Transcending Barriers: Viewing Practices of "Games of Thrones" in China, India, and Russia

David Weng


“Game of Thrones,” an epic fantasy TV series based on George R.R. Martin’s novels, emerged as a global phenomenon, captivating audiences worldwide with its intricate plot and rich storytelling. The show follows several simultaneous plot lines, with the first story arc revolving around a war of succession among competing claimants for control of the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Critics have praised the series for its acting, complex characters, story, scope, and production values, although its frequent use of nudity and violence generated controversy. “Game of Thrones” attracted a record viewership on HBO and has a broad, active, and international fan base, with many critics and publications naming it one of the greatest television series of all time. Its popularity transcended geographical boundaries, but the means of accessing the series varied significantly across different regions, particularly in countries where official broadcasting was either delayed or unavailable. This research aims to uncover the viewing practices and experiences in China, India, and Russia during the pre streaming era, offering a comprehensive understanding of how audiences in these countries navigated the challenges of accessing this widely acclaimed series. In many developing countries, access to Western media content often faced hurdles such as censorship, delayed releases, and language barriers. As a result, audiences resorted to alternative means to satisfy their viewing needs. This phenomenon presents an intriguing research opportunity to study the impact of socio-cultural and technological factors on media consumption outside the conventional frameworks of legal broadcasting and streaming services.

This research aims to uncover the viewing practices and experiences in China, India, and Russia during the pre-streaming era, offering a comprehensive understanding of how audiences in these countries navigated the challenges of accessing this widely acclaimed series. Our methodology includes surveys distributed through fan forums and social media platforms, blog and user feedback analysis, and cross-verification of survey responses with online discussions. We explore the impact of socio-cultural and technological factors on media consumption outside the conventional frameworks of legal broadcasting and streaming services. Expected findings suggest significant reliance on pirated content, the role of fan-made translations, and the influence of censorship and digital divides on viewing habits.

Research Design and Methodology

This research identified fans of “Game of Thrones” as our target audience. A survey was posted in fan forums and reddit-like platforms in China, India, and Russia, asking for volunteers for this study. International students at UBC from these countries were also invited. 

Research on Blog and User Feedback is also done by scouring blogs, tweets, Reddit posts, and forums for discussions related to “Game of Thrones” in the target countries.

Research Objects and Reasons

  • China: Known for its stringent censorship and control over foreign media, currently in a conflict between legalization and a strong and spontaneous fan base. 
  • India: With its vast linguistic diversity and digital divide, it presents a unique case of communal viewing and adaptation to available media channels.
  • Russia: Its strong online fan communities and reliance on fan-made translations provide insights into the cultural localization of foreign media.

Research ethics

The methods involved in this study include survey, blog research, user feedback. The survey was conducted under TCPS 2, participants understood the study’s purpose and their role. Consent forms and research explanations were provided in the relevant languages, and participant identities were kept confidential. As piracy is a sensitive topic, researcher maintained a non-judgmental approach and focused on experiences rather than legalities, and participants were informed of their right to withdraw at any point without consequences.

Context of the Text

“Game of Thrones” TV series, while globally popular and critically acclaimed, its accessibility varied across regions. In countries like China, India, and Russia, viewers often resorted to pirated content and fan-made translations due to factors like censorship and delayed official releases. This wide-ranging accessibility, paired with its mainstream success, makes “Game of Thrones” a pertinent text for exploring diverse audience behaviours and adaptations in the global media context.

The audience cohort for “Game of Thrones” in China, India, and Russia embodies the characteristics of various community forms. They engage as interpretive communities, actively creating fan-made subtitles and delving into the series’ plot intricacies across diverse platforms. Emotionally, they form affective communities, as evidenced by the passionate discussions and deep attachments within fan forums and online groups. Moreover, this audience transcends geographical boundaries, forming an imagined community united by a shared interest in “Game of Thrones,” regardless of their disparate access methods. Predominantly, this cohort represents a fandom characterized by enthusiastic and voluntary engagement with the series, extending beyond mere viewership to include content creation like fan-made subtitles and art. Simultaneously, in aspects such as pirated content and fan translations, they signify a subculture that operates in parallel to the mainstream, offering an alternative engagement mode with the media. Although “Game of Thrones” is mainstream, the audience’s alternative engagement methods position them in opposition to normative practices, particularly in regions experiencing stringent media control and censorship.


  • Language Barriers: Overcoming language barriers, especially in forum and social media posts, was a challenge.
  • Diverse Platforms: The vast range of online platforms and forums made it challenging to comprehensively cover all relevant discussions.


Clear Instructions: Clear instructions were provided at the beginning of the survey to guide respondents and ensure they understood each question’s intent.  

