In anticipation of the final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Anshika Nagar has taken up a different hobby. While many of her friends are rewatching the last seven seasons to bring themselves up to speed before the new one, premiering next week after a year’s delay, the 22-year-old New Delhi resident is now reading the George RR Martin books which the historical fantasy series is based on.
“I think I’ve watched the episodes enough. I’m reading the books now so that even after the show ends, I’ll still be able to get that content from the books,” says Nagar.
Since its premiere in 2011, Game of Thrones (GoT) has taken the world by storm. Through years of unabashed depictions of sex and violence, along with writing, directing, and production that have won several Emmies, the show has amassed record viewership and a loyal fanbase around the world.
All over India, too, followers excitedly await the premiere of the final season, which will air on the streaming service Hotstar, the only platform where it can be watched legally in the country. The first episode of the final season will be simulcast with the US in India at 6.30am on Monday, April 15—uncut and uncensored.
“This show has over the years built a pan-India appeal. Its fan base spans across age groups, gender, and geography. The viewership on Hotstar Premium is reflective of that,” a Hotstar spokesperson told Quartz.
The homegrown on-demand platform clinched the rights to host Game of Thrones over three years ago. Confident it would amass huge audiences, that’s also when the free service introduced paywall for the first time.
“I subscribed to Hotstar because it’s the only place to watch GoT legally in India. I feel like this is the show that deserves all the money that it gets,” Nagar says.
After leaving them on one of its characteristic cliffhangers, the show has made fans wait for the final season longer than they had expected. HBO’s announcement early last year that, after the seventh season, the show would skip a year and instead come back on air in 2019 was met with despair from the GoT fandom in India and elsewhere.
“I had forgotten about it and gone on with my life because one year is too much. But in the last two-three months, YouTube began suggesting more and more GoT videos,” says 28-year-old Venkat Vikash. “Once I saw those, I began getting more into it. And then suddenly, that craze of the show has come back.”
That has been the case for most people around him, the Bengaluru-based operations research scientist adds: “Lunch sessions at work are now GoT sessions. People are coming up with random theories about what will happen.”
Tinder says Game of Thrones is the most mentioned TV show on Indian users’ dating profiles, beating the likes of the evergreen sitcom Friends and Netflix’s popular sci-fi drama Stranger Things.
Earlier this month, a massive orchestra in Mumbai even performed the show’s theme song for Marathi Hindu’s new year celebrations.
Several comedians have made Bollywood spoofs of the series. Nakuul Mehta, among India’s most-popular TV actors, shared a Jon Snow-esque poster, counting down to the new season. Bars across the country have planned quiz nights and screenings, as well as more outlandish events such as “Holding the door open like Hodor.” Indian pop artist Raghav Sachar has released his rendition of the theme.
Oreo is launching limited-edition GoT cookies in the West—and Indian Twitter wants to taste it, too. Other GoT partner brands like Mountain Dew, Bud Light, Adidas, makeup brand Urban Decay, and Johnnie Walker have not yet brought their themed merchandise to the world’s second most populous nation.
While this obsession is cause for celebration, the makers pay a hefty price for it: piracy. GoT is the world’s most pirated show. Back when the fourth season was airing, four Indians were arrested for leaking it. Before Hotstar bagged the rights to it in 2016, viewers in India could only watch the episodes by downloading them off the internet to avoid all the cuts made for Indian TV. Until last year, Mumbai and Bengaluru featured among the top piracy hotspots for the series.
Committed fans now pay for Hotstar. And it’s not only to stream GoT.
“We are currently recording over 250 orders a day for GoT merchandise, and expect this to go up significantly as the season begins,” Myntra told Quartz in an email.
Last December, fashion designer Masaba Gupta bagged the rights to create official GoT merchandise in India.
It will be rush hour for these merchants as they scramble to cater to new demand with each new episode.
“Every episode has a quote which starts trending on social media and becomes a big deal. Last year, ‘I drink and I know things’ was a very big deal,” said Redwolf founder Ameya Thakur, referring to the dialogue made famous by one of the show’s protagonists, Tyrion Lannister. “Within a couple of days of an episode airing, we put out the new designs.”
Key characters from the show have their own following in India. Among Myntra customers, “Tyrion and House of Stark T-shirts were a favourite among men, while women picked Khaleesi.”
However, as the show readies to wrap up its final season in just six episodes instead of the customary 10, some fans are concerned whether it will be able to meet their expectations. “I feel I’m going to be a little underwhelmed,” says Hyderabad resident Amulya Chintaluri. “There are just so many loose ends to tie up, and so little time.”
But come Monday, she’ll still be up at the crack of dawn, sitting in front of the screen dressed in her Targaryen T-shirt, ready to find out if the royal houses of Westeros can put aside their internecine conflicts and take on the White Walkers and their dead dragon before human civilisation is brought to an end.