The makers of Shogun, Wheel of Time, BSG, and more sound off on Game of Thrones’ true legacy

The makers of Shogun, Wheel of Time, BSG, and more sound off on Game of Thrones’ true legacy

Something that makes television amazing is how it can build stories across hours, months, and years, expand whole worlds into deep and intense narratives, and beam it right into our homes, our brains. Something else incredible about TV is how sometimes the only thing people remember is the ending.

The whiplash of possibilities has never been clearer than on Game of Thrones. For all the record-breaking ratings, awards, and dramatic highs, the HBO series is still the modern shorthand for “didn’t stick the landing.” After all those ambitious battles on horseback, five years after the finale, Game of Thrones’ lasting legacy can feel like that half-drawn horse — but viewers saddled up for a reason

In season 1, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ drew in fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series — and millions of newcomers — with meticulously sprawling political plots, complicated characters, and even a whodunnit. Abruptly axing Ned Stark in the penultimate episode made the game of Game of Thrones clearer than ever: You win. Or you die.

Into season 2, Benioff and Weiss wielded the bombastic stakes set down by the books. In Martin’s world, no fantasy trope was ever neat, and it was rarely simple. The beautiful girl noticed by the prince found herself in a horror story; the boy king was either malevolent or misguided, with no Merlin to bail him out. Game of Thrones’ inversions grew like vines, constantly spreading and weaving together to more and more complicated patterns. Success was debatable — even fans questioned the nuance of the Lannisters, or the fraught sexposition that the show often employed for exposition-heavy scenes — but the tendrils of the HBO show made it flush and sturdy, even if things in Meereen floundered a bit.

Still, it’s no wonder that the second the roots of Game of Thrones felt too overgrown, people turned on it. Frustrated fans waited years (or decades, for book stans) for a fitting conclusion to what felt like the modern epic. After all the unflinching gambles, with so many threads to pull at, a truncated season 8 was never going to tie everything together with a neat bow. Viewers issued every kind of complaint after the finale aired on May 19, 2019, including a petition to reshoot the whole final season all together. Then culture just kind of shuffled along. Game of Thrones became another major tentpole that, in its best days, felt like a true marriage of culture and commerce, and suddenly no one really wanted to talk about anymore.

But the industry did; before the show was even over, producers were already looking for “the next Game of Thrones.” The folly of that search for monoculture in the streaming era isn’t even the true legacy of the series; whether you liked it or not, Thrones is the skeleton key to the next era of TV, according to those living it. Five years after the finale, Polygon reached out to a handful of showrunners and directors to understand the Game of Thrones ripple effect, and how they feel the industry might still be learning from it.

[Ed. note: These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity, and make reference to particularly notable Game of Thrones plot points; if you wish to stay unbowed, unbent, and unspoiled, take heed.]

Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) trying to make his way out of a horde of people during the Battle of the Bastards Image: HBO

A wildfire explosion during the Battle of Blackwater Bay in season 2 of Game of Thrones Image: Warner Media

Dany (Emilia Clarke) flying on her dragon’s back out of Meereen Image: Warner Media

Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) standing on a wall looking out Image: HBO

What drew us in

Matt Shakman (director on Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, WandaVision, The Great)

That show changed everyone’s idea of what TV could do.

Before I went to work on that show, I sat down with David Nutter — who is a wonderful filmmaker who had done the Red Wedding and many episodes — and he said, “You’re about to get the keys to the best Porsche that’s ever been built. And all they want you to do is put your pedal to the metal.” And it was this sense of: you have a huge playground, go have fun, and dream big and they’ll be there to support you. And that certainly had not been the experience in TV before, where things were done quickly, where you were sort of cutting corners, and that movie scope of what Game of Thrones was bringing hadn’t been done before. And now I think there’s an opportunity at so many places.

