Hey, Hodor

03.21.14

Game of Thrones: Sex, Swords, and Dragons at a Fans’ Night Out

At a star-studded New York event featuring the show’s season four premiere, dressed-up Game of Thrones devotees gathered to obsess over Arya Stark’s dark turn and—purr—sexy new character Oberyn Martell.

"So, Catelyn pulls back Roose Bolton’s tunic, and she sees chain mail, which is, like, not good, so she screams ‘ROBB!’ and then–"

Catching someone up on the entire third season of Game of Thrones is not easy.  Catching someone up on the entire third season of Game of Thrones in one subway ride between Wall Street and Barclays Center is less so. We, along with 7,000 fans, were en route to “Game of Thrones: The Epic Fan Experience,” the centerpiece of which was a screening of the first episode of season four.

"Also, Tyrion has this awesome scene where he threatens to castrate Joffrey–"

“King Geoffrey?”

“No, Joffrey…”

You can’t blame the confusion—there are more than two hundred named characters in the television series alone. One of the most popular Game of Thrones-related submissions on Reddit is a photo collage of one man’s attempt to name each of the characters. He gets 8 out of 58, although Dame Diana Rigg would probably get a kick out of his suggested name for Olenna Tyrell: "Grandmother of Boobs Girl."

“Daenerys starts out in a borderline-incestuous hot tub scene, and ends up liberating a slave army with her dragon children. I mean, come on.”

It’s a show with more characters than Twitter, set in a fictional medieval world where “summers span decades, and winter can last a lifetime,” populated largely by dwarfs, dragons, ice monsters, and prostitutes.

On Thursday night, for $15 a ticket—all proceeds go to charity—attendees were able to watch the season four premiere of HBO’s hottest show since The Sopranos more than two weeks before it officially aired. Attendees were cautioned that any attempt to record the episode from their seats would result in their ejection, the confiscation of their device, and possibly their murder at the hands of thousands of fans.

When Game of Thrones began in 2011, many critics asserted that the show would do well with a small, stereotypical fanbase composed of pasty male twentysomethings. The New York Times said in its initial review of the show that “Game of Thrones is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.” A year later, a different writer sniffed at the show’s “Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic” and purportedly lowbrow subject matter: “If decapitations and regular helpings of bare breasts and buttocks are all you require of your television, step right up.”

This, according to a tall young woman in cosplay—that is, dressed up—as Brienne of Tarth, was bullshit. “Take Arya Stark! She doesn’t fight for an army or for the Iron Throne—she fights for her survival. Fighting for yourself is awesome—and feminist.” Given that one of the highlights of Brienne’s story arc last season was fighting a grizzly bear with a wooden sword, most fans were inclined to agree.

The crowd, contrary to the Times’ assumption, was diverse—going by the photo gallery of attendants who were allowed, for a few seconds, to rule the Seven Kingdoms from the Iron Throne, the gender split was nearly even. Two of the fans who garnered the most attention were decked out in crossplay, the gender-bending version of cosplay—the boy’s sky-blue halter top and blonde wig identified him as exiled princess Daenerys Targeryan, and his female companion wore the stern expression and scruffy beard of Khal Drogo, husband of Daenerys and ripper of throats.

Once we were seated, the young woman next to me agreed that the show has a feminist heart. “That’s why I love Melissandre,” she said, gesturing at her own costume, a red dress similar to the one sported by one of the show’s more sinister characters. “I love how dark and evil she is, but also how spiritual she is. It requires a lot of self-confidence.”

“Plus,” another attendee noted, “you’re basically never going to find a more feminist storyline than Daenerys’s. She starts out in a borderline-incestuous hot tub scene, and ends up liberating a slave army with her dragon children. I mean, come on.”

The event started with Ice and Fire: A Foreshadowing, a 15-minute trailer for the show’s new season. Most of the people seated had watched it a few (dozen) times, but that didn’t stop the cheering during the trailer’s final “screamer” shot, when one of the show’s dragons swoops into the air over what appears to be an extremely unlucky goat herder.

Next, a high school marching band filed onto the floor of the arena to play the theme song from the show. The show’s title sequence, featuring a three-dimensional map of the show’s world, has inspired rock, orchestral, and bagpipe covers—the band’s efforts were politely applauded. The audience was a little more restless during rapper Common’s following performance, featuring his song “The Ladder” off of the Game of Thrones mix-tape—it featured such motivating call-and-response as “Yeah! Party! Game of Thrones! Now screeeaaam!” In front of me, a fan muttered, “GOT or GTFO, Common.”

All antsy-ness dissipated when Kristian Nairn, a.k.a. Hodor, lumbered onstage. The six-foot-ten actor plays a gentle giant capable only of saying his own name, which the audience quickly started to chant. “HO-DOR! HO-DOR! HO-DOR!” He, in turn, introduced the man who sent a generation of fans to therapy after watching some of their favorite characters meet untimely ends during the so-called “Red Wedding”: George R.R. Martin, author of the fantasy book series upon which Game of Thrones is based, as well as screenwriter of some of the show’s most iconic episodes. 7,000 people immediately leapt to their feet in a standing ovation.

“I invited a few friends with me—would you like them to join?” he said, adjusting his trademark leather cap. The fans, already apoplectic, lost any semblance of composure as Maisie Williams (Arya Stark, a fan favorite), Sibel Kekilli (Shae, prostitute), and John Bradely (Samwell Tarly, who is obviously not a ripoff of Samwise Gamgee), joined him onstage for a panel discussion of the show and its fans.

All of the stars seemed shell-shocked by the reception. Sixteen-year-old Williams looked like she was about to cry; Kekelli, in a thick French accent, enthusiastically shouted “Holy shit!” The panel featured standard Comic Con-style questions (“Who would you like to play on the show?” “If you could kill any character, who would it be and how would you kill them?”) although HBO couldn’t help but plug its mixtape one more time with: “What would be on your character’s playlist?” Williams showed off her best dance moves after pronouncing, without a hint of irony, “‘Flawless’ by Beyoncé!”

After raffling off a replica of the show’s Iron Throne—“the perfect accessory to a New York City apartment,” Martin deadpanned—the lights went down, and Game of Thrones went up. Without spoiling anything, the episode delivers everything that the show’s devoted fans have come to expect: sex, violence, and Joffrey Baratheon being a bastard. Audience members of both genders sat up a little straighter in their seats when Oberyn Martell, a Dornish prince played by Chilean actor Pedro Pascal, made his highly anticipated appearance onscreen.

“Oh my god he’s hotter than I even imagined,” “Melissandre” said.

The episode’s conclusion prompted another standing ovation, and the realization that, having seen the premiere two weeks early, we had to wait three weeks until the next episode. “Well, at least it’ll give me time to catch up on the books?” one woman in a “The Lannisters Send Their Regards” T-shirt said. “You know, when I’m not trying to marry Hodor.”