It has been an extraordinary hit. With fans in 170 countries and said to be the most pirated programme in TV history, the team behind Game of Thrones must be astonished by its growing and global success. Excitement is already building for the sixth series which starts broadcasting in April.
Given its worldwide impact, it is no surprise that any programme featuring swords, exotic landscapes, big casts and even bigger story lines finds itself compared to Game of Thrones. And that’s certainly been the case with the Kazakh Khanate TV drama.
No Kazakh TV programme before has ever received such international attention. There has been coverage in papers and websites around the world – and that’s before the lavish series has even been shown. Broadcast is scheduled for this spring.
But there is one fundamental difference, of course, between the events depicted in Game of Thrones and its Kazakh counterpart. While the hugely successful HBO epic is very much a work of fantasy, Kazakh Khanate is based on the real story of how our country came to be formed.
It means that the writers did not have the opportunity to introduce dragons to spice up the plot. But, fortunately, for the show’s creators the early history of Kazakhstan has enough twists and turns of its own to grab audiences without the need for mythical creatures.
The series shows how, as the Mongol-led Golden Horde disintegrated, charismatic leaders brought their tribes people to settle in what is now Kazakhstan. It is a land that got its name, literally, from being the home of “outsiders” from the Uzbek nomadic clans they left.
Over 10 programmes, it reveals how the Kazakhs fought to protect their land from outside enemies and, through trial, forged a strong and lasting identity. There are enough heroes, villains, battle scenes and intrigues in this real story to keep everyone satisfied without the need for fire-eating dragons.
It is a history, too, which, during Soviet times, lay largely untold. The focus during this period was on a much more modern, common narrative. So the series continues the education process which got such a big boost from the successful celebrations around the 550th anniversary of the Kazakh Khanate last year.
This is important. Knowing and understanding the origins of a country and its citizens is vital for the health and growth of all nations. A better knowledge of this history gives a society a stronger platform for progress.
What is extraordinary, in many ways, for a country that only gained independence 25 years ago and a population made up of so many different ethnic groups, is the strong sense of national purpose and pride already found in Kazakhstan. These are qualities that have been critical in building a modern nation from the most difficult of beginnings and in the face of many subsequent challenges.
But we can’t be complacent. It would be foolish, of course, to place too much focus on a TV series that has to mix facts with drama. But if it can play its part in raising interest in the beginnings of our nation, it will have the positive impact its creators want which goes beyond entertainment.
It is not just within Kazakhstan, of course, that the series will bring benefits. Talks are already underway with a variety of foreign TV stations who want to show it to their own audiences. This will help increase knowledge and interest in our country, which can only be good.
The series should also have a more direct economic impact by showcasing the natural beauty of our country. The series was filmed in southern Kazakhstan where the incredible landscapes are certain to make a big impression.
The popularity of Game of Thrones has already led to a big increase in tourism in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Malta, Spain, Croatia and Morocco as the show’s fans have travelled to see the real locations used in the series. Increased visits to Northern Ireland, whose landscapes feature heavily, have played a major part in what has been estimated as a $100 million boost to the local economy the show has brought.
No one should be surprised by these figures. Research showed that in 2014 around 45 million people chose their holiday destination because they saw it featured on a film or TV programme. As Kazakh Khanate is shown to foreign audiences, we can expect more people to discover our country’s natural beauty for themselves. It’s another reason to sit back and enjoy the series.