Naren Shankar (co-showrunner of The Expanse, Almost Human)

I came to Game of Thrones only through the show, I’d never read the book. And so literally every step of the way, every moment of the show, the shocks hit me like big shocks. Literally up to the moment when the ax fell on Ned Stark’s neck, I was like, There’s no way he can die. And then the Red Wedding — that probably fucked me up for, like, weeks; “The Mountain and the Viper,” same thing. I was so disturbed by it. And that’s the real power of the show. I had never seen anything like that. Shows had kind of walked up to it a little bit, but I don’t think anything hit or had the impact of that.

Halley Feiffer (showrunner of American Horror Story: Delicate)

I think I didn’t trust Game of Thrones at first without watching it because it was so universally beloved. I often feel like such an outlier that I assume I will not fall in love with the thing that everyone else does — and then almost always I find that I do, only now I’m just behind the eight ball. And my experience with Game of Thrones was: I kept meaning to get around to it. [But] I was in LA with my friend Pedro Pascal, and he said, “I have to tell you something. I just booked a role on Game of Thrones,” and I was like, “Shit now I have to start watching Game of Thrones!”

Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) laughing as he holds Ellaria in Game of Thrones Image: HBO

And then, of course, fell in love with it, for all the reasons I didn’t think I would. I loved fantasy as a kid (because humanity’s unbearable). And what I loved about Game of Thrones was, how amidst the fantasy, how real these characters were, and how surprisingly relatable their emotional arcs were, even in a fantastical atmosphere. And how incredibly moving the performances were.

Ronald D. Moore (creator of Battlestar Galactica, Outlander, For All Mankind)

At the end of the first season, it was clear that it was going to be a major television show. Whether it was successful or not, I just kind of knew this was something really different, and something that was going to change the way that, in particular, fantasy was done on TV — which, up until that point, had not had a lot of success in television. The Lord of the Rings films had broken box office records and were huge. But there hadn’t been a lot of fantasy on television that had actually gotten any traction. And so I knew kind of right away, this was something that was going to change that genre, pretty much permanently, for television going forward.

Rafe Judkins (showrunner of The Wheel of Time)

I have a special experience with Game of Thrones, because one of my dearest friends in the world was a writer on it from season 1 — Bryan Cogman. And I also was a huge, huge fan of the books before the series was ever made. So it was interesting to see the moments in the show where even I was like, Oh my God, this I wish it was the same as it was in the books. Because you begin to realize that I think that there’s a part of you, if you do love a book series, that no matter how it’s being adapted, and no matter who it’s being adapted by, there is a small death involved, the death of how you read it and how you saw it in your mind, and how you experienced it and who was the star of the books when you read it.

Rachel Kondo (co-creator of Shōgun)

[Thrones] was my first experience with thinking outside the world of a show, and just being abundantly curious — I hadn’t read the book. And I didn’t know much about adaptation when it came to book-to-screen. So this is the first one that I had ever watched, like, behind-the-scenes things afterwards, and listened to the creators, and it was just many firsts for me. I hadn’t thought about those things before.

We looked forward to our Sunday nights religiously; we were faithful for years and years to watch in that way. And I feel like Shōgun — I kind of took it for granted they were releasing it on a weekly basis in that old style. But the fact that so many people have told me — from every walk of life — We’re going to miss our Tuesday nights with Shōgun; it reminded me of why we so miss Game of Thrones. It just felt like it had kind of worked its way, wormed its way into our hearts and lives. It worked into the logistics of our lives; we planned around it.

Justin Marks (co-creator of Shōgun)

I think that it created for itself an event; we didn’t want to miss it. Any movie or show that I was working on when Game of Thrones was out, that was Monday’s discussion. We would sit there and talk about that episode and what had come out, and you best not miss it. And I think that it was so primed for that, and it made it so rich, to have that excitement to feel like it was an enduring world that we were witnessing in real time. And nothing does that anymore.

