Desire, ice, and fire: 'Game of Thrones' returns for fourth season

Fri Mar 28, 2014 3:51pm EDT
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By David Gaffen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mystical ice creatures, fire-breathing dragons, and the people caught in between return to the small screen come April 6, when HBO's "Game of Thrones" unsheathes a fourth season that could see it crowned as the cable network's most watched series in history.

The medieval fantasy drama's fan base has grown substantially over its first three seasons, with sizable followings among both men and women thanks to its wrenching interpersonal relationships, complex plotting, and, being HBO, plenty of sex and violence.

The show is based on the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series of novels by George R.R. Martin, of which five of an expected seven have been published. It takes place in the fictional world of Westeros, following more than two dozen regular characters amid a war for dominion between noble houses.

In addition to the squabbling between regions and families, the characters also face external threats, including dragons and the "White Walkers," nearly unkillable creatures from the far northern part of the world who can animate the dead.

The third season of the show climaxed with what is now known as the "Red Wedding," where three primary characters were treacherously murdered along with scores of others at a wedding feast. For some shows, that might be difficult to top, but cast members said this year's season will be even more dynamic, so as to not lose momentum with a growing audience.

"There just seems to be a whole new army of people watching the show for the first time. The more fans you have, the more pressure you feel to keep up the quality of the product," actor John Bradley, said in a recent interview along with other cast members. He plays Samwell Tarly, a member of the Night's Watch, the ancient order that protects Westeros from threats in the frozen north.

Last year, the show averaged 14.4 million viewers across all platforms, only about 50,000 viewers shy of HBO's most-watched show ever, the sixth season of the mob family drama "The Sopranos." Among cable dramas, it is second in viewership, trailing only basic cable's zombie apocalypse saga "The Walking Dead" on AMC Newtworks Inc, which is averaging 17.6 million viewers in its fourth season.

Women make up 42 percent of the audience, and while that's not quite even, it still makes the female viewing contingent larger than AMC's methampetamine thriller "Breaking Bad," whose final season audience was 37 percent women, according to Nielsen.   Continued...

A dance number is performed in tribute to outstanding drama series nominee "Game of Thrones" at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake