Game changer

Game changer

The third season of Game Of Thrones which aired last year established the blood-soaked fantasy drama as HBO's most popular show currently airing in the United States.

Its average viewership of 14.2 million viewers only just falls short of that of the HBO show often described as among the best American TV shows ever made: The Sopranos' fifth season achieved 14.4 million viewers on average.

Coincidentally, Game Of Thrones' creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss had actually pitched the show as "The Sopranos in Middle Earth", drawing the narrative from A Song Of Ice And Fire, the ongoing series of best-selling fantasy novels by author George R.R. Martin.

But it is not just fantasy fanboys tuning in to the show, whose new fourth season premieres in Singapore on April 13 on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601).

"Game Of Thrones is not a niche world, like the mafia," says Dutch actress Carice Van Houten, 37, who has played the bewitching priestess Melisandre since her debut in the second season.

"There's a whole range of people. Young kids have big roles and very old guys have big roles. The whole of society is represented."

Indeed, US viewing figures show that 44 per cent of the Season 3 audience was made up of women aged 18 and older, which defies the stereotype associating fantasy narratives with geeky teenage boys.

It helps that the women in the show are not mere scantily clad eye candy. In fact, the beautiful characters are often executed in Game Of Thrones, which only adds to its appeal. Even the fans of the books got a shock during the climax of the third season at the Red Wedding when Queen Talisa

Stark was stabbed, the steel piercing her pregnant belly.

"The women in this show are very dangerous, as they are in real life," laughs Irish actor Liam Cunningham, 52, who stars as the warrior Davos Seaworth.

"Seriously, Game Of Thrones is intelligent film-making. To write a drama like this for 25 regular characters who have their own storylines is not an easy thing to do.

"The bad guys aren't the bad guys and the good guys aren't the good guys, your empathy changes and that's very interesting and clever. As a viewer, my sympathies change a lot.

"I love the complexity. The characters are really interesting. I'm waiting for Davos to be told to massacre a creche of children. I did say that to the producers - too many people like my character, so he should probably start chopping up children."

The show debuted in the US in April 2011, with a narrative unfolding in the continent of Westeros. Martin distills his world from a blend of North European history and myth, borrowing from the post-Roman British dark ages, Icelandic saga and the murderous high intrigue of the late Middle Ages.

The uninitiated might think of it as the War of the Roses from 15th-century English history, with dragons and some magic thrown in for good measure.

Thus far, Martin has written five books in the series and the show could catch up with him. He is currently writing the sixth novel, The Winds Of Winter, and plans a seventh, A Dream Of Spring.

Recently, he said that the final chapters of the TV adaptation might require a movie-sized running time and budget to finish the job properly, as the books - and the dragons that feature therein - keep growing in size.

"It's so well-written and there are so many characters," says Scottish actor Rory McCann, 44, who plays a tough- as-nails warrior, Sandor Clegane, more commonly known as The Hound.

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