I don’t think there’s anything quite like the feeling I got during the “Hardhome” sequence of Game of Thrones. It wasn’t the action — I mean, sure, that was wonderful and scary and interesting, and the score so endured in my head, too. It was the moment at the end where the Night King where he stands up as they’re as they’re riding out, and he looks back at Jon Snow after they’ve just endured such heavy losses to even survive what they were able to do, and he stares indifferently. I’ll never forget this: Watching as he gestures with his arms out, and the entire army is reanimated again. And it’s just, This is what you’re up against when you’re coming up against death itself. That has haunted me forever. It’s so silent, and so beautiful, and meditative. Show me something else on TV that’s come since that will equal that. I think it’s iconic. I watch it again, sometimes just to feel something the way that I felt that night when I watched it.

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David Goyer (creator of Foundation, co-creator of The Sandman)

I’m friends with those guys, and putting aside whatever anyone thinks about season 8, I still think Game of Thrones is one of the greatest shows that’s ever been made. I think it completely changed the landscape of television. And it completely blew open the barn doors of what was possible — that you could tell a story over eight seasons, that you could tell a story that had 30 or 40 different characters, that it would be novelistic in its approach, that it would be a slow burn. And that’s the kind of show I like, those are the kinds of novels I like; so this adaptation of Foundation would not have been possible had that not happened.

Karyn Kusama (director and executive producer on Yellowjackets, director on Dead Ringers)

It involved people in long-term conversations about the nature of power, and what that does to us. There have been other shows, completely unlike it, that also examine these themes, but for as much intrigue and kind of medieval soap as there was in Game of Thrones, there was also a long, slow burn toward really unpacking what I would call the derangement of power, like what becomes the derangement of oneself if you decide to claim power.

What kept us in the game

Halley Feiffer

It’s kind of the thing that I love in anything, whether it’s Game of Thrones, or this production of Uncle Vanya I saw last night, which is these moments between characters that feel both surprising and inevitable somehow, and the ways in which — especially in those first few seasons — these characters kept you on this tightrope between loving and loathing them. In one moment, you’re condemning their actions. And in the next moment, you’re hoping they commit more atrocities, if only to create this incredibly dynamic push pull within you, as it were, the way that it really kept you on your toes morally. That was something that I found incredibly exciting and complicated, and made me as a viewer feel implicated in the carnage in ways that felt very challenging, and almost impossible to recreate. But that means we want to keep coming back for more as a viewer, and I want to try to find my own version of that dramatic tension in my own work.

Rafe Judkins

I really loved Oberyn Martell in the show, and bringing that character in, and the way they adapted him and the way they brought him to the forefront even more so than he was in the books, let him really shine on the show and then exit in such a great moment. I felt like it was a really brilliant piece of adaptation because they contained the character really to one season where he could make the most impact, they devoted more screen time to him than you should to a character that’s going to die that season, and the devotion of that screen time really paid off. And I think it’s one of the most successful story arcs they had on the show. And I think that was in large part due to how they adapted it, and it was one that like you could see really lifted the story from the books into something even better for television.

[And] the Red Wedding — I remember throwing the book to the floor, screaming, texting my mom, because I knew she was right around the same part of the book being like What page are you on right now? I remember that as being just this iconic moment in reading of the visceral, emotional reaction you had to it as a reader. And I think there was this interesting thing that happened with the show and an excellent work on the part of the adaptation, where the whole world had that response to the show. It’s a big part of why I think the show really took off, was that moment, and the creation of this visceral emotional response that sort of transcends the experience of watching television.

Justin Marks

There was a real feeling of confidence to the Game of Thrones narrative that was always at odds, in some sense, with what the audience expected and wanted, and I think that was really bold. The fact that all of us feel so free to loudly agree or disagree with the direction that the story would go at various times speaks to the quality of the narrative. After you’re out of Game of Thrones, I think you have to go back to The Sopranos to find a show that was as good at what Game of Thrones was. It never felt like once it got you addicted to one pace that it was going to stay on that pace. It was always willing to sort of flash us the middle finger and use that expectation against us sometimes. I feel like Game of Thrones did a wonderful job of saying: You don’t deserve anything other than what we offer you. You’re just kind of putty in our hands. And I think that’s what was so great, it was taking from the David Chase school of I’m in control that made a difference for me.

