[This is a piece about spoilers in Game of Thrones, but it doesn’t include any actual spoilers for the first 9/10ths or so. If you’re worried about spoilers, tune out at the end where it says SPOILERS. Please and thank you.]
Full disclosure: there are many sane people out there, who simply watch television programs whenever they feel like it, have a jolly old time, and then move on with their lives. This article is not for those people.
In today’s world of ultra-fast information dispersal and spoiler-phobic and –philic viewers, a few different fan communities have established themselves as the cutting-edge of modern media engagement. It’s not enough to watch a show, not if you’re a true fan, anyway – you didn’t listen to last week’s recap podcast? What about that new fan theory, laying out precisely what’ll happen for the next three seasons? You know, the one based on that extremely minute, easily miss-able detail from the episode?
As much as I sometimes wish it weren’t the case, I’m a huge fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones series. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it has one of the most over-the-top fan communities right now. While it doesn’t boast the rabid devotion of Harry Potter fans or the pure, deep lore obsession of Lord of the Rings fans, Game of Thrones has something else, and it’s not just one thing. A swirling perfect storm of circumstances has led to the Game of Thrones fandom that exists today.
For starters, the television format lends itself more to the sort of predictions that can be proven demonstrably right or wrong in the space of a week or two. During the season especially, the fan-theory game is incentivized by the weekly kudos given to whoever was right last time around.
Also, for a long time, Game of Thrones was telling a story that had already been told, via George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series. Show-watchers predicted what was going to happen, sure, but the truth was already out there, and book-readers reveled in their superiority.
For a very short time, I was one of those smug book readers. Just around the ending of the show’s fourth season, I decided I was into the story enough to give the books a try. Unsurprisingly, I loved them, and quickly tore through all five existing installments.
But the show, especially in the last season and leading up to this new one, has basically caught up with Martin’s canonical material. It’s also been ad-libbing things on its own for a long time, and increasingly so in the last two years. The divergence between show and book has never been more evident than it is now.
That puts fans in a strange and absolutely tantalizing place when it comes to theorizing. Show watchers don’t know what will happen, and for the most part, book readers don’t either, which means for the first time, pretty much anything is on the table.
The dichotomy in the fandom between book-readers and show-watchers has bolstered the community’s strength and potency for years. No matter where you’re at with things, there’s a place for you, and god knows, there’s someone willing, no, dying to explain things to you. That separation between the spoiled and un-spoiled still does exist, though lessened. Certain plotlines in the show are still behind the books, while others have blown past their source material.
The other key element to the current Thrones fan world is that there’s a genuine industry built around it. Along with countless students, teachers, doctors, waiters and mechanics, the Game of Thrones machine counts a number of very real journalists among its converts, which necessarily affects the way the show is covered between seasons.
Game of Thrones news pieces, even the smallest tidbits, are surefire click generators for pop culture websites everywhere. Watchers on the Wall and Winter is Coming are fan websites that update frequently with any and every bit of available information, including semi-blurry telescopic set photos that spoil future scenes and leaks of official information from upcoming episodes. A popular podcast, called Storm of Spoilers, prides itself on providing every available bit of production knowledge, from casting to episode titles (while occasionally drawing the line at actual leaks).
I was That Sort of Fan for a period of time. I listened to no less than four (4) Game of Thrones podcasts every week (for those keeping track: Storm of Spoilers, A Cast of Kings, The Game of Thrones Podcast from Bald Move, and Game of Owns). I’d like to say that my obsession was based more on the lore, how things connected, and who was whose cousin, but the irresistible prediction game caught me in its web as well.
This came to a head during last year’s sixth season. I had a job that allowed me to listen to podcasts all day long, and so I did, and obviously Game of Thrones was a main focus. I wanted to know every last bit of familial trivia and world history. In particular, Alex Berg’s Hardcore Game of Thrones (a semi-parody Westeros version of Dan Carlin’s beloved Hardcore History) was like podcast heroin while I sat there and labeled books in the library.
In particular, Storm of Spoilers, hosted by writers Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Neil Miller, has often been a flashpoint in the discussion of how much one should know before sitting down to watch. Even while the podcast’s premise and title are clearly spoilers-based, and though the show begins with a lengthy spoiler warning, they’ve received angry emails complaining about spoilers, the “I didn’t expect that kind of spoiler” sorts of emails.
I enjoyed the podcast, having been a fan of Robinson and Gonzales since they were on a recap podcast called The Republic City Dispatch about one of my all-time favorite series, The Legend of Korra. So I knowingly and willingly bought into the idea of Storm of Spoilers, which was especially fascinating when compared with its companion podcast, A Cast of Kings. A Cast of Kings is Robinson and Dave Chen, who has never read the books and doesn’t want anything spoiled at all.