Open-Ended Questions: Open-ended questions in the survey allowed for richer, more nuanced responses, providing deeper understanding into the audience’s perspectives. These questions were designed to elicit detailed accounts of viewing practices and experiences. Examples of open-ended questions included:

“Can you describe how you accessed ‘Game of Thrones’ in your country before it was officially available?”
“What were the main challenges you faced while trying to watch ‘Game of Thrones’?”
“How did you perceive the quality and accuracy of fan-made subtitles compared to official translations?”
“What role did online communities play in your viewing experience of ‘Game of Thrones’?”

Rationale for Selecting Research Methods

  • Surveys: Surveys were chosen to gather quantitative and qualitative data from a broad audience. They provided structured responses that could be statistically analyzed while also allowing for personal narratives through open ended questions.
  • Blog Research: Scouring blogs, tweets, Reddit posts, and forums provided insights into real-time discussions and opinions about “Game of Thrones.” This method captured the dynamic and organic nature of fan interactions and opinions.
  • User Feedback Analysis: Analyzing user feedback helped cross-verify survey responses and provided a more comprehensive picture of the viewing practices. It ensured that the findings were consistent and reliable, reflecting genuine audience experiences

Cross-Verification: Responses from surveys were cross-verified with findings from blog and user feedback research to ensure consistency and reliability of result.

Research Context

Audience Adaptation and Global Distribution Strategies

Building on Ramon Lobato’s “The Proxy Wars” from “Netflix Nations” and “Rethinking International TV Flows Research in the Age of Netflix,” this analysis of “Game of Thrones” viewing practices in China, India, and Russia provides a nuanced perspective on global media distribution and audience adaptation. Lobato’s research uncovers the intricate dynamics of digital platforms and how they interact with local audience behaviors, offering a critical lens to comprehend the unique viewing phenomena in these regions.

Technology's Role in Media Access

Sue Turnbull’s work in “Media Audiences” delves into the intricate ways technology shapes and influences media access and audience behaviour. It examines how technological factors play a pivotal role in the way audiences engage with and access media content. (Turnbull, 2020)


Adrian Athique’s concept of “Transnationalism,” as detailed in his work “Transnational Audiences,” is pivotal in understanding the global dissemination and local reception of media content like “Game of Thrones.” Athique’s framework explores the idea that while media content is produced and distributed on a global scale, its consumption is deeply rooted in local contexts, influenced by specific cultural, linguistic, and regulatory environments. (Athique, 2016)

“Game of Thrones” as a globally produced and distributed series, encountered varied reception in China, India, and Russia, shaped by local factors. This aligns with Athique’s theory, which posits that global media undergoes a transformation when interacted with through the lens of local cultures and practices

Research results

China: 权利的游戏/權力遊戲

Expected Result: High reliance on pirated versions due to censorship.

Findings: Confirmed high usage of pirated content with fan-made subtitles. Surprisingly, even after official streaming through Tencent Video, many preferred pirated versions due to extensive censorship and superior subtitle quality in fan translations.

  • Censorship: Due to the lack of an age-rating system in China, all TV shows are subject to censorship for a general audience. “Game of Thrones,” known for its mature content (rated USA: TV-MA), underwent significant cuts, impacting the integrity and appeal of the storyline.
  • Subtitle Quality: Many viewers believed that the quality of fan-made subtitles surpassed the official translations. Fans appreciated the nuanced understanding and cultural contextualization offered by amateur translators. There was a distinct preference among viewers for different fan subtitle groups, each providing their own style and interpretation of the dialogue and cultural references.

At 2014, Tencent Video and HBO announced a strategic cooperation, and Tencent Video will exclusively introduce a number of award-winning episodes with a total of about 900 episodes, including Game of Thrones.“ “In the past nine years, in the battle between licensed and pirated versions,”Game of Thrones” has formed a unique fan ecosystem in China: a core of old fans consisting of subtitle groups, fans of the original “A Song of Ice and Fire” novel series and early fans of American TVs, who relied on pirated versions of the show in the early days but were dissatisfied with the delayed launch and censoring of licensed videos in China; the entry of Tencent Video has brought in a large number of “sunken fans, and these two together have pushed “Game of Thrones” to its current heyday in China. Tencent Video’s entry into the market has brought in a large number of sunken fans, which together have pushed “Power Trip” to its current heyday in China.—— 毒眸 – 刘彦希

This result is likely because the volunteers who will still participate in the the research after the end of the series are deep fans of the series, while deep fans and unofficial fan groups that actively translate and share pirated content are bound in China.

Online forums and fan communities played a significant role in sharing and discussing the pirated versions. These communities not only distributed the episodes but also debated the quality of different subtitle translations.

Cumulative Tencent Video airplay for the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones (data as of April 16, 2019, source:


Subtitle groups formed by Foreign TV series enthusiasts is the main pillar of the spread of shows like Game Of Thrones in China in the early days, one of the representative subtitle group is called “⾐柜军团” (Yīguì Jūntuán), which can be translated as “Wardrobe Legion.” The term “⾐柜” (Wardrobe) is a play on words, as it sounds similar to “异⿁” (Yìguǐ), which means “The Others/White Walkers” in Chinese, the name of the enemy in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.

