What the World Looked Like When Game of Thrones Premiered

The first episode of Game of Thrones, HBO's lavish, violent and TV-landscape-altering smash-hit drama, premiered April 17, 2011—and our realm looked very different then.

By Natalie Finn Apr 17, 2021 7:00 AMTags
Kit Harrington, Richard Madden, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Game of ThronesHBO/Kobal/Shutterstock

Has it already been two years since Game of Thrones ended?

Well, technically, it's been 23 months, the series finale doing what it did on May 19, 2019 (though for so many aggrieved fans the show ended in spirit weeks before then, the twists perpetrated by the series' creators not living up to what were probably unmeetable expectations in the first place). But anyway...

Whether that heated debate seems like it was raging only yesterday, or if by now it feels as though GOT was in another lifetime, then hold on to your dragon horn because it's now been 10 years since the series premiered. 

Upon arrival it was well-hyped (especially by existing devotees of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series), episode one attracting a very respectable 2.2 million viewers. But somewhere between "wait, aren't they brother and sister?" and Ned Stark losing his head, word of the show's, er, charms spread like wildfire and ultimately GOT burst out of the shackles of an under-respected genre to become an Emmy-winning, doctoral thesis-inspiring juggernaut, as well as HBO's most-watched series ever.

And it all started 10 years ago. How does that feel?

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If the thought that pops into your head is "Wasn't last month 10 years ago?" you're not alone. Time has been playing tricks. It always does, but the past 13 months have been unique in that respect since daily life underwent an involuntary makeover at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic.

Watch: Kit Harington Reveals Fondest "Game of Thrones" Memory

Already a common hobby in normal times, binge-watching was elevated to a high art form as shows that probably would have been fine in any other year turned into primary topics of conversation. What else was there to do, after all, but consume the content that managed to wrap before film and TV sets were forced to shut down for months? 

But GOT fans got used to biding their time, didn't they? There was an almost two-year gap between seasons seven and eight, more than enough time to re-watch all that had come before—or for anyone who hadn't yet boarded the train to Westeros to hop on and see what they'd been missing, GOT having already won over countless "nah, I'm not really into fantasy" skeptics.

Because having an opinion about that cultural phenomenon just seemed so important then...

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Needless to say, the world has undergone a seismic shift in a year, let alone 10. And while we're not ones to live in the past, it can be fun to dawdle there for awhile, seeing what's changed and what hasn't, what was going on then that seemed innocent but would end up having unintended consequences, what movie everyone was seeing, the music topping the charts, the couples you couldn't stop shipping.

Not that you knew in 2011 you'd be calling it "shipping" one day.

What's definite is that no one knew 10 years ago what the premiere of a show set in a made-up land with a zillion characters that required you to pay attention, lest you miss an important second that would prove imperative to your understanding of the plot six years later, was going to mean to pop culture.

Here's what was happening when Game of Thrones premiered:

Jennifer Lawrence had just made her Academy Awards debut as a Best Actress nominee for Winter's Bone in February.

Kate Middleton and Prince William weren't married, the royal wedding at Westminster Abbey still 12 days away. (And perfect timing, because The King's Speech—all about William's great-grandfather King George VI—had just won four Oscars, including Best Picture.)

Ashton Kutcher was married to Demi Moore.

They announced their separation that November.

The Oprah Winfrey Show was still airing new episodes, the iconic host's sign-off scheduled for May 25.

There were only three movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

The box office competition would soon be hammered by a fourth, Thor, upon its debut on May 6, making for two worlds in which frozen undead monsters posed a threat.

George R.R. Martin drew from a number of sources for inspiration, including Norse mythology, which is one of the reasons why the Frost Giants the Asgardians battled looked so much like White Walkers, particularly the Night King, who didn't rear his creepy head until season four of GOT.

Fast-forward to 2021, there are now 23 films in the MCU, not including the pandemic-delayed Black Widow and at least 10 others in the works.

Amanda Knox was still in an Italian prison.

She was exonerated and released in October upon the successful appeal of her conviction in the murder of roommate Meredith Kercher in 2007. 

Same-sex marriage was only legally recognized in five states—Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont—as well as Washington, D.C.

New York would pass the Marriage Equality Act in June 2011, leading to widespread celebration—including Neil Patrick Harris tweeting, "David and I did propose to each other, but over five years ago! We've been wearing engagement rings for ages, waiting for an available date." (He and David Burtka eventually tied the knot in Italy in 2014.)

But it wouldn't become legal all over the country until June 26, 2015, when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. 

Netflix hadn't produced any original series. 

House of Cards was still almost two years away. In 2016, Netflix debuted 126 original movies and series, and this past January the company reached 207.3 million subscribers worldwide.

Barack Obama was in his first term as 44th President of the United States. First daughters Malia and Sasha were 12 and 9 years old.

The fourth season of The Celebrity Apprentice was airing on NBC.

Rio, featuring a macaw named Blu, voiced by Jesse Eisenberg, topped the weekend box office with $130 million worldwide, besting Scream 4.

Nine days before the inaugural season of The Voice premiered on NBC, "F--k You" by Cee Lo Green was the No. 1 song on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40, while "E.T." by Katy Perry, featuring Kanye West, was in the midst of a three-week run atop the Billboard Hot 100.

The Los Angeles Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, were the reigning two-time NBA Champions heading into the 2010-2011 season.

Kris Jenner only had one grandchild, 16-month-old Mason Disick (here at his second birthday party that December).

She's now a grandma of 10.

Taylor Swift was on her Speak Now World Tour in support of her third studio album.

Selena Gomez had Bieber fever.

Parents of six Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were Hollywood's golden couple.

So, back on April 17, 2011, some things were lovely, others direly needed to get better, a few things seemed pretty status quo but would take a fated turn, and who could have imagined that was going to happen with the Celebrity Apprentice?

Or Bran Stark, for that matter?

The entirety of Game of Thrones is streaming on HBO Max.