The horizontality of the storytelling was really powerful to me. It went backwards to events that the show never deigned to ever show us. And whatever you want to call it — sexposition, horse-position, there was a lot of different versions of it in the show — it was handled in this way that ran at odds with what our expectations were sometimes for how stories should be told, and shown and not told. But it gave it a richness that made me feel like all of it was alive and rewarded multiple viewings. I remember with the Hound and the Mountain, how much they were sort of spoken about long before they’re ever together. And it’s like: look, you can engage that or not engage it, but it’s there, and it’s waiting for you. It becomes like some Dickens-like scale to the narrative and the world that just felt so alive.

Ronald D. Moore

It was the scope of it and the size of the production, how many characters and storylines there were, how well mounted it was in a production sense. It was visually arresting, and you really felt the world, right. It wasn’t just over in this one little kingdom over here doing a story, it had a very broad scope to the world. And it was a sweep, an epic sweep to the story that was really astonishing.

I’m sure everybody talks about this, but: the moment they killed Ned… it was jaw dropping. I tend to watch TV with part of my brain thinking about the writing of it, the structure, and how they did this and that — and I didn’t see that coming in at all. Because you walk into the show, believing Sean Bean is the lead. If he’s gonna die, it’s gonna be the end of the season at best. But in the middle of the season like that, and the way they played that out it really was — I couldn’t really believe. And I was really impressed with just how bold that was in terms of storytelling.

A gif of Ned Stark getting his head cut off in Game of Thrones; it cuts to Arya who’s distressed and looking up at birds flying overhead
A gif of Ned Stark getting his head cut off in Game of Thrones; it cuts to Arya who’s distressed and looking up at birds flying overhead

It reminded me a lot of Sopranos, where there was a lot of things that the Sopranos characters did, the way they acted and the way the stories turned, that you just sort of went, Well this is not how television is supposed to be, I can’t believe you’re gonna do that. I can’t believe you’re getting away with that. And they both had a similar, just, kind of, bold quality, like: Yeah, we’re gonna do it. And you know what, you’re gonna come back next week, and then watch it again.

David Goyer

Obviously, initially, for the first five seasons or so they had the books they were drafting off, but those characters just felt so much more three-dimensional to me than so many of the fantasy depictions I’d seen. My wife does not consider herself a fan of fantasy, but absolutely loved Game of Thrones. And so I think what’s important for us [as we work on Foundation] is that we really try to flesh out the interior lives of these characters. And as much as possible have the conflicts that they’re wrestling with feel universal, even though we’re dealing with the tropes of science fiction, and have the emotions and the dialogue not be laden down with too much sort of science fiction jargon.

Game of Thrones season 8, episode 2 - Jaime Lannister faces Daenerys at Winterfell Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

I remember I had not read the Game of Thrones books, and a big science fiction/fantasy friend of mine; we would have dinner once a month, and he’d read all the books, and I think [I had] just finished the first season of Game of Thrones watching it. And he said, “You won’t think it now. But you will love Jaime Lannister.” And I said, That’s just not possible! They just pushed this kid out of a window at the end of the first episode! there’s just no way that’s ever going to happen. And he said, “I’m telling you, you’re wrong.” And I did love him; the guy’s involved in this incestuous relationship, and he, as far as he’s concerned, kills a child. And yet, by season 3, you fucking love the guy. And that was the best thing about Game of Thrones for me; you could take a character who you felt one way about, and slowly over the course of time, change the audience view.

Rachel Kondo

It’s not outside of genre, it just transcends genre, right? It utilizes the best of what genre has and then finds a way to exist anew within it. How do you have spectacle but how do you sustain the care? It’s about surprise and inevitability, which the best stories really, really, really tried to strike that balance, or to achieve both at the same time.