Prior to the availability of official streaming options, Chinese viewers predominantly relied on pirated versions of “Game of Thrones” with fan-made subtitles. This was primarily due to the lack of official availability and the series’ popularity among younger, tech-savvy audiences.

With the release of Season 8, Tencent Video obtained the rights to stream “Game of Thrones” in China, offering officially translated subtitles and simultaneous release with global airing.

After the licensed “Game of Thrones” Series were available Tencent Video, It has received nearly 2 billion views(data as of April 16, 2019), which shows that non deep fans may still choose to watch on the licensed platform for convenience and low threshold.

“Should you watch the censored original or the full bootleg version of Game of Thrones?“ An article on the Chinese website Zhihu.

Respondents who watched on licensed platforms didn’t seem to notice the difference in translation between versions, but most did state that the licensed version appeared to have more post-cutting after it was censored, which led to a fragmented narrative, causing confusion and dissatisfaction among viewers.

It’s worth noting that some mainland Chinese respondent chose to use a proxy service(eg. VPN) to change their region to Hong Kong SAR or Taiwan, which will allow them to subscribe to HBO’s online streaming service and access the original uncensored version of the movie, as well as the official traditional Chinese subtitles, but will have to deal with the side-effects of high prices and inconvenient use.

Impact of Local Regulations and Censorship

The research on China shows how stringent censorship significantly altered viewers’ experiences and preferences, leading to a reliance on pirated versions. Athique’s transnationalism framework suggests that such local regulatory practices play a crucial role in shaping the reception of global media, altering its form and meaning to align with local norms and policies.

Strategic Content Availability and Viewer Responses

In the context of China, the use of proxy and piracy of “Game of Thrones” can be seen as a response to the limitations posed by digital platforms and local censorship. Lobato’s insights into the strategic rationales guiding platforms like Netflix in content availability and catalog diversity shed light on how global distribution strategies impact local access to media. Platforms often have different distribution strategies depending on regulations and circumstances in different regions, but audiences adapting to and circumventing regional restrictions. (Lobato, “The Proxy Wars”)

Market-Image and Content Localization

Lobato’s idea of the “market-image,” representing the strategic importance of different markets to platforms, is evident in the varied reception of “Game of Thrones” across these countries. This concept helps in understanding how platforms perceive and cater to different national markets, influencing the type and diversity of content made available. The case of “Game of Thrones” in China, India, and Russia illustrates how global media is localized, not just in terms of language but also in how it aligns with the cultural and regulatory frameworks of different regions.

Through Lobato’s framework, the viewing practices of “Game of Thrones” in these regions can be comprehensively analyzed, revealing the symbiotic relationship between global distribution strategies and local audience adaptations. This approach enriches the understanding of how audiences around the world engage with, adapt to, and even challenge the systems of global digital media distribution.

Fan Subtitling and Online Communities:

Chinese audiences depended heavily on fan-made subtitles due to language barriers, utilizing technology to create and share these translations. Turnbull’s insights into how technology enables audience participation and creation of content are echoed in the Chinese fans’ use of technology to produce and distribute subtitles, thereby enhancing their engagement with the series.

India: Game of Thrones/गेमगे ऑफ़ थ्रो न्स

Expected Result: Mixed use of official platforms and pirated content.

Findings: Confirmed widespread use of pirated sites before streaming services like Hotstar and JioCinema. Surprisingly, communal viewing in internet cafes was prevalent, indicating a significant social aspect of viewing. 

In India, prior to widespread streaming services, access to “Game of Thrones” was primarily through pirated downloads and streaming sites. DVD sets, although available, were less popular due to cost and delayed release. Despite limited official broadcasting channels, the series gained immense popularity, fueled by word-of-mouth and social media. The lack of immediate legal viewing options led many to rely on pirated versions. In smaller towns and cities, Internet cafes often served as communal hubs for watching pirated episodes. This facilitated a unique culture of shared viewing experiences.

In addition to the fan dubbing version shared by fans on various forums and sites, platforms like JioCinema also provided officially dubbed content. However, fan dubbing played a significant role because it often filled the gap before official dubbed versions were available. Fan-made dubs were appreciated for their immediacy and often for their creativity in localizing cultural references and humor, which resonated better with local audiences. This practice highlights the importance of community-driven efforts in media consumption and the adaptability of fans in overcoming language barriers.

English proficiency among Indian audiences varies widely. While urban, English speaking viewers preferred the original version with English subtitles, non-English speaking audiences sought dubbed versions or versions with subtitles, which were often fan-made and circulated online. These fan-made dubs and subtitles were crucial in making the series accessible to a broader audience, allowing non English speakers to engage with the show.

