Data Viz reveals why Game of Thrones season 5 most popular

By Eshan Wickrema and Lachlan James

Why are we addicted to Game of Thrones? Is it the imaginative and multifaceted nature of the narrative? Enthralling character development? The fantastical landscapes and romanticized settings? The unabashed brutality and rawness? Or even the frequent nudity (we can offer a data-based guide to the last question: Data visualization ‘exposes’ nudity in Game of Thrones)?

And, more particularly, what was it about Game of Thrones season five that made it the most watched and highly rated season yet (Data visualization shows most popular Game of Thrones Season)?

There’s been much made of the differences between the book and television series, so how do those deviations impact popularity?

Game of Thrones deviations from George RR Martin’s novels vs viewer ratings on IMDb per episode

Source: Viewer ratings data was taken from IMDb, while data regarding deviations between George RR Matin’s novels and the HBO Game of Thrones series was sourced from


  • There appears to be no clear correlation between the number of deviations per episode and viewer ratings per episode
    • Example 1 (high number of deviations): There have been numerous instances where episodes have contained a large number of deviations, but have got comparatively low IMDb ratings.
      • Conversely, there have been numerous instances where episodes have contained a large number of deviations, and have received comparatively high IMDb ratings.
    • Example 2 (low number of deviations): The series also contains many examples where episodes have closely mirrored the happenings in the book series, but have received relatively low IMDb ratings.
      • On the other end of the scale, many other episodes – that also contained a comparatively small number of changes – rated highly on IMDb.
  • There is also no definitive association between the total number of deviations per season and the average rating per season.

Game of Thrones fans appear to assess deviations on their merits
Using Business Intelligence software and data visualization, we can determine that there appears to be no discernable pattern in viewer ratings on IMDb when compared to the number of plot deviations between HBO’s Game of Thrones series and George RR Martin’s series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire.

GoT episodes with a high number of deviations from the corresponding portions of Martin’s novels have received both comparatively high and low ratings by viewers on IMDb. For example, the first episode of season three, Valar Dohaeris, contained 43 differences from the book and was rated a relatively low 8.1 by viewers on IMDb. Conversely, episode nine in season three (The Rains of Castamere – also famous known as the ’Red Wedding’) also contained 43 deviations from the book series, but was the second highest rating episode to date on IMDb (9.7).

On the other end of the scale, HBO’s GoT series also contains many examples where episodes have closely mirrored the events of the book series, receiving a wide range of relatively high and low IMDb ratings. The sixth episode of season five (Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken) comprised just 12 deviations from Martin’s novels and received the equal lowest score of the entire series on IMDb (7.8). The fifth season also provides a prominent example of the opposite, with episode eight (Hardhome) incorporating the lowest number of changes of any episode to date (6), while simultaneously receiving the highest rating of any episode on IMDb (9.9).

Additionally, there is also appears to be no definitive association between the total number of deviations per season and the average rating per season:

  • Deviations from novels:
    • Season 1: 236 total deviations, average of 23.6 per episode
    • Season 2: 224 total deviations, average of 22.4 per episode
    • Season 3: 352 total deviations, average of 35.2 per episode
    • Season 4: 230 total deviations, average of 23 per episode
    • Season 5: 122 total deviations, average of 12.2 per episode
  • Average rating per season (according to IMDb):
    • Season 1: Average per episode IMDb rating of 8.45
    • Season 2: Average per episode IMDb rating of 8.25
    • Season 3: Average per episode IMDb rating of 8.33
    • Season 4: Average per episode IMDb rating of 8.76
    • Season 5: Average per episode IMDb rating of 8.78

Putting the first two seasons aside, it’s possible to discern a potential trend from seasons three – five. Seasons three through to five have seen a decrease in the total number of deviations from Martin’s original works, and a simultaneous increase in the average rating awarded by viewers on IMDb. However, even this apparent partial correlation is problematic. The data assessing the differences between the books and the TV series was taken from HERE >

The major limitation is that the number of changes, between the books and the HBO series, is simply counted – it does not account for the impact or comparative substantive nature of each change: “Note these changes include major and minor differences as identified by the fans from the books so far in the series. Major plot changes are usually counted as one, once they occur. Small changes counted can range from a change in the physical depiction of characters (eg: Cersei having her head completely shaved off in the books) to subtle differences in personalities, moods or motives of various characters actions.”

For example, season five contained the fewest number of changes compared to the books. However, many fans would argue that the plot of season five was actually the furthest from the book series, containing several fundamental changes – including episode eight, Hardhome, which featured the unwritten siege of the Wildlings settlement. For details, see our blog Data Visualization: Game of Thrones seasons 5 most divisive.

Additionally, because season five contained several significant plot deviations, some smaller details were simply incorporated into those broader changes (and were therefore counted as one deviation).

So, if counting and comparing the number of deviations from Martin’s novels is an unreliable way to determine the underpinning factors that made GoT season five the most highly rated yet, what is?

Major character deaths per season vs average viewer ratings on IMDb per season

Source: Data for major character deaths per season was obtained from the
Disclaimer: This data assumes that Stannis Baratheon and Jon Snow have actually been killed (there is much fan speculation and suspicion regarding the finality of these apparent ‘deaths’)


  • There seems to be a strong correlation between the number main characters who die per season and the average IMDb viewer ratings per season
    • Essentially, the more main characters killed each season, the higher viewers rated that season

Are we simply subconsciously baying for blood?
We’re all still in a state of bereavement and disbelief. Has Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his luscious locks really deprived us of their presence on a permanent basis? If we take this at face value, and assume that Kit ain’t comin’ back, it makes for some interesting data analysis. Nonetheless, fans would be buoyed by Kit’s courtside appearance at Wimbledon, in which he’s still sporting Snow’s curly crop.

Whatever the case, it appears as though, despite our apparent grief, we actually feed off the shocking demise of seemingly central characters. That is, the higher the main character head count per season, the higher the average rating per season.

For example, season two saw the fewest main characters killed (1 – Renly Baratheon) and received the lowest average rating of any season (8.25). And, the two most popular seasons – season four (8.76 IMDb rating) and season five (8.78 IMDb rating) – contained the equal highest number of central character deaths (7 apiece). Additionally, while not a perfect match, the two seasons with middle-of-the-range IMDb ratings – season one (8.45) and season three (8.33) – also contained a middling number of main character deaths (4 and 5 respectively).

So what does the apparent trend say about us? Do we thrive on the controversy of character upheaval? Or are we simply a bunch of sadists at heart?

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