Warning - Season 6 Game of Thrones Spoilers Ahead
Warning: If you're the type of person to still be bothered by spoilers for the most recent season of Game of Thrones, you might want to come back to this post in the future. We're going to use our social media intelligence tool, Infegy Atlas, to follow at least one long-standing fan theory to its origin point in social data.
Game of Thrones has been a rocketship of an adventure to watch throughout season 6. Before this season, fan speculation ran wild on social media that George R. R. Martin might finish the next book before the TV season went live. When that didn't happen, TV entered new territory as an entertainment medium.
The show is ahead of the books, but the books are still being written.
Normally TV show conversions run the other way -- from some printed media like a book or graphic novel, being carefully adapted for episodic release. NBC's Hannibal, for example, took the template character for Hannibal Lecter as established in books, popular culture, and movies like Silence of the Lambs, rewriting each element into a new origin story to tease the audience along as TV seasons pass.
Why do they do this? Advertising dollars, primarily.
Entertainment networkds are adapting to user access preferences -- which means viewers on these networks are more engaged than ever.
Watching TV in the streaming world is just better in my opinion, and consumers seem to agree. I can engage with media at my own pace, which can mean anything from a 48-hour series rewatch binge to the background entertainment I keep running from Netflix on my Xbox One every night.
Part of the reason why people like myself are increasingly turning to cable-cutting strategies for our weekly media fix through Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, or some other streaming alternative is that we want to do business with brands like HBO who continually give us content we love without spoonfeeding us ads.
If you're stuck on an island, your favorite shows had better be there, too.
Like many other streaming video users, I'm willing to pay for content that meets my availability needs. The rising popularity of shows on pay-only networks like Game of Thrones on HBO is of particular interest to marketers. What is it about the show that keeps us hooked?
HBO is allowing fans to get invested at their own pace -- which feeds fanatics while also keeping everyone else happy.
Game of Thrones inspires otherwise normal, level-headed people to become full-blown fanatics over their favorite theories and thoughts about what is happening in the show.
Everyone can find an angle to relate to a character's calculations on the show like they're personally invested in the decision making process. In Harry Potter, for example, even though Harry was the protaagonist, there were other details scattered in side stories that turned ancillary characters into hardcore fan favorites like Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood, even years after the story's conclusion.
Most hardcore fans are also scheming out new theories as they watch. At least I do.
Those who want to engage with their favorite stories, at whichever point in the storyline they're currently invested, want to hold on to the tiny details that make their own personal theories work. Which, in turn, gets fans involved in frenzied discussions on Facebook and elsewhere that this line or that moment in the story justifies their personal point of vieiw.
Don't believe me? Let's look at one popular rumor totally confirmed plotline about Jon Snow's origin story:
Jon Snow is definitely a Targaryen. Where on Earth did that theory start?
I can't prove it, but I personally believed Jon Snow was a Targaryen since I first read the books many years ago. After the conclusion of Game of Thrones' sixth season, however, we know that to be the case beyond any doubt.
Like many other Game of Thrones fans, I read something on the internet somewhere that got me thinking and my research led me from one place to another. Ultimately, it led me to find this digital artifact, the first cohesive mention that Jon Snow is a Targaryen on social media...
Nine years ago today. July 17, 2007.
In the graph below, you'll see the data baseline get pretty flat. If I'm honest, at first glance I didn't see the difference in the trend line. So I scanned through the data and found that earliest reference, separated by a great many days until fan theory gradually grew into a more popularly held belief.
"Jon Snow is the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar." It's the name of the post title on a page no longer hosted on the internet, but our software saved the content when it was collected years ago:
That's right, GoT fans -- the first reference to Jon Snow's actual lineage in social data doesn't have a single thing to do with the show as a whole, but is simply expressed as the titular opinion on the blog of someone named Cam. But Cam said it online before I -- or anyone else in recent digital history -- had the thought.
It just goes to demonstrate that not all consumer insights from social data are necessarily valuable, but they are always incredibly interesting.
There's also a new theory cropping up in social data about Jon Snow. This time it's about his real name.
This fan theory is a little less compelling, but interesting nonetheless given the situation the show's directors find themselves confronting. Rather than look to printed details they can pick and choose to tell along the way, there's no source material for us to reference anymore.
I'm not saying this was intentional, but there's only a finite a mount of printed text that exists providing concrete details about Westerosian affairs. Outside of that extremely limited canon, fans are left to fend for themselves, and this especially includes brand new obsessive theories.
Remember what I said about holding on to the little details to make these theories work?
We know Jon Snow is a Targaryen, for example, but what does this mean for his relationship with Daenerys? How will the Mother of Dragons meet her long lost relative? This fan theory tries to explain the relevance of one reference to King Jaeherys, a long-lost Targaryen ruler.
The site that originally triggered this conversation according to social intelligence data? It came from an Italian source nearly 4 years ago on October 28, 2012.
But that doesn't stop recent fan commentary from spiking in speculation across social media channels, as you can see in the trend graph above.
So the new theory is very similar -- Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen live in a mutually-exclusive, tangled web of allegiances and personal vendettas. Outside of wanting the Lannisters out of power and the White Walkers eliminated, neither of these would-be rulers really knows what they'd do with a full kingdom, and neither seem to currently care.
There is unfamiliar territory ahead for Game of Thrones -- and I'm not sure how to feel about it yet.
There's something comforting to me as a nerd about having an established body of literature every fan can point to as acknowledged, canon details about a story, especially with a universe as expansive as the one in which Game of Thrones is situated. But the only people that know what is comoing next in Game of Thrones are Martin himself and the show's production team.
Would it be wrong for a media studio to use our own social commentary against us like this? Like, for example, by taking a wildly popular character and having something despicable befall them? I'll just leave this here:
I know. That would be so torturous.
George R. R. Martin knows that the excruciatingly vivid details of Game of Thrones are what attract people to his fantasy world. They're invested in every lurid plot turn because it's part of what feels true about every fictional conversation.
If every media company had the power to engage their users the same way, we would all be in a lot of trouble.
You might also love this post, too. It talks about using social data to evaluate preferences of a particular audience segment with a popular QSR chain. In this case, we looked at what gamers think of the top pizza chains.