WHAT was your reaction to Ned Stark’s death? To the Red Wedding? To Daenerys Targaryen burning King’s Landing down? Even if you’ve never watched Game of Thrones, you’ll almost certainly have heard enough office and social media chat about these moments that you could fake your way through a discussion. This show has been a global phenomenon.

I’ve seen that first-hand. For the past four years I’ve helped run, and then took charge of, the biggest site for Game of Thrones discussion anywhere. The Thrones community on Reddit has more than two million subscribers and reaches tens of millions of page views on an episode night alone. That’s slightly more reads than my articles as a National journalist amass – even the ones about the BBC.

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With tonight marking game over, the question on everyone’s shade-of-the-evening coloured lips is of what comes next. Where is the next Game of Thrones and what will its legacy be? Is Bran’s journey to find the answer to that very question why he’s been so useless in season eight? Either way, they’re questions important to Thrones fans, TV fans and more. We can find answers in the way that our Reddit site has evolved.

For those unfamiliar, Reddit is a site made up of individual communities focused on a single subject defined by its name – from cute animal pictures on r/aww to communism on r/communism. As you can probably tell from the contrast between those two examples, each community has a fairly distinct atmosphere.

I’ve wanted Sansa Stark to rule an independent north almost as long as I’ve wanted Nicola Sturgeon to do the same, and so several years ago, I went on to r/gameofthrones to find folks to discuss it with. Back then, book readers joked with Back then, book readers joked with each other in their own threads, so excited to see the reaction of those who only watch the show. The show-watchers didn’t expect Robb Stark’s gruesome demise at the Red Wedding … and some had even constructed an elaborate theory based on the trailer that he was about to surprise attack the Lannister home.

That was already two hugely distinct communities – book fans and show-watchers. The readers took intense care not to ruin the experience for show fans, perhaps in part because they wanted to see the unfiltered response.

The site didn’t even have 500,000 subscribers back then, and it wasn’t quiet, but it was relatively smooth sailing until the end of season four. Then the Thrones phenomenon started to shift.

On our site and on social media, the activity started to ramp up to even greater levels. Season five marked the first substantial examples of the show surpassing the books, and the new novel didn’t appear to be near release. Three episodes leaked. Suddenly, you had another community – those who had read the leaks.

AND we haven’t even mentioned the individual fan communities yet. While showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss haven’t been too equal in their treatment of characters, there are so many with enough screentime that they developed their own little kingdoms. Daenerys Targaryen, Theon Greyjoy, and even a group dedicated to hating on Olly for killing Ygritte (though respectful of the actor).

At this time of year, every four hours, our volunteer team on Reddit receives about 100 new messages to deal with, and are dealing with thousands of comments and posts. So why do it? Because community is what has always made this show special.

This is one example of what separates a show like Game of Thrones from a show like Line of Duty, also much-discussed on social media. Line of Duty can be beautifully filmed, it can be beautifully written, but it doesn’t create the same level of textual poachers – a term for fans who take the content of a text and create their own videos, essays or Reddit posts from it. One of the subscribers on our site earned a job at an entertainment website he still works for after posting a theory about Jon Snow’s real name (which turned out to be wrong).

Back in the early days of the community, the focus was mostly on elaborate theories like these. On the wild end of the spectrum, could Varys be a mermaid – his bed is made of stone and he talks about swimming a lot … On the more rational end, is Jon Snow the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark? That one has aged better. There is fan art, essays and historical analysis of parallels even for the most minor of characters.

People could engage with Game of Thrones on all kinds of levels. You could be someone in love with Daenerys and her dragons on the TV show alone, or you could be someone who traces her historical line back for hundreds of years. There was something for everyone, and everyone could talk about it.

As we entered season seven and eight, the focus shifted far more to spectacle, having moved past the books, which was never the plan. Big set pieces are filling the void of compelling character writing.

Over the eight years of this show, Twitter has become dominant. And Twitter demands gifs and snappy reactions. Similarly, on communities like ours, we’ve seen the shift. It’s no longer theories about who does what, or careful analysis of characters. As the show has grown, we have too, and it’s the quick, easy-to-consume content that dominates – memes.

Which is fine. They’re fun, and it’s right that the site evolves with the show. But this isn’t what Thrones became famous for. The communities around Thrones in those early seasons were made for those elaborate theories – Tumblr, Watchersonthewall, Reddit before it expanded its mobile app, which demands quicker-to-consume content.

The hook was its elaborate twists, and they have well and truly gone.

When people talk about the natural successor to Thrones, they point to the Wheel of Time series, or the new Amazon Lord of the Rings show. They point to those because they are similar. That is not the lesson to learn.

The nearest recent equivalent to the Thrones level of mania is Twin Peaks and the question of who killed Laura Palmer. Twin Peaks brought film credentials to the small screen, and had everyone (who wasn’t a wean like me) hooked.

It was bold in its style. It broke new ground and spawned a fan community that is thriving to this day, with meet-ups and magazines.

If my experience rings true, then the evidence would suggest the next Game of Thrones cannot be Game of Thrones II. It won’t even be the prequels. The Game of Thrones that came to dominate every workplace discussion no longer exists.

It was lucky to have established its dominance with a perfect storm of Sean Bean, HBO’s prestige and fans of the novels guaranteeing an early audience and an incredible book series waiting to be adapted.

There’s no need to mourn this. Truly fantastic television has been made in recent years – somewhat under-the-radar shows like Black Sails and big-hitters like Westworld. Those looking for a fantasy fill after Thrones could easily do worse than Jane Goldman’s prequel or Lauren S Hissrich’s The Witcher on Netflix, early signs indicate. But running the largest Game of Thrones fan site, I’ve seen the shift from theory to fireworks in our content. And it matches the shift in our online content culture.

For another show to take over our world every Sunday night, it will need to be more than Twin Peaks and more than Game of Thrones. It will play into this new media world we live in, where quick content dominates, but won’t have the time to evolve as Thrones did – and will somehow need to balance this with storylines worth discussing.

Meanwhile, we’ll be grateful to return to calm seas on the Reddit community after a truly hectic six weeks. And hopefully with a new Queen in the North.