Published in the Daily Telegraph on 22nd July 2017. 

IF YOU were among the nearly 800,000 Australians who tuned in to watch the Season 7 premiere of Game of Thrones, you don’t need to be told about the secrets of its success.

Some, however, have still not latched on to how its perfect mix of truly ghastly characters, political intrigue and no-holds-barred violence has made the HBO series a pop culture phenomenon.

Last week’s numbers smashed last year’s premiere, which set an audience record for Foxtel when 737,000 people watched it on the Showcase channel. In the US last week, 16.1 million people watched the premiere, a huge jump on the Season 6 debut — which attracted an audience of 10.7 million.

Sean Redmond, director of Deakin University’s Centre for Creative Arts Research, says part of the success of the show is its hybrid approach of fantasy and historical accuracy.

“It combines brutal realism with fantasy; and historical accuracy with daring invention and imagination,” he says.

“The show pitches light and dark, good and evil — and all the layers in between — to create drama that is shocking, thought-provoking and which seems to very much speak to the political times of today.

“So while the series is medieval, set in the past, it very much speaks to universal issues — love, betrayal, hate, remorse, vengeance and death.”

Redmond adds that Game of Thrones is part of a renaissance in quality television that seems to outdo cinema in audiovisual imagination, citing shows such as Breaking Bad, Hannibal, Stranger Things and The Handmaid’s Tale in this group.

“We are witnessing a rebirth of the most wonderful fictions,” he says.

“Television is now the most talked about media and binge watching has become a relatively new phenomena.

“(Game of Thrones) is incredibly well acted, performed, beautifully shot and edited. The costumes and ‘worlds’ created are exquisitely done. It is sensorial television so one is constantly emotionally engaged.

“Given the plot twists and enigmas, it is television for both the head and the heart.”

Psychologist Dr Ben Buchanan says there’s a real process in the brain that makes viewers tune in to the machinations of malevolent characters such as Cersei Lannister and cunning opportunists such as Petyr Baelish.

“Shows like this activate the amygdala in the brain, the emotion centre, which can be thrilling but also encourages impulsive, emotional and narrow thinking,” says Buchanan, of Victoria’s Foundation Psychology.

“The amygdala is also connected to our attention centres of the brain, encouraging us to pay attention to whatever activates it.

“This is why we feel compelled to watch distressing things even if they make us feel bad.

“The sex, rape, violence, horror and distrust (in Game of Thrones) all make for an exciting experience in the same way salt, sugar, MSG and fat ‘enhance’ food. You just want MORE!”