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Do We All Really Want Violence on TV? A Study Using Game of Thrones Data, Part 1

If you’ve not heard of the TV series Game of Thrones, you must have been living on Mars for the past few years! An adaptation of the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, the show is an epic tale of the political conflicts and wars between noble houses in the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos over who sits in the Iron Throne, and thus rules the whole realm. (It was the most pirated TV show for the third consecutive year in 2014, according to the TorrentFreak web site.)

Not only is the show extremely popular, it’s also extremely violent.

When every seasons starts, the first question fans usually ask is, “Which character are they going to kill off this season?” In fact, I suspect the number of deaths in each episode—and their impact on the series story line—is a key reason why so many of us (me included) are hooked on the show. I decided to investigate this further using Minitab Statistical Software.

From the genius.com web site (http://genius.com/Game-of-thrones-list-of-game-of-thrones-deaths-annotated), I obtained data on the number of key deaths in each episode of Game of Thrones up to now. And I managed to get the viewer numbers for each episode from Wikipedia. These viewing statistics are based on each episode’s initial airing on HBO in the U.S.

Here is a snapshot of the data in Minitab.

First, I am going to plot the data by unstacking it, so that I end up with one column of data per season, as shown below. If you’re following along in Minitab, go to Data > Unstack Columns.

I then plot the data using the Time Series plot functionality (Graph > Time Series Plot…).

Time Series Plot of Views for Game of Thrones

You can see that the show has definitely increased in popularity each season.

For seasons 1 and 2, the fluctuation in the viewer numbers seemed to be quite steady for the first few episodes, with a slight dip for episode 9 before a higher viewing of the finale. However, in seasons 3 and 4 the viewing numbers were higher for the earlier episodes rather than those at the end of the season. This could be due to the way the storylines went in these seasons, with key events spread out across many episodes rather than clustered in the penultimate or final episodes.

For season 5, which many viewers believe diverged significantly from the books, we saw peak viewing numbers at the beginning and the end of the season. The dip in viewers after episode 6 could be due to a controversial scene in that episode involving the character Sansa Stark. In episode 7, we saw the long-anticipated first meeting of two key characters, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen. However, this did not have any positive impact on the viewing. Perhaps fans needed time to recover from trauma!

In my next post, I’ll show you how to use this data to create a model that helps predict viewing numbers

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