How the Target Audience of Game of Thrones Has Changed
Casual Viewers Always Win
I am going to begin this post by stating that this will not be discussion of the poor quality of writing, gaping plot holes, or vast inconsistencies that have plagued the show in the past few seasons. This post will not go into the details of how the show has veered off and completely ignored the internal logic of its own universe. This is not a post that will excuse all that is wrong with the show. All of that will be discussed in a separate post. Instead, this post will take a look at how, as the show evolved, the audience that the show runners decided to target changed over the course of the series.
I have no doubt that, at its conception, the target audience for this show was the many, many readers of the novels. Many of whom would consider themselves hardcore fans of the series. It only made sense. If you already have a massive audience out there wanting to watch your show, logic would dictate that you create a show that caters to their wants, needs, and desires. I also have no doubt that, at its conception, the show runners intended to keep this audience pleased while at the same time, introduce new audiences to the show by making it more accessible to the casual viewer and do so in a way that did not diminish the complexity and richness of the show. And for a time, they succeeded.
Over time, however, the number of casual viewers grew exponentially and the show experienced massive success and acclaim. The number of casual viewers reached a critical mass where they outnumbered the hardcore fans at which point, it would not be incorrect to label them as the standard Game of Thrones viewer or, for a lack of a better phrase, the show's bread and butter.
This large change in viewership, I believe, caused a massive shift in the way the show was written and produced. The show's viewership now consisted largely of people who would watch the show on a Sunday night, go to work the next day and discuss the epic scenes of the past episode and speculate what they think might happen during the next episode, near the water cooler, and then forget about the whole thing till the next episode aired on Sunday. They weren't the people who would watch in depth analysis videos or craft theories based on what was shown or look at any of the behind the scenes videos. In having viewers such as these, the writers were no longer pressured into making the show as complex or intriguing as it was before because they knew that if there was just enough spectacle and intrigue in each episode, the masses would eat it up. And once the writers decided not to wholly adapt the books (and then consequently ran out of book material) this change in mindset became glaringly obvious.
No longer did the writers take care to make sure the plot points made logical sense. No longer did the writers care to look at the tiny details that made the show what it once was. As long as the show has an epic set piece and gives the viewer a thrill, the writers have considered that a job well done. For many who watch now, the story is just considered a vehicle, a tool, to get us to the carnage and wreckage of dragon fire and battle. A great example of this is the "Battle of the Bastards" episode from last season. In terms of direction and production quality, I believe it's pretty much unmatched on television (barring episode 6 of this season) but if one were to look at the writing and the plot, there is a lot there that makes absolutely no logical sense and the story does not seem to flow in any natural or narratively sound way and yet, it was considered by many one of the greatest episodes of the series (it's not), but that is the point here. As long as you give people a spectacle and make it look great, most people will be satisfied. And just to reiterate, this does not excuse bad writing. Many people have peddled this argument as a reason as to why the show has dipped in writing quality but that is absurd. Seasons 1-4 prove that you can have a well-written story that still caters to the casual viewer. You just have to put a small amount of effort into writing the show well.
In conclusion, it comes down to one simple fact. The writers simply don't care anymore about making the show the best it possibly can be simply because it is no longer required. By making the show good enough and satisfying the casual viewer, the writers consider the job done. This is clearly seen in some of the interviews the show runners have done where they state that this plot point "seemed to get the job done." That does not sound like someone who is trying to do the best job possible. It sounds like someone just trying to finish what they started in the first place because they're bored of it now. The fact that they receive acclaim for their "good enough" work creates a sense of validation that what they're doing is right so why should they change? Why put in more effort when putting in less gets you the same amount of recognition? In the end, it all comes down to the fact that they no longer want to cater to the people who supported the show from the beginning. The writers care only about satisfying the viewers who are watching now and the vast majority of them are in it for tits and dragons and to them, the show is the best it's ever been.