Game of Thrones is getting its own weekly recap show, HBO announced this week—more evidence that TV watchers are almost as addicted to discussing their shows as they are to watching the actual shows.
The show, called After the Thrones, will be hosted by Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan, two former Grantland staffers who previously hosted the popular “Watch the Thrones” podcast for the defunct ESPN culture-meets-sports run by Bill Simmons. Last year, Simmons left ESPN and signed a multi-year, multi-platform deal with HBO—After the Thrones will be one of his HBO productions.
According to HBO, Greenwald and Ryan “will recap the latest episode, explaining the who, what, when and where, exploring the complicated politics and history of ‘Thrones,’ and offering absurd and not-so-absurd theories about future episodes.”
It might seem like a silly idea on the surface—isn’t that exactly what Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and your office water cooler are for? Well, yes, but in recent years TV networks have tried to seize those conversations, by touting the “two-screen experience” and hosting chat shows on their own channels right after popular scripted shows air.
AMC, for example, airs Talking Dead after both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead and Talking Saul after Better Call Saul (the network similarly aired Talking Bad right after Breaking Bad—notice a pattern?). It also offers snap polls, trivia questions, and online chat during shows on its website. FX showed Anarchy Afterword after Sons of Anarchy. Even MTV had an aftershow for Teen Wolf.
It’s easy to be cynical about the “aftershow” phenomenon. These shows are, chiefly, ratings grabs that networks hope will capitalize on audience excitement following the end of an episode. But here’s why After the Thrones could buck the trend: HBO doesn’t care that much about its ratings.
HBO’s currency is prestige. It will do whatever it can to put its shows center stage in the zeitgeist, increasing and facilitating their cultural importance. Giving Game of Thrones a discussion show is one way to do that, but it’s also a sign that the network values the cultural discourse that surrounds its shows.
The good news is that Greenwald and Ryan, longtime friends with a witty rapport, are both excellent writers and banterists. The worry, however, is that they won’t be able to criticize the show when necessary, given they’re now employed by HBO. To the channel’s credit, it’s usually great at allowing its artists (meaning writers, directors, and actors) to exercise their creativity unimpeded—but it remains to be seen whether critics will enjoy a similarly hands-off approach.
In their columns and on their podcast, the duo has not shied away from criticizing the series, and in particular its controversial depiction of violence against women. Greenwald wrote of one episode last year:
Burning girls alive, raping them, or, like Meryn Trant in the Braavosi whorehouse, buying their bodies like ground meat in a butcher shop, all to demonstrate the evil that men do, seems like a lot of repetitive effort to reinforce an obvious, ugly point. It’s been 49 hours now. I think everyone gets the picture. We can laugh it off or make excuses or point and squee at the giants, but this stuff adds up. It’s bad for the soul. It hardens the heart. What does it say about Game of Thrones that it can make time for the touching reunion between a blonde queen and a CGI dragon but it can’t find a way to illustrate basic human-to-human love?
That’s the type of criticism After the Thrones should offer if it’s to be of actual value to fans. Game of Thrones, with its countless politically and socially relevant themes, is a show that deserves smart discourse, not just more unabashed fawning, as some of the other aftershows resort to.
After the Thrones will be available on HBO Now and HBO Go every Monday, a day after Game of Thrones airs on HBO (beginning April 24). The recap show will also reportedly air at some point on the HBO live channel, but it’s unclear when—the coveted Sunday time slots immediately after Game of Thrones are reserved for comedies Silicon Valley and Veep.