Warm weather has finally hit Columbia, but don’t put away your coats just yet: Winter is coming. Game of Thrones, the premium cable sensation and tent-pole show in HBO’s lineup, returns for its eighth and final season on April 14. Local fans have waited eons (read: since August 2017) for this. For many, this is the only appointment viewing they've penciled in that isn’t live sports. For others, the show marks the only weeks out of the year they’ll subscribe to HBO. Sunday nights are no longer free for plans.
Like with any popular show’s return, there are dozens of questions fans want answered: What’s up with Jon and Dany? What will happen with the White Walkers? Is Bran the Night King?
But what are Columbia’s die-hard fans saying? Your humble correspondent went all over town to speak to the most knowledgeable subjects this side of Westeros, and here’s what I learned.
A few minutes after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, the Craft Beer Cellar was filled to capacity. The local watering hole barely had more than 24 hours left before it would close down for good. Although the desire for one last trip to a beloved bar likely had something to do with the crowd, make no mistake: Most were there for Game of Thrones trivia night.
The bodies in the bar outnumbered the chairs, and like many others, I took a seat on the floor as I waited for the questions to begin. “Clap once if you can hear me,” the host called out. A relatively small number of patrons complied. “Clap twice if you can hear me.” Clap-clap.
“I can’t believe so many people showed up for Golden Girls trivia,” the host joked, followed by roar of boisterous whoops from the crowd. After a brief recitation of rules, six rounds of 10 questions would follow.
I thought: Who better to ask about the upcoming season than the host who crafted the questions for a Game of Thrones trivia night? So the day after trivia, I sought him out. I called Craft Beer Cellar and learned his name was “Jay something,” with the only other identifying information being that he ran karaoke at Eastside Tavern. Jay Groharing is his full name, and he's embarrassed by the number of times he’s watched the entire Game of Thrones series (around seven). In addition to watching the show, Groharing says, “I listened to it as background music at work.” He’s familiar with a lot of fan theories. One of his favorites is that the show is actually Sam’s retelling of the story as a maester. “It’s a very poetic thing, and it would tie in with the imagery and hints here and there,” he says.
Groharing is amazed by the show’s willingness to boost seemingly insignificant characters to prominence. “Jon Snow, as far as everyone knew, was just a bastard kid who had been looked down upon his whole life,” he says. The same types of statements could be said of Daenerys. Some of the best fighters and most powerful people are women. Slaves are being freed. “It’s just a very empowering show,” he says.
He wondered aloud how many little girls have been named Arya since the show began. (The answer: A lot.) He couldn’t believe how much the show brought people together. “When I was a little kid, I was fascinated with medieval stuff,” Groharing says. “I built castles out of cardboard boxes. I never in my wildest dreams thought that, however many years down the road, the whole world would be as geeky as I was when I was six years old. It’s wholly unexpected, but it’s fun.” He marveled at the attendance of the Game of Thrones trivia night. It was the most crowded trivia night he’d ever seen; people were using empty kegs as makeshift tables. “We had 37 teams, which is an insane amount,” he says.
Somewhere in the crowd on one of those teams was Kristina Bradley, an academic advisor in the MU Honors College and self-described “book purist” who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the show and books. She peppers conversations with references to “Gurm,” the phonetic rendering of George R.R. Martin’s initials, as if they’re old friends. She says casual fans are likely discussing who’s going to end up on the Iron Throne, but she differentiates herself and other superfans by informing me, “That’s not the point of the story,” and that “If you think that’s what the point of the story is, you’re not paying attention.” She goes on to explain that “petty, interpersonal drama has real ramifications” on the rulers’ subjects.
“In the end, the Iron Throne must be destroyed,” Bradley says. “I’d love to see it melted with dragon fire, personally, but I think the whole point of the story is that this system doesn’t work; it’s broken. It doesn’t matter who sits on the Iron Throne. They will be corrupted.”
Bradley loves freewheeling discussions about Game of Thrones, and she sometimes shares them with the MU Honors students she advises. Emily Hanneman, a senior journalism major, is one of them. Although she came to the show “woefully late,” Hanneman made up for lost time, starting the show last August and finishing in September. She’s eager to see the reunions that will happen in this final season. “It’s more than just Jon and Dany,” she says. “There’s all of the Starks and how they interact; there’s Jaime and Cersei; there’s the Mountain and the Hound.” Even her favorite fan theories revolve around reunions: “Jaime will die in Brienne’s arms.” He once said he wanted to die in the arms of the woman he loved, and Hanneman says, “At that point, he was probably thinking of Cersei, but everybody knows that will be Brienne.”
In reality, it won’t take long to figure out if she’s right. The show’s final season will have only six episodes.
Before I hung up with Groharing, I remembered a final question: What was the name of the winning team at trivia? He thought for a minute, ran through some clever team names, and finally arrived at the correct answer: Fire and Blood, Bitches.
After trivia night, I wrote to Bradley and asked how the night had gone. Before I read the body of her email response, my eyes jumped to the bottom of the page and the postscript, which told me all I needed to know: “P.S. our team name was ‘Fire and Blood, Bitches!’”