| NEW YORK, March 28
NEW YORK, March 28 Mystical ice creatures,
fire-breathing dragons, and the people caught in between return
to the small screen come April 6, when HBO's "Game of Thrones"
unsheathes a fourth season that could see it crowned as the
cable network's most watched series in history.
The medieval fantasy drama's fan base has grown
substantially over its first three seasons, with sizable
followings among both men and women thanks to its wrenching
interpersonal relationships, complex plotting, and, being HBO,
plenty of sex and violence.
The show is based on the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series of
novels by George R.R. Martin, of which five of an expected seven
have been published. It takes place in the fictional world of
Westeros, following more than two dozen regular characters amid
a war for dominion between noble houses.
In addition to the squabbling between regions and families,
the characters also face external threats, including dragons and
the "White Walkers," nearly unkillable creatures from the far
northern part of the world who can animate the dead.
The third season of the show climaxed with what is now known
as the "Red Wedding," where three primary characters were
treacherously murdered along with scores of others at a wedding
feast. For some shows, that might be difficult to top, but cast
members said this year's season will be even more dynamic, so as
to not lose momentum with a growing audience.
"There just seems to be a whole new army of people watching
the show for the first time. The more fans you have, the more
pressure you feel to keep up the quality of the product," actor
John Bradley, said in a recent interview along with other cast
members. He plays Samwell Tarly, a member of the Night's Watch,
the ancient order that protects Westeros from threats in the
Last year, the show averaged 14.4 million viewers across all
platforms, only about 50,000 viewers shy of HBO's most-watched
show ever, the sixth season of the mob family drama "The
Sopranos." Among cable dramas, it is second in viewership,
trailing only basic cable's zombie apocalypse saga "The Walking
Dead" on AMC Newtworks Inc, which is averaging 17.6
million viewers in its fourth season.
Women make up 42 percent of the audience, and while that's
not quite even, it still makes the female viewing contingent
larger than AMC's methampetamine thriller "Breaking Bad," whose
final season audience was 37 percent women, according to
As "Game of Thrones" has grown and its reach has expanded -
it airs in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide -
so too has the business of the show.
HBO's subscription revenue grew by 6 percent, or $221
million, in 2013, according to earnings reports from its parent,
Time Warner Inc. The company noted in its August results
that viewership for "Thrones" rose 20 percent. A fifth season
has not been officially renewed, according to an HBO
spokeswoman, but the show's success makes it hard to imagine it
won't keep going.
The franchise has spawned 350 kinds of merchandise available
on HBO's website, and more recently the release of a hip-hop
mixtape headed by Common and other rap artists. Common notably
performed his entry to the soundtrack at a sneak preview of the
show's first episode in Brooklyn, New York on March 20.
The cast members see it as well, particularly on social
media. Maisie Williams, 16, who plays fan favorite Arya Stark,
said she picked up more than 40,000 followers on Twitter during
the off-season. She has a big fan base on other social media
sites like Vine and Instagram - in part due to a goofy video she
posted after the Red Wedding where she joked about the death of
"That really blew up - I went from having about 1,000
followers on Vine to having about 100,000," she said.
OLD AND NEW FACES
The fourth season finds numerous major characters in King's
Landing, the capital city of Westeros, where they are gathering
for the impending wedding of Joffrey, the cruel, young king who
stands shoulder to shoulder with the more notable villains in
There are new faces, too, most notably Prince Oberyn
Martell, nicknamed the "Red Viper." The prince comes to the
capital to attend Joffrey's wedding but also has ulterior
motives, like so many on the show.
The character, whose swagger made him a favorite among
readers, is played with steely resolve by Pedro Pascal, a
Chile-born actor whose family left that country as political
refugees when he was 4, and who was raised in the United States.
For Pascal, his character's accent is a callback to his
parentage: The script "didn't specify what he was supposed to
sound like. ... I think without thinking about it too much, it
came naturally for him to sound like my dad."
Pascal is one of 29 regular characters on the show, most of
whom fall somewhere between good and evil on the moral spectrum.
Some, including the conflicted, incestuous knight Jaime
Lannister, played by Nicolaj-Coster Waldau, have seen their
morals shift over time, as his character has become one of the
more sympathetic over the course of the show.
"You realize no one is good and no one is bad," said actress
Williams. "We're starting to see the other side to these evil
"And then there's Joffrey."
(Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles; Editing
by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis)