The eight most talked-about moments in ‘Game of Thrones’ history
6 min Case Study
Ahead of the @GameOfThrones series finale, we sat down with Emily Giannusa, HBO’s vice president of social media and content, to reflect on some of the most Tweeted-about moments from everyone’s favorite fantasy-drama series that blew up like wildfire on Twitter.
Please note, this article contains spoilers.
"Game of Thrones" has become a dragon-sized part of the entertainment conversation happening on Twitter. The television show that everyone and their maester are talking about has evolved into a nine-year chapter in the canon of pop culture history, establishing itself as one of the most Tweeted-about television shows of all time in the process.
In case you (somehow) missed it, the eighth and final season of @HBO’s fantasy drama reached its climactic end this past weekend, after nearly a decade of gripping drama, gruesome deaths, and battlecries of “dracarys.”
In honor of this pop culture milestone, we invited Emily Giannusa (@EmilyGiannusa), vice president of social media and content at HBO, to help us recap how the biggest moments from each season of “Game of Thrones” played out on Twitter over the years.
"You think my life is such a precious thing to me, that I would trade my honor for a few more years...of what?" - Ned #Gameofthrones #Baelor— Game of Thrones (@GameOfThrones) June 13, 2011
If “Game of Thrones” has taught viewers one thing, it’s that no character, no matter how beloved or seemingly central to the plot, is safe from being mercilessly bumped off. That reality check began in the very first season, with the execution of House Stark’s patriarch in the ninth episode.
“Ned Stark's death was truly a game changer,” recalls Giannusa. “No one had ever really killed off a main character like that, so after his death, that's when we saw the first wave of reaction videos flood the platform, people screaming at their TV, people crying, people sharing it everywhere.”
In 2011 embedding videos — or even photos — wasn’t possible on Twitter, but that didn’t stop fans from sharing their emotions to Ned’s death by adding YouTube links to their Tweets or using the #GameofThrones hashtag to convey their emotions.
War is here. #Blackwater is now trending in the USA.— Game of Thrones (@GameOfThrones) May 28, 2012
A year later, the second season of the show returned to screens and one of the most memorable moments for Giannusa was the Battle of the Blackwater. Not only was it an epic battle — with a parade of neon green wildfire explosions taking out Stannis Baratheon’s fleet of ships — but because it gave Tyrion a chance to shine. Fans began to see him “as a good guy, and not just a Lannister.”
“The Red Wedding is a no-brainer,” says Giannusa of the mass murder that had everyone shook in Season 3 and is still endlessly discussed on Twitter today. Despite being a huge plot point in Martin’s novels, “readers knew it was coming, but kept it concealed for show viewers to watch and react to on their own.”
Amid another deluge of reaction videos and impassioned cries from fans that they were considering never watching the show again, it was a Vine by “Game of Thrones” actor Maisie Williams, who played Arya Stark, that stood out to Giannusa. The now infamous six-second “he’s dead, she’s dead, my whole family’s dead” video clip “helped to punctuate the moment that all fans were feeling, helping to make it the most socially talked-about episodes of any HBO show ever, at the time of airing.”
Joffrey Baratheon, the sadistic and entitled teenage king, was one of the most hated characters the show has seen, perhaps only rivaled by the torturous Ramsay Bolton. Although readers of George R.R. Martin’s books knew what grisly fate awaited Joffrey, “the internet exploded,” Giannusa says, after seeing him choke on poisoned wine at the Purple Wedding in Season 4.
The death was classic “Game of Thrones” — gruesome, unexpected, and with the highest stakes for the realm — and Giannusa says it was a standout moment: “People fucking hated Joffrey!”
In the offseason before Joffrey’s untimely demise, HBO launched a #RoastJoffrey campaign in December 2013, inviting fans to share memes, jokes, and takedowns at the soon-to-be-expired king’s expense.
Season 5 saw viewers introduced to the sinister High Sparrow and witness a faceoff with White Walkers at Hardhome, but it was the season’s cliffhanger that left Twitter reeling: mutiny at Castle Black.
The fatal stabbing of Jon Snow by the men of the Night’s Watch saw the episode close with Jon lying vacant-eyed on the snow as blood drained from his wounds. It wasn’t the first time viewers had to wait until next season to discover the fate of a main character, but this twist also marked the end of the books. What would come next was unknown to anybody but those involved in the show and George R.R. Martin.
“Fans held on to that moment really tight, sharing their predictions about what they thought would happen. That kind of speculation really fueled the conversation between seasons.”
In one of the show’s most spectacular and emotional battles so far, the Battle of the Bastards in Season 6 finally pitted Jon Snow’s band of wildlings and soldiers against Ramsay Bolton’s army, in a bid to take back Winterfell. After a tense and seemingly hopeless battle, the good guys won, much to the delight of fans on social media.
“Spoiler alert: Everyone loves to see the demise of a villain,” says Giannusa of one of television’s most hated characters. “Twitter collectively rejoiced at his demise as he was one of the most hated characters, after Joffrey Baratheon. The day of and after that episode, there were over 165K mentions around Ramsay alone!”
Now their watch begins.— Game of Thrones (@GameOfThrones) December 19, 2018
Join the conversation on @Twitter with @JimmyKimmel, @KChenoweth, @TPain, and @AaronRodgers12 as they Binge #ForTheThrone and start Season 1 this week. pic.twitter.com/VV0lPwyE17
By Season 7, winter had officially arrived in Westeros, culminating in the Night King breaking through the Wall on the back of an undead dragon and leading his zombified army south.
“Everyone knew Westeros was screwed,” says Giannusa. “And [fans] knew they had to wait more than a year for the final season to return, so it was our job to really keep the conversation going.”
In December 2018, HBO and Twitter launched a campaign encouraging viewers to binge #ForTheThrone — with the help of some celebrity fans — and rewatch every episode from the very beginning, in preparation for the eighth and final season.
The final season packed a punch as individual character arcs and narratives were woven together, climaxing in Jon killing Daenerys to protect the realm, Drogon incinerating the Iron Throne, and Bran being crowned king. One of the key episodes in the season was “The Long Night,” affectionately referred to as the Battle of Winterfell by fans online, in which Arya takes down the Night King, wiping out his army of wights and White Walkers in the process.
Following Arya’s big moment, HBO jumped on the popular and often tongue-in-cheek #MondayMotivation hashtag with #NotToday. “It was the perfect marriage of an existing meme on Twitter and, you know, what happened in the episode,” Giannusa says. “‘Game of Thrones’ is a part of culture and Twitter's where all the conversations are happening, so we needed to be there.”