How 'Game of Thrones' Helped Me Beat My Anxiety
I still remember it like it was yesterday. Season 1, episode 9. Title: Baelor. I was already hooked on Game of Thrones at this point and was recommending it to all my friends, but I got all the usual responses that a then niche TV fantasy drama was receiving in 2011 from, “Dragons? Ice zombies? Nah mate, not for me!” to “Naw, I’m not watching that gay fantasy stuff!” It reminded me how disconnected I still was from a wider network of friends. Yeah, I like all the usual stuff a British lad is supposed to like: football, rugby, boxing, boozing on the weekends etc. But my real passions are the geek interests: comic books, professional wrestling, sci fi novels etc. It’s not that my mates didn’t respect me for having an interest in these things, they just weren’t interested and would appreciate if I didn’t bore them with it. But then with shock and awe I watched Ned Stark (brilliantly played by Sean Bean) have his head removed for being stupid enough to be the most honourable man in Westeros.
It would be the second most shocking experience of that night for me. Mere minutes after seeing what I still regard as the most game-changing moment in TV drama history, I would then receive a flood of texts from several mates: “WTF?! Did Sean Bean really die there?!” “OMG mate that show is amazing!” “AGHHHHHHH! Unbelievable mate, that show is unreal! I’m hooked now!” These were the same mates who previously had no interest in that “gay fantasy stuff.”
For the next eight years (give or take) the conversations that I had with my friends at parties or get togethers drastically changed. We were now discussing all the things that I was too scared to bring up. I was being asked to share all the theories about the show R + L = J, Is Bran the Night King?, Who is Azor Ahai? etc.
But better than that was that I finally felt I found acceptance and was no longer afraid to express who I was, and my friends were more than happy to have me that way. No longer was I a loner in room full of people I felt I couldn’t connect with.
Baelor was only the tip of the ice-berg for the most shocking and ground-breaking moments that Game of Thornes had in store though. As the seasons rolled on, we had the "Red Wedding", "The Mountain Vs The Viper", "For The Watch", "The Battle of the Bastards" and countless more break the internet moments that broke new grounds in pop culture. Discussing the weekends football results were replaced with “Did you see GoT?!” in the office on Monday or Tuesday mornings, at least for 10 weeks.
It wasn’t the first pop culture phenomenon and hasn’t been the last. Previously there was Lost, 24, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Friends and the movies from the Marvel Cinematic universe have been a juggernaut that has broken through walls for the geek inclined as well, but noting broke through like Game of Thrones. It helped me break my insecurities.
I have always suffered from social anxiety and would either behave very timid or rather volatile in crowds. I put it down to always feeling like the odd man out in a group. So, it felt like such as relief to use something that could finally create a connection that would help me relax and feel more included. I could now wear that wrestling t-shirt to a party without the fear of being ridiculed (side note: sometimes I still got the piss taken out of me, but I no longer took it personally) and I wasn’t afraid to ask mates if they fancied going to movies to see the next MCU or Star Wars movie.
Like myself, many felt disappointed with the finale (sorry but Bran as the King? Not buying it) but to sum up it’s cultural impact, the finale coincided with the finish of both the Scottish and English football seasons but conversations in pubs and work offices and all over social media was all about Game of Thrones. Maybe you need to live in the UK to understand how big a deal that is. I never thought that something so close to my heart would ever be able to break boundaries like that. Thank you for eight wonderful years. Thank you for changing my life.