David French offers at National Review Online one theory explaining why “Game of Thrones” has performed so well in today’s media world.

Tolkien’s world isn’t [George R.R.] Martin’s world. Whereas Tolkien’s work represented a literal journey with a fixed destination, Martin’s can feel like a treadmill of conflict where squabbling lords and ladies ignore looming threats and greater dangers for the sake of momentary advantage in a seemingly never-ending battle for control. The stakes can seem small — what’s the real difference for humanity between Lannister or Targaryen rule? — but the conflicts are still intense.

Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel might end after a hero defeats her enemies and frees entire cities’ worth of slaves, in Game of Thrones, Martin (and the show’s creators) ask, “What comes next?” And the answer, instead of a glorious celebration of freedom and liberty, is a period of chaos and vengeance.

Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel centers on the most honorable of heroes and writes him to victory against insurmountable odds, in Game of Thrones, the honorable hero loses his head unless he’s honorable and shrewd or honorable and violent. And whereas the typical high-fantasy novel casts its heroes and villains in clear and unmistakable terms, in Game of Thrones you sometimes find that your rooting interests evolve in interesting ways. Just as in life, people change — especially in response to shocking events.