'Game of Thrones' Book Readers, We Need to Get Over Our Superiority Complex
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'Game of Thrones' Book Readers, We Need to Get Over Our Superiority Complex

By Rebecca Pahle | Game of Thrones | June 24, 2014 | Comments ()

dany game of thrones mad.jpg

Friends, acquaintances, mortal enemies who have somehow escaped from their cells and found a reliable wi-fi connection (get back in there!), I have noticed a disturbing trend on the Internet. No, not Cloppers. It has to do with Game of Thrones. No, no, not people failing to recognize Stannis Baratheon as the One True King of Westeros, though that is disturbing. I’m talking about the sort of behavior exemplified in the following exchanges:

Person A: Out of respect for those who just watch the show, we ask that you not spoil—
Person A: Man, I can’t wait to find out what happens to—
Person A: So sad. My dog died last night. Twelve great years. I still can’t believe he’s—

My darling butterflies. Here’s the thing. Reading A Song of Ice and Fire does not make you a better Game of Thrones fan than one who has not read the books. It does not make you a smarter fan or a fan more deserving of respect. All reading A Song of Ice and Fire makes you is a Game of Thrones fan who’s read A Song of Ice and Fire. That’s it.

There are plenty of reasons not to read A Song of Ice and Fire. Maybe the person who hasn’t read the books wants to finish the show first, to avoid having a mish-mosh of chronology and discarded storylines in their heads. Maybe they tried the books and didn’t like them. Maybe—and here is the most important point—they just don’t want to read the gosh darned books, and it doesn’t matter why. Someone could honest-to-God just hate reading books, could break out in hives when they even see one, and it wouldn’t make you, the person who can outline the ways D.B. Weiss and David Benioff changed Robb Stark’s characterization, any better than them, the person who tunes in once a week to see that hot chick with the pet dragons.

That’s because it is impossible to be a “”“better”“” fan than someone else. Unless you’re talking about general quality of behavior, in which case the person who whines every time someone puts up a spoiler warning because “Uhhhhh… y’know the whole thing is spoiled by a book series, right? LOLOL” is a worse fan than the person who thinks Joffrey’s name is Jeffrey.

Reading A Song of Ice and Fire does not make you a special snowflake who’s entitled to have the Internet dialogue about Game of Thrones revolve around the way you do things. Obviously, that’s not to say that book discussion shouldn’t happen—at The Mary Sue, where I’m the Associate Editor, we have our weekly Game of Thrones recap followed by a separate thread for book readers to shoot the shit about “OMG, I can’t believe they changed…? Could it mean…?” Making an effort not to spoil non-book readers doesn’t require that we fundamentally change the way we operate. All it requires is a little bit of courtesy. And if you can’t dredge that up, or if you look down on your fellow Game of Thrones watchers as somehow inferior, as opposed to just different…well, I don’t think Ned Stark would be very pleased with you.

Joffrey probably would be, though.

Rebecca (@RebeccaPahle) has been keeping that one pent up for a while.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Morgan_LaFai

    While I applaud everything about this column (and avoid venturing to far away from Pajiba on the Internet because of the complete lack of consideration out there) I am disappointed. It has to do with expectation versus reality.

    I was expecting a column about how the show varies from the book and how book readers should not get all upset about deviations from book cannon. Rather, book readers need to keep a more open mind and accept that changes made for the show can actually make the story better.

    However, this column about the superiority complex of book readers is very accurate. Just not something I would have spent the last 30 minutes trying to find because I remembered the title but by the time I had the time to read it the GoT link at the top had been removed. C'est la viet.

  • Diana Petrescu
  • e jerry powell

    What you really need to do is start watching Vicious on PBS this coming Sunday!

    Sir Ian! Sir Derek! Ramsay Bolton as a clueless straight guy!

  • Scorptilicus

    Man, so many fans could use this letter. Though, ironically, I doubt they would take the time to read it if presented to them.

  • jollies

    As a book reader, I would feel that I'm superior to non-book readers, but I'm too good for that.

  • manting

    Spoilers right? Its not like the series started nearly 20 years ago...oh wait. Whats the statute of limitations on spoilers? Can we set an easy to understand bright line standard for everyone to follow?