The two very different shows widened my experience of Game of Thrones. Through Storm of Spoilers, I was the learned, world-weary book-reader, the knower of all things. Through A Cast of Kings, I could vicariously experience a first-time viewer’s joy, disappointment, excitement and frustration.
But as the season progressed, I started to wonder if the way I was engaging with the show was actually harming my enjoyment of it, instead of enhancing it. The actual event of watching the show became less exciting, rather than more exciting. For some of you, this is kind of a “no shit” moment, probably. But at the time, I started to pull back a bit. I started skipping more of Storm of Spoilers, preferring instead more of a light sprinkling of spoilers.
I realized: I’m a smart person, and Game of Thrones is really not that complicated. I can figure out what needs figuring out. There’s a rush of excitement and satisfaction that has always gone along with putting things together in your head, but recently, it’s been replaced by the shorter, shallower rush that accompanies reading the theory before you’ve figured it out yourself.
To be clear, though, I’m not trying to be Old Man TV here and discourage people from experiencing art in the way they prefer. The old, analog “ohhh, I get it” moment is valuable, but so is the incredibly perceptive hivemind of the internet, which can pick out things that casual viewers would (and do) miss.
The primary question I have is this: what’s the right way to be a Game of Thrones fan as the new season is approaching? I’m taking a slightly different tack this time. For one, I don’t have that old job anymore, so I couldn’t possibly listen to hours and hours of Game of Thrones podcasts each week, even if I wanted to.
I’m keeping on top of the relevant, major news, but I’m steering mostly clear of the available spoilers. A while back, I saw some set photos that I wish I hadn’t, and so I’m trying to be more vigilant.
Another thing: I’m getting my kicks in the existing canon. I recently started reading George R. R. Martin’s companion prequel novella trilogy A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. It scratches the itch, although it does feel a little like the inconsequential filler episodes of some anime show.
I’m eagerly looking out for a trailer, which I sense is coming soon. But even that I want to stay on my toes about. You wouldn’t believe what microscope-wielding fans can pick out of a trailer. Or maybe you would.
The better way, I think, of engaging with the show, once it does premiere this summer, is to continue the critical conversations that have been held around it. It’s a show I love (obviously), but it has some very real problems, and it’s important to acknowledge them. Primarily, it has repeatedly depicted the rape and sexual assault of female characters, in scenes that felt exploitative and substance-less. This undermines the show’s own matriarchal politics, which come across as nothing less than hypocritical in context.
The point is, there are constructive discussions to be had around Game of Thrones, and we should keep pressuring the creators to be more responsible with their platform. That’s how you truly engage with a show in a positive way.
The television-internet landscape has never been more complicated. If you go looking for something, odds are you’ll find it, and maybe much more. Hermit-like abstinence (as bravely demonstrated by fellow Republic City Dispatch co-host Matt Patches with regards to The Force Awakens) is an extreme option, and probably not a realistic route.
It’s a boring conclusion, but the answer for me is moderation. What exactly moderation looks like is something I’ve yet to nail down (after all, I did write a piece last week about the exact canonical lengths of the series’ dragons).
I plan to continue being a real insufferable Game of Thrones nerd, but that doesn’t mean I have to live and breathe the show. But before I commit to a reasonable life, allow me to just throw out a few final theories of my own.
SERIOUS SPOILERS FOLLOW:
- Maybe, the valonqar will actually be a resurrected Harry Lloyd! Bear with me: if Tyrion is actually a secret Targaryen via King Aerys and Joanna Lannister, as many have predicted, he’ll be half-brother to Daenerys and Viserys, too, right? Which means in a sort of roundabout way, Cersei and Viserys would be step-step-siblings? Step-siblings-in-law? I don’t know, is Viserys even younger than Cersei to begin with? Not gonna look it up! Turning over a new leaf!
- Maybe, Lady Stoneheart and Coldhands (who is actually Daario Naharis, of course) will use their tingling zombie senses to find each other, and settle down, starting a cute little dead family. Heck, Cat already almost shacked up with Ned’s other brother, why not make it a hat-trick? Did I say Daario Naharis? I mean Benjen.
- Maybe, the long-awaited Great War will just happen in the last few episodes of this season, and the six episode final season will just be a black screen with “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” on loop! No?
Anyways, the truly important thing to keep in mind is that Game of Thrones is not very important, and the United States is falling apart. So what’s the real right way to watch Game of Thrones? Turn it off, and watch C-SPAN instead! Shady under-the-table dealings, the systematic mistreatment of women and minorities, one megalomaniac’s shaky grasp on the seat of power: it’s all there!
But if you do feel the need to continue watching Game of Thrones, as I’m sure I will, it premieres its seventh season on July 17th.