How fans are bracing for life after ‘Game of Thrones’

There’s a global ‘Game of Thrones’ scavenger hunt going on
HBO's "Game of Thrones"

“Game of Thrones” kicks off its final season Sunday, and with it comes an end of an era for prestige television.

The HBO fantasy drama is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed series in television history. It’s watched by millions every week, it’s won 47 Emmys and with traditional viewing habits changing, it could be television’s last blockbuster.

But “Game of Thrones” is not just a TV show. Since it premiered eight years ago, it has inspired countless articles, fan sites, podcasts and viewing parties. The show, based on the George R.R. Martin books, has been a boon for the bloggers and journalists who have made careers out of reporting on every development out of Westeros. But winter is coming for this community of superfans as the six-episode season starts this Sunday.

So, what now?

“I think that’s the question everyone’s asking themselves: what comes next?” Joanna Robinson, a senior writer at Vanity Fair, told CNN Business.

Robinson, who specializes in “Thrones” coverage for the magazine while also hosting three “Thrones” podcasts in her spare time, said that she’s written “likely hundreds of stories” about the show. That may seem normal now due to its popularity, but she explained that when she first started at Vanity Fair, she had an editor who told her that one “Thrones” story a week was more than enough.

“Now, there’s no such thing as too much ‘Game of Thrones’ content,” she said.

Robinson said the show definitely helped “elevate her career,” giving her opportunities she never expected, like writing a cover story on “Thrones” star Emilia Clarke. Robinson, however, isn’t too emotional about the series coming to an end — at least not yet.

“Talk to me again in a few weeks and maybe I’ll cry about the end of ‘Game of Thrones,'” she said. “But now there’s too much work to do.”

Other reporters, like Insider’s Kim Renfro, owe their entire career to the series.

“‘Game of Thrones’ changed my life entirely,” Renfro told CNN Business. “It gave me a career I would have never imagined.”

Renfro joined Business Insider as a temporary office assistant in 2014 with no intentions of going into journalism. However, her obsession with the series eventually got the attention of the editors at the business news outlet. They encouraged her to write about it for the site. Her first story “performed really well,” Renfro said, and she eventually became an entertainment correspondent for Business Insider and the “resident ‘Game of Thrones’ analyst.” (Disclosure: I worked with Renfro in 2014.)

She has since written hundreds of articles about the series (127 stories in season 7 alone, according to Renfro) and is now writing a book, which will serve as an unofficial guide to the franchise.

Renfro said that if it weren’t for the series, she’d likely be in grad school studying cultural anthropology.

“It’s incredibly bittersweet that it’s ending,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever have this experience again.”

Mainstream outlets aren’t the only ones covering “Thrones.” Fan sites like “Watchers on the Wall,” are serving up everything from spoilers to scoops.

“These sites allow fans a place to congregate and just completely let their freak flags fly,” Susan Miller, the site’s editor-in-chief, told CNN Business. “When we talk about the political structures of Westeros with our friends in real life, we get a lot of blank stares. The sites give us a community to just be ourselves.”

Miller says that even though the show is ending, there’s still plenty of the saga left to explore. That includes HBO’s upcoming “Thrones” spinoffs and Martin’s highly-anticipated — if not perpetually delayed — final two books.

Miller, who has a full-time job as an occupational therapy assistant, said “Watchers” came together in 2014 and now has a team of 12 writers.

“It changed my life in a sense that there were times where I absolutely lacked direction and having this website kind of gave me an anchor,” she said.

The site and series also helped Miller deal with the loss of her husband who died of a rare disease in 2008. The development of the series has “kind of mirrored my own development in recovering from a lot of grief,” she said.

Miller said covering the show over the past few years has been “a sort of terrific surprise.”

“I just thought it’d be a cool TV show to watch, so being where I am now is quite a shock,” she said.

“Thrones” has evolved into event television and some places like Chicago’s Burlington Bar have seized on that by opening its doors to fans who want a place to cheer and boo while watching the show.

Sean Loftus, Burlington’s manager, set up cameras around the bar in 2014 to capture reactions from patrons as they watched some of the most dramatic scenes. It was just “something fun” according to Loftus, but then his reaction video to the mind-blowing ending of the episode, “The Mountain and the Viper,” went viral on YouTube. More than 3.7 million people have watched it.

Loftus kept producing reaction videos and millions of people kept watching. He said his YouTube subscriber count went from “like 15 people” before the videos to nearly 150,000 now.

“Without this night I wouldn’t have started to build out my brand on YouTube, I wouldn’t have met this global community. Hell, I wouldn’t have met my current girlfriend,” Loftus said.

Now, Loftus and a whole world of fans must find a new show to obsess over.

“The ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ reaction videos have done really well, but it’s not on the same scale,” he said. “It’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice.”

Loftus said that once the show ends next month he’ll “weep into a big glass of whiskey.”

“It’s been a lovely bookmark in my life,” he said of the series. “It’s brought people together at a time when a lot of things are splitting people apart.”