India’s leading streaming platform Disney+ Hotstar will no longer be showing HBO shows, starting April 1, 2023

With the introduction of digital platforms like Hotstar, which eventually secured rights for “Game of Thrones,” there was a gradual shift to legal streaming. Censorship was not a significant concern in India compared to some other countries. However, the timing of release often lagged behind the U.S., sustaining the demand for pirated versions for immediate access.

Even after the official release, a significant portion of the audience continued to download pirated versions. Reasons included avoiding subscription costs, challenges with internet bandwidth for streaming, and a habit formed from earlier seasons.

Cultural Adaptation and Media Practices

In India, linguistic diversity and the digital divide led to unique practices like communal viewing in Internet cafes and a mix of official and pirated content consumption. Athique’s theory highlights that such cultural adaptations are integral in transnational media reception, where global content is molded to fit local cultural and linguistic contexts.

Digital Divide and Media Consumption

Turnbull’s work underscores how the digital divide impacts media access and consumption patterns. The research showed a prevalence of communal viewing in Internet cafes in India, indicative of a digital divide where certain populations had limited individual access to technology for media consumption. The communal viewing practices in India exemplify how audiences adapt to technological constraints, which is a key aspect of Turnbull’s discussion on technology’s role in media access.

Russia: Игра престолов

Expected Result: Preference for fan-made Russian subtitles and pirated sources.

Findings: Confirmed heavy reliance on unauthorized streaming and fan subtitles. Surprisingly, the extent of active online communities was larger than anticipated, showing deep engagement with the series.

In Russia, access to “Game of Thrones” during its early seasons was predominantly through unauthorized online streaming sites and pirated downloads. The lack of official broadcasting channels or delayed airing on Russian television networks led to a heavy reliance on these methods.

Due to the language barrier, Russian audiences heavily depended on fan-made Russian subtitles. These fan translations were crucial in making the series accessible and understandable, contributing to its widespread popularity.

Amediateka and Okko are the two major licensed streaming platform for Game of Thrones

With the advent of legal streaming platforms like Amediateka, which eventually secured the rights to stream “Game of Thrones” in Russia, there was a shift in viewing habits. However, many viewers continued to use pirated sources for faster access and due to established viewing habits.

Government regulations and potential censorship in media broadcasting led some viewers to distrust official releases, fearing content modification or censorship, thus preferring unaltered pirated versions.

Russian fans actively engaged in online discussions, forums, and social media platforms, sharing theories, interpretations, and reactions to each episode. This virtual community played a significant role in maintaining the series’ momentum and popularity.

Access to Content through Technology:

The popularity of pirated resources in Russia can be largely attributed to the popularity of BitTorrent technology. BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing protocol that enables users to distribute data and electronic files over the Internet in a decentralized manner. It allows users to bypass centralized controls and restrictions, providing access to a wide range of content that might otherwise be unavailable due to censorship laws. Turnbull’s exploration of technology as a gateway to media highlights how digital tools and platforms can circumvent traditional broadcasting methods, offering alternative access points to content. How Russians use technology like BitTorrent to bypass censorship is very similar to Turnbull’s idea.

Fan Subtitling and Cultural Localization

The reliance on fan-made Russian subtitles in Russia demonstrates how audiences engage in cultural localization of foreign media, making it accessible and relatable. This reflects Athique’s idea that transnational audiences actively participate in reshaping media content to suit their cultural and linguistic sensibilities.

This academic essay is licensed under Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC 4.0.


“After HBO’s Exit from Disney+ Hotstar, Where and How to Watch HBO Shows in India?” Https://Www.Outlookindia.Com/, 9 Mar. 2023, and-how-to-watch-hbo-shows-in-india–news-268538.

Athique, Adrian. “Transnational Audiences.” Polity Press, 2016.

“Game Of Thrones Hindi Dubbed: ALL 8 SEASONS NOW STREAMING IN HINDI, JioCinema, Promotions Starting.” YouTube, 2023,

Klinger, Barbara. “The New Media Aristocrats: Home Theater and the Film Experience.” The Velvet Light Trap Number 56, Fall 2005, University of Texas Press. DOI:

Lobato, Ramon. “The Proxy Wars.” Netflix Nations: The Geography of Digital Distribution, NYU Press, 2019.

Lobato, Ramon. “Rethinking International TV Flows Research in the Age of Netflix.” Television & New Media, vol. 19, no. 3, May 2018, pp. 241–256.

Turnbull, Sue. “Media Audiences.” Red Globe Press, MacMillan, 2020. 

“《权⼒的游戏》中国进化史.” 36kr, 刘彦希, 2019,

“《权⼒的游戏》上映后,究竟该看删减的正版还是完整的盗版?.” Zhihu, 2021,

Vol. 5 (2024)