STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
You may think it's the middle of summer, but this weekend there will be a dramatic change of seasons.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GAME OF THRONES")
SOPHIE TURNER: (As Sansa Stark) Jon, a raven came from the citadel - a white raven. Winter is here.
INSKEEP: That's the character of Sansa Stark from the HBO series "Game Of Thrones" teeing up the seventh season of what is said to be the most-watched TV show in the world. If you haven't seen it, it's a fantasy series. Rival kingdoms battle for power in a medieval world of castles and swordplay and dragons and dark magic. Now, when times grow dark and the situation grim, we have one go-to source for serious analysis - Peter Sagal. host of the NPR quiz show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, also co-host of a "Game Of Thrones" podcast that is called Nerdette Recaps Game Of Thrones With Peter Sagal.
So we're going to talk about "Game Of Thrones," this brutal TV series that, as I understand it, is based on NPR office politics, if I'm not mistaken.
PETER SAGAL, BYLINE: It absolutely is.
INSKEEP: Inspired by it.
SAGAL: As you know, you and I, of course, have probably watched it together and seen the savagery, the violence, the betrayals, the incest and said, oh, just another day at work.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) But then you go home and you need more of it on television, Peter Sagal.
SAGAL: I know, yeah, exactly. I am a huge fan of the show. And I think it's in part because, like the creators of the show, who are more or less my age - I'm 52 right now - I grew up on fantasy - Tolkien. I was 12 when "Star Wars" came out.
INSKEEP: Oh, like "Lord Of The Rings" and that kind of stuff.
SAGAL: Oh, all that stuff. And to see "Game Of Thrones" - to read the books, which I have a number of times, and to see the show - is to see that genre that we all grew up with sort of brought forth into a kind of adult world. We were children when we read "The Lord Of The Rings." We're adults watching and reading "Game Of Thrones" now, and that's extremely satisfying.
INSKEEP: Have you been following it since season one?
SAGAL: I have. I was sitting in front of my TV in the attic at the premiere, yes. I was right there.
INSKEEP: In the attic at the premiere. That sounds kind of...
SAGAL: Well, that's where nerds go to watch TV.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) You weren't allowed anywhere else in the house with this material.
SAGAL: No, no, no. It was like, you know, he has to go upstairs and watch his funny thing with naked ladies and swords. Kids, pay no attention.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) So you've been following all along, which leads to a question. I haven't been following all along. I would imagine many people listening, surprisingly perhaps to you, have not been following all along.
SAGAL: What is wrong with them?
INSKEEP: I've seen enough to know that it's extraordinarily complicated, lots of characters coming and going. Is it too late even to catch up on this series?
SAGAL: Oh, yes. I cannot recommend anybody - if you haven't seen "Game Of Thrones," do not - I repeat, do not - sit down and start watching the first episode of season seven this Sunday night. You will be confused. You will be bored. You will be annoyed and irritated. But I have a test for you. If you want to find out if you like this stuff, this story specifically, pick up the first book and read right up into and through I think it's the fourth chapter. You'll know whether you love this or not. I did. I read it. And I was 15 years old again when I was walking around with my Tolkien paperbacks literally walking into walls because I wasn't looking where I was going. That's what I became again as a tired, old man reading this book. I could not put it down.
INSKEEP: That's what you were like at age 15? Walking into walls while...
SAGAL: Yes. You know, and it's those light concussive blows that lead to a career in public radio, as you know.
INSKEEP: In all fairness, you might have bumped into me at some point.
SAGAL: It's possible. That was basically - we might have known each other all the time just wandering around staring at our nerd paperbacks.
SAGAL: And here we are, however many decades later. Oh, I thought I recognized your feet.
INSKEEP: Someday we'll compare old bruises or whatever.
INSKEEP: So help me out here a little bit or help people out here.
INSKEEP: I mean, this is like a world that's kind of a medieval world...
INSKEEP: ...Not quite the real world. There's a map of what looks to me, Peter, like maybe a map of Europe and of Great Britain as it might have been drawn by map makers before they had satellites or navigational tools or really very good at map-making.
SAGAL: Yes. The books and stories and TV show takes place in a fictional world, a continent called Westeros, which has a lot in common with kind of high-medieval Europe - the same kind of swords and knights and tourneys and castles setting that seems to be familiar to - with all of fantasy. For some reason, high fantasy gets set in, like, circa 1300.
SAGAL: And brilliantly, they have physically realized this world using a combination of costume design, art direction and a lot of CGI. I mean, they use real settings, everywhere from Iceland to the coast of Croatia, but they added a tremendous amount of CGI so it looks like a real place, this vast continent called Westeros. And also another one called Essos. Don't write in, nerds.
INSKEEP: (Laughter) Wait a minute, he forgot the other continent.
SAGAL: I know. Excuse me, dear...
INSKEEP: Somebody has already sent that tweet and now they're going to have to...
SAGAL: ...Dear NPR - yes, I know. We like to correct, we nerds.
INSKEEP: So I have to ask, since season seven is beginning. I'm thinking of the famous phrase jump the shark, the moment in a series where they kind of run out of sensible ideas and start doing silly things just to keep it going. Has the series jumped the shark?
SAGAL: I don't think so. I think that they have, in fact, more so than almost any other TV show that I can remember, kept true to the things that made it good from the beginning. In fact, when this world was invented by George R.R. Martin, he had this rather complete vision of both the world he was writing about - this incredibly complex, fake world - and where he wanted it to go. So he laid out rails for them that the TV showrunners have kept on, even though now they've actually gone beyond where the last published book is.
INSKEEP: So one other thing, Peter. I've heard people use the phrase in ordinary life, in a business situation or talking about news events, it's like "Game Of Thrones." And I think they mean it's a situation where it's brutally competitive and people could be killed off - really or metaphorically - at any time.
INSKEEP: But you've really thought really hard about this series.
SAGAL: I really have, Steve.
INSKEEP: Is that what it's really about, is - just the ruthless human competition? Or is it about something bigger and deeper?
SAGAL: One of the exciting things about "Game Of Thrones," both as books and as a TV show, it reflects a world, the world in which we live in, in which good guys do not always win, in which the just result - the result that you wish for - is not the result you get, in which justice is completely arbitrary and in which basically anything can happen at any time. And I think - well, I don't need, I think, to refer too obliquely to current events...
SAGAL: ...To indicate that maybe...
INSKEEP: Can't imagine where you're going with this.
SAGAL: ...That it is a more realistic view of the real world than we've been heretofore offered in our entertainment.
INSKEEP: Peter Sagal, host of NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me and also the podcast Nerdette Recaps Game Of Thrones With Peter Sagal, oddly enough. Peter, thanks very much.
SAGAL: Thank you, Steve.
(SOUNDBITE OF RAMIN DJAWADI'S "'GAME OF THRONES' MAIN THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.