The Critical Fan Toolkit

Game of Thrones Fandom By Numbers Storyboards

Below are a series of data visualizations created using Tableau Workbooks. You can make each visualization full screen by clicking the "Full screen" button on the bottom right corner on each.

If you are using a screenreader, these workbooks may not be screenreader friendly. However, I have included a description before each visualization to describe the data trends so you can interact with the data and findings.


Fanfiction Publishing Trends by Year

These descriptions are also available on the visualizations themselves.

The top graph shows the publishing trend of GOT fanfiction published on Archive of Our Own across the years. The first GOT fanfics were published in 2006. No more data was collected after October 2019. The bottom graph shows how many fics were published on specific weeks.

There were a few fics published before the show aired because the show is based off the GOT fantasy novel series written by George R.R. Martin, so there was content to work with. As the publishing trends show, there was a steady increase of publishing after the first season aired (2011), which makes sense because there is more textual content to work with and the show was actually being aired, thus reaching a larger audience than the novels did. There is a bit of a drop in the publishing rate increase during 2018, as there was no season that aired during this time. While fans were still writing and publishing fanfic, there was less new content to work with.


Romantic Categories by Season

These descriptions are also available on the visualizations themselves.

On AO3, fan autors choose the types of romantic relationships that will appear in their text based on characters' genders. This metadata helps with discoverability, as readers can more easily discover stories with relationship categories they want to read or avoid.

These categories are:

  • F/M: Female/Male,
  • Gen: No Romantic Relationships,
  • M/M: Male/Male,
  • F/F: Female/Female ,
  • Multi: Multiple types of relationships ,
  • Other: Relationships that do not fit in these labels .

f/m is "Female/Male," or a heterosexual relationship. Game of Thrones fanfiction writers heavily favor F/M relationships over every other type of relationships, demonstrating the heteronormative values in the community. Game of Thrones has mostly straight characters, so this trend in the fanfiction community is not necessarily a surprise. Most of the GoT LGBTQ+ characters were killed off in brutal ways, and there is almost no lesbian representation on the show.

"Gen" is the second most popular relationship category across the 8 seasons. "Gen" signifies there will be no romantic relationships in the fic, implying writers are focusing on developing other types of stories that are not romantic. This is a surprising pattern, as most fan communities center around ships ("shipping" means pairing different characters together).

GOT the show does not necessarily value romance; there is much more of a focus on politics and war, rather than romance. However, this narrative focus has not stopped fans in the past. One example is from one of the most popular ships and fandoms researched in fan studies: Star Trek and Kirk/Spok. Even though Star Trek does not focus on romance, many of the fans value romance. M/M Relationship Category

The third most popular relationship category is M/M, or male/male. Surprisingly, this pattern does not resonate with larger fandoms. Between Kirk/Spok, Bakugo/Midoriya, and Harry/Malfoy, some of the most popular ships are M/M. Early fan scholars, such as Joanna Russe, argued the focus on M/M was originally because of the lack of well-developed women characters in mainstream cultural materials.

There are a few gay characters in Game of Thrones, including Sir Loras, have a form of LGBTQ-specific violence enacted upon them (like Sir Loras receiving a form of conversion therapy). However, the universe is fairly heteronormative.


Fanfiction Character Trends Across Seasons

These descriptions are also available on the visualizations themselves.

This first visualization is the top 60 characters used in the Game of Thrones fanfics. On the website, this visualization can be scrolled through and the user can enter in specific character names in whom the user is interested.

Across most of the seasons, Sansa Stark is the top character chosen in the Archive of Our Own fanfics, suggesting she is one of the most beloved characters in the fandom. Sansa's story begins with her wanting nothing more than to marry a prince and live happily ever after. Her identity is heavily invested in pleasing men, particular her potential suitor. As she grows and survives several acts of violence, she emerges with a new perspective on her identity, her role in the world, and who she wants to be.

As the high use of her tag demonstrates, many fanfic writers relate to Sansa. Sansa's story arc mirrors many ciswomen's (particularly straight or bisexual ciswomen) experiences growing up: at young ages, particular gender expectations are placed upon us around marriage and how we identify ourselves. She breaks free from these expectations, although she unfortunately had to survive so much violence to do so.

GOT is not known for its progressive politics around race. In fact, the lack of characters of color and focus on white characters suggest the show is replicating white supremacy. The speculative fiction genre has received criticism for its white supremacy in both academic and popular communities, and Game of Thrones is not excused from this. In a famous scene, Daenerys (played by Emilia Clarke, who is white) is carried across a sea of brown bodies and hands; she perfectly fits the “White Savior” narrative.

While this dissertation is invested in combating white supremacy, this visualization demonstrates how white supremacy is interlaced in the GoT fandom, as well. I use the results from “Sansa” to compare how often characters played by people of color appear, including Oberyn Martell, Missandei, and Khal Drogo. A majority of the fanfics published do not include characters of color.

Missandei and Grey Worm are some of the only characters played by actors of color who consistently appear on the show. Missandei, played by Nathalie Emmanuel, was enslaved at a young age and together with Daenerys, freed herself and other enslaved people across Slaver’s Bay. Her hope is to free all those who are enslaved across the world. While she appears frequently in the show, she is used much less in fanfiction. On the most used character list, she is 33rd. GOT has a huge cast, yet Missandei’s and Grey Worm's stories and personalities are important and fascinating.

When Missandei, played by Nathalie Emmanuel, is first introduced, she is enslaved. She quickly befriends Daenerys and together, they free all those who are enslaved at Slaver’s Bay. Grey Worm, played by Jacob Anderson, is the commander of the Unsullied army, an army of people who were enslaved to fight. Missandei and Grey Worm fall in love and have consistently one of the healthiest relationships depicted in the show. Grey Worm was conditioned by the Unsullied to not show love and affection, yet together with Missandei, he unlearns this conditioning.

To read more about fans' responses and uptakes of Missandei, read the "Missandei Deserves Better" case study!