You remember how you felt after [Battle of the Bastards], or Red Wedding — [Shōgun] didn’t quite have those moments. So for us, I would often think about those very very quiet interpersonal things on Game of Thrones. Like the moment Khaleesi gets Drogo to fall in love with her and look at her anew. You remember these things! And these very, very tiny moments. That’s what I was hoping we could somehow manufacture were these relationship moments you can’t forget just like you wouldn’t forget the battle scenes.

Matt Shakman

The thing that Game of Thrones did do, and that we’re trying to do on Monarch, and I think all these shows that are succeeding on doing epic storytelling, is rooting it in character. It’s all about rooting for these characters, hoping they’ll survive, being curious where they’ll go.

Naren Shankar

I think more than anything — both as a viewer and as a writer, and someone who makes these shows — what Game of Thrones does so well is it blew up these tried and true dramatic concepts, where your protagonist essentially had plot armor; no matter how bad it was, you kind of knew they were going to get out of it, you kind of knew that, you know, good would triumph in the end. All of that kind of stuff that had, I think, just woven itself in the fabric of so many shows, the good guys win. And that was not always the case with Game of Thrones. I think shows talk about being the next Game of Thrones, but they don’t seem to want to quite embrace that same idea. And that, I think, is what still distinguishes the show. It has a fairly ruthless and remorseless harshness in some ways, but it’s all in the service of staying true to character and narrative reality that very few things really pull off. You’re taken into it with an understandable lens. And so you’re drawn into it gradually, and things expand.

The Stark family lined up and waiting for the king in the pilot of Game of Thrones Image: Warner Media

Game of Thrones S08E06 The Stark children say goodbye HBO

Now, the show gets incredibly complex quite quickly. But because you’re grounded that way, in the first season, you’re really with it, and so you’ve earned the right to sort of spread out. A common problem in a lot of big fantasy is you introduce so many characters, so many different locations, so many different storylines simultaneously, it’s hard to get grounded in these realities. And I don’t think Game of Thrones had that problem at all. I think you’re just so with the Starks and Winterfell and their journey out into the world it was very easy to engage, even for people who, you know, aren’t like real, hardcore fantasy people.

How Game of Thrones influenced other shows (including their own)

Matt Shakman

The scope grew over the seasons of Game of Thrones. I think it’s easy to forget, but they did whole battles without showing you anything. [In] one episode, Peter Dinklage gets knocked unconscious before the battle starts, so that he wakes up when the battle’s over; they didn’t have the money to do the battle. But you cared about Peter Dinklage, and that’s how you figured out what had happened, from Tyrion’s point of view. And sometimes we do that, when we have to. But if you have characters you believe in and you love, then you’re excited to figure out the information with them.

Randall Einhorn (director and producer of Abbott Elementary, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Office)

The scope and the breadth of that story, taking place all over this huge geography and all these different civilizations, it’s just like, wow. It’s really nice when you find something like that movie; and each one of those is a movie — incredible! It’s really encouraging to think about the size of the stories you can tell, where you can go. It certainly made me look at things that are larger, [and] bigger concept, because they can exist on TV.

Halley Feiffer

It never felt like spectacle for spectacle sake. Everything felt very rooted in character in a way that did make it feel timeless and universal. And that was something that whetted my appetite for that kind of storytelling as a viewer. And as a creator — I suddenly felt like I could, perhaps in my own way, dip my toe into spectacle, and violence and gore. And use that kind of visual storytelling to explore age old and systemic issues like misogyny, like oppression, like gaslighting in ways that I never had considered before.

