Rome” , a series that holds many of the same characteristics, “Game of Thrones” was an expensive gamble that has paid off because no one knew where Martin was taking us or how we were getting there and that level of uncertainty was exactly what audiences were craving.

It is precisely because of this uncertainty and the show’s consistently growing fan-base that betting companies have discovered a new market to cash in on. As I write, there are two clear favourites to take the crown of Westeros: Daenerys Targaryen, at 9/4 and Jon Snow at 3/1. Yet, the options, like the series are vast, with nearly 40 selections available. You can even throw your money out the window in the off chance that Ed Sheeran’s 500 to 1 chance of gaining the iron throne limps in.

Fans of epic fantasy have always understood the allure of trying to predict a huge, complex narrative. For a long time you had to be a fantasy nerd to appreciate a story that takes years to write, that has swords, dragons, magic and names that are impossible to pronounce. Where people would have once laughed at the sheer geekery of it all, we now have “Sopranos” and “House” fans heading to message boards to have their say, before some even head to the bookies to add a little side bet to their weekly Premier League coupon.

Despite the death of the main character in the opening season, someone, somewhere believes that this series can be predicted. Despite the fact that Martin is renowned for killing off the characters fans fall in love with when they least expect it, someone, somewhere believes that they know what is going to happen. And the truth is, there are thousands of someone’s all over the place, littering message boards claiming to know where everything will stand in just over a year’s time.

Who knows? Maybe they’re right. Maybe the plot can be looked at like a single deck on the blackjack table. The clues have been laid out in front of us and all we need to do now is look to see which face cards have been removed, add up the numbers and as easy as that, we’ll know what is waiting for us at the bottom of the deck.

Maybe, but when your dealer is George RR Martin and when the house spies a money maker, anything could be waiting up a sleeve to be dealt into that final hand.