Entertainment & Arts

Column: A ‘Game of Thrones’ event at an AT&T store? The night is dark and full of terrors indeed

GAME OF THRONES episode 34 (season 4, episode 4): Kristian Nairn. photo: Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO
“Should I upgrade or wait?” wonders Hodor.
(Helen Sloan / HBO)
Culture columnist/critic

Anyone wondering about the future of HBO under its new AT&T overlords should take a glance at the press release that snuck into my inbox on Wednesday.

“HBO’s ‘Dragon Wagon’ lands at AT&T’s Boston flagship store,” it said, “giving fans a chance to ride in style to the ‘Game of Thrones’ final season world premiere in New York City.”

Apparently, folks who visit the big AT&T store in Boston on Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. can enter a sweepstakes and possibly win tickets to the April 3 New York premiere of “Game of Thrones,” to which they will arrive in style on “HBO’s ‘Dragon Wagon’ (luxury bus).”

As an added bonus, those arriving at noon Tuesday might meet Kristian Nairn, who played Hodor, who will be taking photos and, yes, it’s true even if I personally CANNOT STAND IT, “holding the door.”


Obviously, the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros would have lived in perfect harmony if only they had had access to AT&T’s family plan (though frankly, the roaming charges of the Stark children alone would have been fairly steep, and how many bars can you reasonably expect beyond the Wall?).

But unless AT&T is announcing a new bundle that includes messages sent by ravens, this is the kind of thing that happens when too many people use the word “synergy” in too many meetings.

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Which is not to say I would not rush to Boyle Street if I were anywhere near Boston, if only to tell Nairn how much I loved his remarkable seasons-long performance and how the Hodor-sized hole left in the show and my heart can never be filled.


But really? You’re going to make him hold the door of an AT&T store?

The HBO marketing team has always pushed its number one to its limits.The “Game of Thrones” Exhibition, which began seven years ago with some costumes and props, quickly became an international sensation that included such things as a virtual reality experience of taking the elevator to the top of the Wall.

As for activations, which have taken the marketing world by storm, HBO was an early and ardent adapter. At last year’s SXSW, they worked with Giant Spoon to create a version of the “Westworld” theme park (sans actual murderous robots). This year, the “Game of Thrones” exhibit was just as fully immersive but with a different partner — the Red Cross — and a public service message — donate blood. Or, in the parlance of the show “Bleed for the Throne.”

So I guess there’s precedence for a “Dragon Wagon.” But there is also no denying the low-tech (and seemingly hurried creation) of the Boston event or, more important, the stunningly discordant nature of the two brands (although you could argue that bad marriages are one theme of “Thrones”).

AT&T has every right to leverage one business to aid another, but it only works if the match-up doesn’t seem ridiculous. And a “Game of Thrones” event held at an AT&T store is ridiculous, the kind of aggressive state of ownership that one would expect from Joffrey Lannister or Ramsay Bolton, which cannot be the characters with whom AT&T wants to identify.

As more conglomerates obtain networks and studios, I suppose we should expect more of this — will every show on the new Apple Network feature Apple products? Will F/X shows like “American Horror Story” or “Atlanta” now include the obligatory “in which they all go to Disneyland” episode? With “Veep,” also entering its final season, will Selena Meyer be hosting an event at the D.C. flagship store?

Actually, that’s an activation that would be on brand.