Rafe Judkins

There’s this character Lady Stoneheart, when Catelyn Stark comes back from the dead. And I was obsessed with this character, couldn’t wait to see her on TV, just live and die, step on my throat Lady Stoneheart. And then when she wasn’t in the show I was like, Bryan!! How could you not do Lady Stoneheart? And he explained it, and it is the correct decision that they made to not do it — because if they’re going to bring back one character from the dead it has to be the one that matters the most to the overall story of the series. And for me there was still like a small death in it, and sadness in it, and anger in it because I — even though I know it’s the right choice for the show — I’m still upset about it. So, watching the show was a very good experience for me, and understanding the fundamentals of how people who love the source material are going to react to it. And the fact that no matter what you do, you can’t actually make everyone happy. So what you have to do the most is treat the story with respect and do everything you can to bring it to the screen in the best way possible that honors what was there.

Cersei (Lena Hadley) kissing the forehead of her father’s body Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

If we’re going to spend a lot of money on these big TV shows, one of the great things we can do is take audiences to new places. I actually thought the way they did King’s Landing on Thrones was really special, because it has — even more so than anyplace else in the show — this very unique use of color, and tone, and hair is different when you’re in King’s Landing than anywhere else. The costumes are different. The color grade of the scenes are different; everything feels sort of like Tuscan and Croatian, and sunkissed. And I think sort of using Dubrovnik as a jumping off point for what they built in the city overall was a really smart way to do it. I really use that as a touchpoint for worldbuilding in Wheel of Time.

I think one of the reasons Wheel of Time has been able to stick around and succeed where a lot of fantasy shows that follow Game of Thrones haven’t is because we were never chasing Game of Thrones. The Wheel of Time [books] came out before the Game of Thrones books, and it’s a very different kind of show. I’m super thrilled that people were interested in making a fantasy show because of Game of Thrones. But it never had an intention of being the “next Game of Thrones.” I always said, even when pitching it, Game of Thrones was something that appealed to the whole world, and broke across genre lines. And the next show that does that won’t be another big fantasy show, necessarily. It’ll be something else that generates that visceral, emotional reaction in people. And that’s the thing that kind of lets you cross these lines and become more of an international pop cultural phenomenon, than just a television show.

Naren Shankar

The thing that I definitely remember taking as a very distinct lesson from Game of Thrones was: in the first season, Ned’s execution is episode 9. And in the traditional TV framework, that’s your season finale. And what I really took from that was the importance of letting the audience mourn, and feel for such an incredibly important character. I don’t recall seeing that. It’s like, the ability to process that loss, and let your audience do that, I think was a really big deal. And I can’t remember many shows or any shows really off the top of my head that approached it that way. But I thought that was an incredibly smart choice.

tyrion lannister game of thrones
theon tortured season 3 game of thrones HBO

Ronald D. Moore

I was intrigued by a lot of the maneuvering at King’s Landing and what was happening there and the sort of inside the castle politics of it all, and I liked that. I like the way that it played out, and that you were never sure who’s up and who’s down, that they were always willing to sort of do a reversal of fortune on your favorite character. And I just liked that, as a storyteller. It made me go, Yeah, you know, that’s something to keep your eye on and think about when you’re constructing these kinds of shows. And there were things, to be frank, that I didn’t want to do. I thought sometimes, it was cruel, and I didn’t like the cruelty of it as a storyteller. That’s just a personal preference; that’s not a comment on George, or the world. But there were times that I just, I kind of was put back by it’s just a little too cruel in terms of its treatment of its characters and the treatment of the audience. Sometimes, I love this character. And there seemed to be a circle of delight in making you suffer with him.

It definitely raised the bar in terms of audience expectation of what you could produce on television. And unfortunately, I think the rest of us have suffered since their budget was so big, and they had so many days to shoot these gigantic — I mean, the Battle of the Bastards, I can’t remember how much money they spent on it, and how many days, but it was like a month or something crazy to spend on that one episode. So, and the rest of us mere mortals can’t come close to that kind of money. But the audience doesn’t have those distinctions, right? They just go, Well, I think it should look really great. And so there’s an expectation that whatever you’re doing, should look as good and be as big as what they did on that show. So that’s kind of the downside of what they did to the rest of us.

