'Game of Thrones' Season 5: HBO Cuts the Cord
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'Game of Thrones' Season 5: HBO Cuts the Cord


Warning: If you haven’t seen Season 4 of Game of Thrones by now, you have no one to blame but yourself.

HBO Now, the new streaming service that allows you to access HBO content without a traditional cable package, launched this week. The service, available in the iOS App Store for Apple devices and through Apple TV and Sling TV, has been on the wish list for HBO fans ever since the network first rolled out its truly groundbreaking HBO Go App in 2010. When HBO announced last month that that this fan wish would become reality, it made clear that it would be "bringing the highly anticipated new product to audiences in time for the fifth season of Game of Thrones."

Related: 12 Big Numbers Behind ‘Game of Thrones’

That was only logical. GoT is still the show to beat, not just on HBO, but on any network. The Walking Dead may have the ratings, and Fox’s Empire may be proving that network TV still has some fight left in it, but nothing so thoroughly dominates the television landscape like the epic fantasy show based on George R. R. Martin's fiction. 

Game of Thrones Ratings

The show’s ratings have grown steadily since its first season, as you can see in the chart above. But it is the piracy statistics that really stand out. A massive spike in piracy in the three months preceding the fifth season premiere has helped the show break its own record as the most pirated of all time, with over 7 million downloads. GoT tops that other show with zombies by over 2 million. This represents a 45 percent jump in pirated downloads over the same period in 2014. Clearly, there is a vast and growing appetite for HBO's hit, and now that the show is available to watch in a variety of new (legal) ways, fans could not be happier.

Cable companies, on the other hand may not be so thrilled.

Increasingly, cable providers are hanging by a thread as the options for cord cutters proliferate. As more and more shows become available on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Sony Vue and Amazon Prime, one of the few things cable still had to hold on to viewers was the Cadillac content that HBO was producing. Now that HBO has taken its own step towards independence (with Showtime not far behind), the reasons for customers to keep their cable subscriptions grow fewer and fewer.

Related: Did Game of Thrones Just Kill The Multiplex

And as HBO begins to explore new territory, so too does the show itself.

Since the start of the third season (when the show began to become a real cultural force), fans have raised concerns that the book series was not finished, and that the show would eventually outpace the printed material. Martin has hardly churned out the pages, and the day when the TV series catches up to the printed one is drawing nigh. Granted, there are still two books left to adapt, but by all accounts these are maddeningly meandering books in which major characters spend long stretches on the sidelines. Some fans suspect that Martin’s great trick was pulling the rug out from under his readers with Ned Stark and The Red Wedding, but that perhaps he’s less invested in delivering a satisfying conclusion than he was in punking his audience.

Showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff have openly admitted that they had really only planned the show as far as The Red Wedding, and while “A Storm of Swords” (the third book in the series, which provided the basis for Seasons 3 and 4) still had plenty of twists to carry them this far, it was Season 5 that terrified them. Though they have the latter books, and the guidance of Martin as to how he envisions the story concluding, they are largely, for the first time, telling the story themselves. On top of that, they have the knitted brows of dedicated book readers miffed that the show will soon be spoiling the books.

The world of the show also finds itself a bit desolate. Seasons of slaughter of have been thrilling, but they’ve also deprived us of the older members of the frustratingly honorable Stark clan, the unite-the-audience-in-hatred petulance of King Joffrey, the cold imperiousness of Tywin, the feisty Ygritte and the dashing heroics of Oberyn Martell. The early trailers highlighted this sparseness, gray skies and the somber first verse of TV on the Radio’s cover of Bowie’s “Heroes.” We were watching a world in which all the heroes and the more obvious villains are dead, and things are much, much worse for it.

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So, which of the characters can be a hero now? Tyrion, a drunk misfit who has just killed his father and the woman he loves? Whiny Sansa, the princess in disguise, who may now find herself uniting a rebellion (sounds familiar…)? Tiny badass Arya, who clearly seems to be doing ninja training in a foreign land? Noble but vaguely dim Brianne? Jamie…well, the showrunners’ most famous misstep has made it extremely awkward to be on Team Jamie. Even though we all know by now what and who the show is slowly moving towards, it is these troubled characters in the middle that we fret over, knowing that they don’t have the “plot armor” worn by Dany and Jon.

Early word from reviewers is that the show is at its best when it deviates most from the printed material. It remains to be seen how that will sit with fans. Meanwhile HBO has to hope that it does not experience another massive technical glitch like the one that hampered the Go app during the last premiere. All eyes are upon them, and with their HBO Now service, they have issued a Declaration of Independence.

Will it be a shot (or a dud) heard round the world?

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