Game of Thrones just roared back for its seventh season. And any way you want to slice it, HBO’s graphic fantasy series (based on George R.R. Martin’s books) is bigger than ever.
For starters, this season’s Thrones debut racked up the most viewers ever for the series, a whopping 16.1 million according to HBO (a number which combines live viewing, streaming and same-day DVR watching). That’s almost double Season 6’s finale numbers of 8.89 million. It’s HBO’s biggest debut ever, too. And Thrones‘ popularity isn’t confined to America, with Time magazine dubbing it “the world’s most popular show” and Salon labeling it the “first global blockbluster.”
It’s so popular, in fact, that British singer Ed Sheeran managed to finagle a cameo in the opening episode—a development not everyone was thrilled with. And, as is often the case, the series’ return also marked the return of statistical analyses and think pieces parsing Thrones‘ content and themes. The Washington Post counted up the fairly large number of folks who’ve perished since the show’s inception (1,243, not counting this season’s premier). Another Time article examined how the show is “changing how scholars study the Middle Ages.” Slate’s Rachel Withers looked at the series’ strong female characters, cautioning that the men in the show shouldn’t take them lightly: “The Season 7 opener was full of powerful women taking charge. Westeros—from the newly arrived queen in Dragonstone to the newly crowned queen in King’s Landing—has become a matriarchy. And yet, the world of Game of Thrones is one in which, much like our own, men fail to take women seriously, often at their own peril.”
Elsewhere in entertainment news this week, director George Romero died at the age of 77. Romero might not enjoy the directorial name recognition of, say, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas or Martin Scorsese. That said, his legacy as the originator of the modern zombie-movie genre (starting with his iconic indie effort Night of the Living Dead back in 1968) continues to shamble forward today. Fellow horror director Eli Roth (Hostel) parsed the subtexts in Romero’s films, saying via Twitter, ” Romero used genre to confront racism 50 years ago. He always had diverse casts, with Duane Jones as the heroic star of NOTLD. … You can trace a direct line from NOTLD to Get Out. And … Romero created the modern zombie. The infectious bite. Shoot the head. Everything.”
Another pop culture icon made history this week, too. The next actor to play the title character on BBC’s Doctor Who was announced: Jodie Whittaker. She’ll be the first woman to play the Doctor, a role that stretches all the way back to 1963. Executive producer Chris Chibnall said of the decision, “I always knew I wanted the 13th Doctor to be a woman and we’re thrilled to have secured our No. 1 choice. The 13th Doctor is on her way.”
On the subject of sexuality in culture this week, actress Charlize Theron is thrilled with her character’s explicit bisexuality in the forthcoming R-rated actioner Atomic Blonde. “I just loved it,” she told Variety magazine. “For so many reasons: My frustration of how that community is represented in cinema, or lack thereof. And also, it made perfect sense. It just suited her.”
And then there’s rapper R. Kelly. This week, Buzzfeed reported on parents of young women who they say the rapper is allegedly holding against their will in what amounts to a “cult.” Commenting on the article for The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber notes that celebrities—even those with a record as blemished as R. Kelly’s—are often given a pass when it comes to their alleged misdeeds: “Why, then, would any parent let their daughter near him? The answer presented in [Buzzfeed] piece offers a chilling look at the way that fame and the legal system can create a cloak of impunity for men who use their influence to untoward personal ends. A parent might not let their daughter near the guy down the street who’d been repeatedly accused—even if not convicted—of sex crimes. But ongoing superstar status, seemingly, acts as its own kind of character witness.”
Over on the big screen, smoking has been making a comeback over the last seven years. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report indicates that depictions of tobacco use—including cigarette smoking, cigars, pipes, hookahs and smokeless tobacco products—has shot up 72% between 2010 and 2016, with the films La La Land and 10 Cloverfield Lane being recent examples called out in the report. That surge of smoking depiction—causally linked to teens taking up the habit, according to the New York Post—has led to renewed calls to give films with smoking an automatic R-rating. Separate research, meanwhile, has again reinforced the apparent connection between teen use of marijuana and vulnerability to psychosis.
Finally this week, there are some new top dogs in several music-related categories. Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s Furious 7 soundtrack song “See You Again” eclipsed South Korean singer PSY’s viral hit “Gangnam Style” as the most-watched video ever on YouTube, with nearly 2.9 billion views. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s smash hit “Despacito” (which is almost entirely in Spanish except for one verse from guest contributor Justin Bieber) became the most-streamed song ever, with 4.6 billion digital spins. Hip-hop has officially eclipsed rock as the most popular musical genre in America. And songs about sex are now more common than songs about love, according to research reported by The Federalist’s G. Shane Morris.