Justin Marks

I think that the scale of a production carries with it a lot of legacy in the culture of our business. I think that, rightly or wrongly — probably both to be honest — when they say “Game of Thrones-esque” what they really mean is “expensive.” And some of that is true, you know, like dragons come by, but not at the beginning. Slowly they build to it in the way that a responsible show ought to. So that held a lot and then created a bit of an arms race, probably; minds who are not as engaged to the creative of our business might see it as a simple thing like that. I think the directors I speak to, the showrunners, the writers I speak to when we talk about how much we love Game of Thrones, we’re really talking about that sprawling scale of the narrative when you’re doing something Game of Thrones-esque.

Karyn Kusama

David and Dan are friends, and I just so appreciate what they accomplished with it. I felt like they were learning as they went, too. And they had some big, huge story reversals that, in a way, predicted now, or created almost an unreasonable pressure to make so much story happen over season to season. (Goddamn them.) So, you know, I really, I think it’s a very, you know, very potent legacy that show. Just even the pressure to have big story events happen, that also managed to still be surprising — that’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. I think TV only gets one or two or three Ned Stark’s, and then you’re kinda like, OK we see it coming. So you really have to find new ways to be surprising.

The lasting legacy on TV

A shot of the empty Iron Throne Image: HBO

Naren Shankar

I think television business often seems to take the wrong lessons. Because the show got so gigantic and so enormous in terms of its spectacle. For a while [there was] just this internalized lesson, Oh, we’ve got to make everything that costs $25 million an episode — do we? We don’t really, because the years of the show where people just kind of went crazy for it were not those years. You’re forced into these things, and people think that’s the answer. So you had all of these shows that were really ridiculous, big, crazy, high-budget things, because people think that’s the way to get people into the season. And it’s like: it really isn’t. The things that people mostly remember about Game of Thrones are — there’s a lot of two-handers in that show. There’s a lot of scenes where people just talk to each other; they’re incredibly riveting and amazing.

Halley Feiffer

It’s gone in two directions that I can see. The more obvious direction, as we’ve all kind of famously heard of what is perhaps an apocryphal story of Jeff Bezos rebranding Prime Video and sort of demanding, “Bring me Game of Thrones.” I fell in love with Amazon as a streaming service by watching Transparent and Red Oaks and these small character-driven gritty, grainy, darkly funny, very human stories. Now, of course, the tentpole show on Prime Video is Lord of the Rings. And so I think Bezos was incredibly successful in that regard. And I miss those shows; we have a show like Fleabag, for instance, that wins every single Emmy. And now Phoebe Waller-Bridge is doing Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and I’m sure she’ll do an amazing job with that. And I would love to see more shows like Fleabag, personally, from a mind like that.

At the same time, there’s also been this very exciting development of these smaller in scope, more character-driven shows that know they’ll never be the sort of spectacle like Game of Thrones and aren’t trying to be — shows like Severance, like Baby Reindeer, these shows that can have actually a very similar cultural footprint and impact and feel unmissable in terms of the cultural zeitgeist without leaning on extravagant set piece battles. We need both in our culture, but I think sometimes we can forget that we need both.

Something I really admire about the creators is they’ve been very open about what they wish they had done differently, and what they are aiming to do differently going forward. So they’ve been very open about the lack of representation in their writers room the first couple of seasons. And we’re still really pushing this ball up the hill in terms of letting more diverse leaders really have their shot at holding the reins of a show. And especially a show like Game of Thrones, which is so rooted in grand spectacle. That’s something I’m excited by, the steps that we’re taking, and also feel we have a long way to go in terms of inclusivity not only for its own sake but in terms of really finding diverse and dynamic storytelling that continues to surprise and satisfy us.

