HBO wants 'Game of Thrones' to run for 20 years. Do you think the show can sustain a long run?


Image Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

As a general rule, the best TV shows don’t last very long. The whole apparatus of television production inexorably trends towards creative entropy: The original writing staff leaves or gets lazy, the actors become bored and overpaid, the newer characters are never as interesting as the original characters (with some very notable exceptions). I never understand people who get angry that Arrested Development was canceled “too early.” The show had 53 fricking episodes — 41 more episodes than Fawlty Towers ever had — and pretty much every episode is worth watching. I’d say that roughly three to seven seasons is the TV sweet spot: Long enough for a show to evolve, but short enough to prevent late-period corrosion. (And that’s not to mention all the incredible one-season wonders that litter TV history, like The Prisoner, Boomtown, Firefly, John From Cincinnati, Kings, and Denis Leary’s The Job, still one of my favorite sitcoms ever.)

Still, I’m intrigued by HBO programming president Michael Lombardo’s statement today about Game of Thrones: “I hope it lasts for 20 years.” It might just have been an idle comment, but it’s worth discussing. Like most people who read George R. R. Martin’s books, I’m incredibly curious to see how the TV series will go about adapting the ever-expanding narrative into TV form. The first season of Thrones adhered reasonably close to the first book in the series. But the first book made that easy: There was a simple Starks vs. Lannisters conflict, and only a few settings. Starting with Book 2, A Clash of Kings, Martin’s narrative begins to splinter in a million different directions, and the books get longer and longer.

Martin himself told EW’s James Hibberd that he’s hoping HBO splits Book 3, A Storm of Swords, into two seasons. If that happens, it’s entirely plausible that A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons (which cover the same time period over the course of a combined 1,700 pages) could turn into three seasons. And that gets us to 2018, by which point Martin will have presumably published at least one more book.

Of course, there’s another option. One of the most enjoyable parts of the first season of Game of Thrones was seeing how the series’ co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss slowly began to put their own mark on the material. You could quibble with some of the additions. (I love how they turned Ros the red-headed whore into a regular character, but at this point she’s little more than a Nudity-Delivery Device.) But the vast majority of the changes were surprisingly compelling. I’m thinking of Tywin Lannister skinning his own stag, or the stealth promotion of Littlefinger from fascinating supporting character to fascinating lead character. Part of me kind of hopes that the series strikes off on its own from here. With only 10 episodes per season and literally hundreds of supporting characters to draw upon in future books, it doesn’t seem like Thrones would ever be in danger of going stale.

What do you think, Thrones fans? Do you think the series could sustain a long run? It might sound like a funny comparison, but could this be a show like The Simpsons, with an ever-expanding supporting cast? (Like, could we be looking at an entire episode about Asha Greyjoy in five seasons or so?) Or would you prefer that Thrones adhere to the one-book-per-season philosophy?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:
HBO: We won’t ax ‘Game of Thrones’ too soon
‘Camelot’ vet joins ‘Game of Thrones’ cast
‘Game of Thrones’ casts sorceress Melisandre and Stannis Baratheon — EXCLUSIVE

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  • Melissa

    I just started reading the books, but judging from the size of them, the latter books are definitely going to have to be split up for TV seasons. I really enjoy the show and I hope they keep making it as long as the story goes on. And I’d much rather they stay true to the books than go in different directions.

  • Al

    Funny how the link to an alleged interesting character introduced later on in a shows run was to that girl from the OC. I would imagine a fan of game of thrones would have chosen Steve Buscemi in the Sopranos or any of the kids from Season four of the Wire.

    • BLM

      I loved that the link was to Taylor Townsend’s Wiki page. She definitely was a more interesting character than some of the original characters.

      • lefty

        I honestly was hoping it was Taylor…BUT, I never did like her with Ryan.

    • Meowllory

      I love GoT, the O.C. and the Sopranos. So please don’t make generalizations.

  • Sam

    The Shield lasted 7 years. The Sopranos lasted 6 (but there was a two part season). Those were excellent from beginning to end. Cable shows that have 10-13 episodes every season tend to have a longer duration of quality than network ones.

    • PDDB

      I agree with you Sam. The article began with “As a general rule, the best tv shows do not last very long” but that isn’t really the case. Sure the writer cited some shows that didn’t have long runs but for every one that he listed, there are other great ones that lasted far longer. A better way he could have opened with is “It is always lamentable when a great show ends early.” Then he could have listed his examples. The problem with these pieces is that too often the writer offers his/her opinion as fact when it isn’t. It is a shame.

  • JMJ

    If the show goes for 20 seasons, we’re going to have some very old-looking child-characters. No offense HBO, but a 40 year old Arya just won’t play right with me…

    • Laura

      Even if by some magic, GRRM finishes books 6&7 in the next 7 yrs or so, Arya and Bran will age out of their roles.

      • Atalija

        You know there’s a little Hollywood trick known as recast, right?

  • JLC

    Another immutable law of television is that the more complicated the narrative becomes, the fewer people watch. One of the reasons they wrapped up Lost was that the audience had shrunk considerably from its phenomenal introduction. I wouldn’t count on Game of Thrones continuing more than 3-4 seasons, particularly if it gets as complicated as Darren says.

  • orville

    I can certainly see that they would have enough material to last many, many seasons, but will the actors who play the characters who have survived each book so far want to continue on that long? Will viewers accept new actors playing beloved characters if some of them decide to move on? Of the handful of characters that I’ve heard make it through the latest book (I haven’t read all of them yet, but I’ve heard about who is still around), I have a feeling that at least one of the actors/actresses involved won’t want to make a commitment for that many years.

  • Larry in NoHo

    I must be in the minority as I’m done with the show. There are no likable characters and the only one who was likable had his head chopped off. I’m just not interested in it anymore. It looks like I’ll be continuing my practice of paying for HBO for half of the year instead of year-round.

  • Kio

    Having not read the whole article, I’m gonna say N to the O.

  • harry

    HBO wants their gunsmoke.

  • Brett

    Can they keep up with the increasing costs of producing the show for that long a period of time? And would interest in the series continue for that long? And really, Darren: “John From Cincinnati”?

  • Shannon Nutt

    The history of HBO dramatic shows don’t support their exec’s statement. The Sopranos lasted 6 seasons, Six Feet Under, The Wire, and Big Love only 5. My guess is Game Of Thrones will only last 5 as well. In fact, I expect even True Blood won’t make it to 7…that’s just how HBO has always been with its programming. If you’re a half-hour comedy, however, you can last much longer (why? it’s less expensive to make!)

  • Ms. Chanandler Bong

    The first book was pretty easy to get into one season. And I guess they cut the battle scene but I don’t really care to see watch lengthy battle scenes if there are time constrictions. I would say I trust the writers to pick and choose the major storylines to film, but I haven’t read all the books so whose to say what’s important? Now TB didn’t stick to the books at all, but the books are atrocious and the show is even worse.

  • Chad

    Trying to get through those books makes it feel that long.

  • Jake

    Well seeing as Shows get more expensive to produce the longer they are on the air and actors probably will want more as the show goes on so theres no way this show will last more than 6-7 seasons.

  • Flyer

    If HBO were truly interested in continuing an excellent show for a longer time span, they should have given “Deadwood” at least another season or two, and the courtesy of being able to wrap up its plotlines properly when it ended.

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