By Fabienne Faur, AFP
WASHINGTON–There will be blood. And nudity. And dragons. Millions worldwide will tune in for the fourth season of medieval fantasy drama “Game of Thrones” from Sunday as the hit show returns to television screens, promising to deliver its usual jaw-dropping mix of sex, violence and vengeance.
Since its debut in 2011, the HBO drama based on George R.R. Martin’s best-selling novels about a struggle for power between feuding clans in seven mythical kingdoms has won a devoted global fan base – U.S. President Barack Obama among them, reportedly — to establish itself as the star of the U.S. cable channel’s stable.
The series has wowed critics with its densely layered plot, lavish production values and a readiness to kill off, invariably in gruesome fashion, protagonists who had hitherto seemed integral to the show.
Four words — “No one is safe” — have become the unofficial catchphrase for devotees of the series. Guessing which character may soon meet his or her maker is all part of the fun. An infamously bloody episode in Season 3, involving a massacre at a wedding party, was one of the most talked about and tweeted television events of 2013.
YouTube videos capturing the shock of unsuspecting viewers watching as the on-screen slaughter unfolded rapidly went viral. More Shocks in Store
All the signs are that fans of the show will not be disappointed by the 10-episode Season 4, which airs in the U.S. from Sunday before being screened in different markets worldwide over the following days and weeks.
“Some of the most shocking, mind-blowing scenes of the entire series come from the end of this season,” promised executive producer David Benioff in an extended teaser-trailer screened on HBO ahead of Sunday’s opening episode. The new season will see the existing rivalries between the various warring factions of the continents of Westeros and Essos face a new threat in the shape of an army of undead zombie warriors from the kingdom’s frozen north.
The ominous, doom-laden warning “Winter is coming” and the plaintive “Where are my dragons?!!,” the cry of the blonde-haired dragon-wrangling warrior queen Daenerys Targaryen, have become cult phrases for the show’s legion of fans.
In the space of three years, the fluctuating fortunes of the Stark, Lannister, Baratheon and Targaryen clans have built a loyal following.
Around 5.4 million watched the final episode of Season 3 on June 9, 2013, although with repeat showings through the following week, the audience was closer to 14 million, a record for HBO.
Just under three million had watched the first season in 2011. According to the website TorrentFreak, “Game of Thrones” is also the most pirated show on the Internet, with 5.9 illegal downloads of the last episode of Season 3.
It was a similar story in 2012, with 4.3 million downloads.