Rafe Judkins

I definitely think audiences are receiving this kind of complicated world-building really differently, post-Game of Thrones. Especially now that Wheel has been on for a few seasons, you have more conversations with your dental hygienist or my boyfriend’s mom — people who you wouldn’t expect would be getting into an unbelievably complicated world of high fantasy who are just like, Yeah, I’ll give that a tryand oh, I really like it! And that’s very different than the world before Game of Thrones, where a lot of people would just be like, That’s not the kind of show I watch, or the kind of movie I watch. I think now, people are willing to show up at Dune and give it a try. People are willing to show up to Wheel of Time and give it a try, even if they don’t know the property. Even if they aren’t huge fantasy people, they know that there might be a possibility that they’d like something like this. And I think that’s a real gift Game of Thrones gave to all the rest of the sci fi and fantasy and genre projects out there.

I think what’s interesting about Game of Thrones is that it changed what people were chasing in television for a minute; it changed the aspiration of television to something that is more cinematic in a lot of ways. And that doesn’t just affect shows like Wheel of Time, The Witcher, or Shadow and Bone and all the fantasy series that followed Game of Thrones. I think it also affects how we look at all series on TV right now — like, if you open up any show now, it’s much harder to tell from 10 seconds of screen time whether it’s a television show or a movie than it was 10 years ago. And I think a lot of that is due to Game of Thrones, because the aspiration to make television shows look cinematic — whether that’s Euphoria or Elite, a Spanish series that’s on Netflix and at a very low budget point — the aspiration is still to make those things all look the same as you would if you were filming them for the cinema. That’s a big change that’s been wrought in television across the last 10 years. And it’s obviously not just from Game of Thrones. It’s also a lot about the availability of cameras, and how to build things that do look more cinematic, and higher budgets for TV shows, and less episodes per season. But: I think a lot of that is due to Game of Thrones, and it changed the aspiration of TV shows to be more cinematic than they had been previously — all TV shows.

Justin Marks

It just never felt like it was prepackaged. It’s just this feeling of something that felt like a work of art, you know, despite all of the commercial trappings that obviously you carried with it. And man, that comes along once in a lifetime. The way so much of it has bled into our culture, like great movie moments or things. Everyone knows what I’m talking about when I make that joke, because that’s how much it’s just bled into our culture and changed our culture. And I don’t mean our storytelling culture. I mean, just the culture at large — and that’s a legacy that Seinfeld carries, and Friends, and Cheers, and shows completely outside of genre. Those are the things that Game of Thrones latches onto. It’s not ‘cause of dragons or fantasies or all that.

Ronald D. Moore

I think in terms of story, they definitely said, you can do a really intricate plots with multiple characters, and the audience will follow along. If it’s compelling, the audience will hang in there. Then the trick becomes: Can you get them to take that first step? I think that gives comfort to those of us — especially those who work in the genre field. When you’re pitching shows, when you’re developing shows, there’s always a lot of skepticism on the part of executives who are saying, Well, but the audience will be confused, or they won’t follow along, and they don’t understand this world, and you need to explain it more. Well, Game of Thrones didn’t really explain a lot. You just kind of had to go with it, and the audience was definitely willing to go with it.

It’s still the one everybody still talks about. People still go into networks, and quickly as a shorthand they’ll say: You know, we’re still looking for our Game of Thrones. It’s still sort of the high watermark of not just fantasy, but how big a show can truly be where it had penetrated pop culture, it was a worldwide success, it was the water cooler show when we still had water coolers to hang around. Just in terms of commercial and critical success — it won the Emmy how many times — everybody still looks to it as: we want something as big as that.

I was one of the minority that liked the finale. I thought it worked, and I thought it was for the logical extension of our various things that they had set up. It does get that wrap.

But I don’t hear a lot of talk about the finale, to be honest. In my conversations — in writer’s rooms, or with executives, or just socially — they talk about how I used to love this, or hated that, or sounds cool or whatever. There’s not too much talk about the actual phenomenon whether people liked it or didn’t like it, at least in my experience. The show is bigger than that. And whenever people thought of the finale, for good or for bad, they talk about the show.