Game of Thrones is the best and most influential show of the decade


As I look back at the last decade in entertainment, I remember the huge number of TV shows that I’ve loved during the 2010s. Game of Thrones is an obvious favorite, but by no means the only show I enjoyed. I also fell in love with series like Parks and RecreationVeepBreaking BadThe Good Place and BoJack Horseman.

There are also shows that received a lot of praise from critics but that I just couldn’t get into, like Mad Men and The Leftovers, plus beloved show that I haven’t even gotten the chance to watch, like The Americans. The point is that there was a whole lotta great TV in 2010s. No matter your taste, there was something for you.

But Game of Thrones is king, and queen, and prince and princess and courtier and castellan and court jester. I don’t think there’s a TV critic alive who would say that GoT wasn’t the most influential series of the 2010s — it was water cooler television in a time of increasing fragmentation, expanded the scope of what was possible on TV from a storytelling and visual perspective, and created a great many new critics who will (hopefully) be working in and shaping the industry for years to come.

But there are plenty of critics who wouldn’t name the show as being among the best of the 2010s, something I’ve learned after perusing some of the many “Best of the Decade” lists that have sprung up over the past month. Game of Thrones doesn’t show up at all on Pajiba’s Top 10, nor on Time’s list. It gets an “Honorable Mention” on Vanity Fair’s list, and comes in 30th on The A.V. Club’s.

To me, this is borderline ridiculous. As much as I loved a lot of television over the past decade, very little compares to the horrifying thrill I felt watching Cersei Lannister blow up the Sept of Baelor, or seeing Catelyn Stark die at the Red Wedding, or witnessing Daenerys Targaryen finally unleash the full power of her dragons in “The Spoils of War,” or a dozen other moments I could rattle off the top of my head. Game of Thrones took me places I didn’t think TV could take me. The idea of the not being on a “Best of the 2010s” seems ludicrous. I know that “most influential” isn’t the same thing as “best of,” but surely the two overlap enough to guarantee this particular show a good hard look at the least?

I also know that ranking TV shows is a highly subjective process and that I am the least biased person on the planet when it comes to Game of Thrones. Still, it’s hard for me to let this go, especially given some of the other choices people made. Several critics put Twin Peaks: The Return high on their list — it’s at the very top of Time’s — for reasons that are completely unfathomable to me. I enjoy David Lynch’s fever dreams as much as the next guy, but The Return was indulgent, overlong nonsense that doesn’t belong anywhere near a top 10 list.

It’s also odd to see shows like Fleabag (and less often Barry and Succession) on these lists, and frequently near the top. I like all of those shows, but they’re just getting started. Maybe they’ll prove to be some of the greatest shows of the 2020s, but the 2010s? It’s a stretch. (Game of Thrones, meanwhile, ran from 2011-2019 — it couldn’t better span the decade if it tried, but that’s a minor point.)

I think some of these choices are the products of recency bias. Fleabag hasn’t aired that many seasons, but the most recent one made a lot of waves and won a lot of awards, so on the list it goes. Likewise, the controversial ending to Game of Thrones probably played a big role in why it didn’t place highly on a lot of critics’ lists, if it made it on at all. And I do understand that a rough ending hurts a show like Game of Thrones more than it does something like, say, Rick and Morty, another show that exploded this decade. Game of Thrones is all of a piece, so if you didn’t enjoy the ending, that might drag the overall score down for you. But if a show is episodic, you can just ignore the episodes you don’t like. But that’s still not enough for me to discount all the things Game of Thrones did wonderfully, and how much it built modern TV as we know it.

There are some other weird things about these lists that have stuck out to me. Critics have had little trouble putting on newer shows like Fleabag and Barry and Watchmen, but what about The Mandalorian, which if you ask me is a show that’s combined high-quality drama and mass appeal in a way that most closely follows the model set up by Game of Thrones. Also, I’ve barely ever seen any of these lists mention shows like Stranger Things or The Walking Dead, two of the biggest genre hits of the last 10 years. What gives?

Ultimately, we can’t know, but I wonder if lists like this are more a product of the moment when they’re written than anything else. Ten years on, who knows how they’ll look in retrospect? It’s best to accept them for what they are: subjective — if learned — expressions of opinion.

Ah, but there’s something in the human brain that wants to assign objective value whenever name in the Top 10 Anything is involved. For me, no list of the Top 10 TV Shows of the last 10 years is complete without Game of Thrones at the top, and I think the next decade of TV will bear that out.