  • jollies

    Isn't "unique snowflake" redundant? Like "unique fingerprint"? At least that is what I was told when I was young.

  • manting

    I completely agree. The same goes for the bible too right? Just because you read the bible doesnt make you a better christian. I mean I saw The Last Temptation of Christ so we are even right?

  • John W

    Superiority complex? HOW.DARE.YOU.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    You know what? At the end of the day, it's all just entertainment.

  • Frank

    Reading the books not only makes you a better fan, but a better human being.

  • ChuggaWasTaken

    I wouldn't go out of my way to spoil the TV show, but a lot of non-book readers have a really entitled attitude when it comes to plot points from the books being discussed. If I'm having a conversation with a friend who has also read them, and you happen to be nearby and hear it, that's not my problem. I won't try to spoil it for you but at the same time I'm not going to not talk about it on the off chance somebody who hasn't read them is within earshot.

    My response to people who are that concerned about spoilers, read the books. Having read them doesn't make me better than you, but if you're that concerned about not having it spoiled, you can fix that problem yourself.

  • vic

    I never thought I was superior to show-only viewers, but I did take an awful lot of enjoyment knowing what would happen before they did. As that's rapidly becoming less possible, I'm on the same page as lot of show-only people I know, and that feels fine also. Otherwise, while the books have more than their fair share of weak and meandering spots, they feel a lot more satisfying, and being able to include more characters and places, much more fleshed out. For all its lapse into cliche and oversexing, the show has done a good job visualizing and depicting, so I'm still on board. I'm in for all seven seasons, but I still hope we get seven (AND NOT EIGHT) books, too.

  • Maddy

    I agree with this, but whenever people try to either talk to me about the show and think Dany's name is Khaleesi or try and tell me how the show is better than the books I have to walk away before I start yelling. So I agree with the sentiment but I will hold on to my smug book reader status in real life. But people who spoil deliberately are assholes.

  • If you feel superior to anyone else for any reason, there's an 80% chance you're a giant asshole.

  • Nick

    yeah, im pretty sure the internet has already solved this problem. this is my problem with this sight lately. it seems like its just the authors ranting about some annoyance or injustice without any real intrest in being intresting, clever or provacotive. Am i the only one who has noticed a serious shift?

  • BlackRabbit

    Apropos of nothing, where have I seen that header pic before?

  • I think you meant to say, WHERE HAVE I SEEN THAT HEADER PIC BEFORE????, if you want to match the tone of that scene's famous line reading.

  • BlackRabbit

    She looks like she's rising out of the sea to attack something, like a hot blonde leviathan.

  • All hail Kthulheesi, Breaker of Sanity and Devourer of Westeros!

  • SottoVoce

    To read a series of books--especially one that is ongoing--requires patience and devotion. If Martin's fans didn't have both in abundance, there wouldn't be a show to watch so, as someone who hasn't read the books but very much enjoys the show, I'm glad they're around. It also helps that, for the most part, the readers who post here are well-mannered and will admonish those who aren't.

  • Maddy

    There's no reason for book readers to be contemptuous of show watchers. I will not hide my occasional contempt for the show runners though.

  • NO.

    I wanna sit here in my Tower of Smug and be Smugly Smug in my smugness.


    *flips table*
    *falls over*
    *shakes fists and whispers "smuuuuuuuuug"*

  • kushiro -

    Or maybe they have just been reading other books.

  • John G.

    It does not make you a better person, or a special or unique snowflake. It doesn't make you smarter, or better looking or more clever. but it does make you a better fan, doesn't it? If better is the word you're not comfortable with, what about a "bigger" fan? For example, I like Star Wars, but I've never read any of the books in the star wars universe. People who do are better fans of that series than I am, not a better person, just a better fan of that specific thing. It's perfectly fine with me if people don't read the books. I'm not one of those people who shoves it in people's faces, because it's not something that makes me better as a person, but doesn't it make me a better fan of this one particular thing?

  • I would argue that if you never heard of the books before the show, then watched the show and loved it enough to seek out the books, you might be a "bigger" fan than one who just watches the show. But just because you read the books first, it doesn't make you a "better" fan than one who reads them later. It just means you got there earlier.

  • Bad Superman

    Actually, it's an inferiority complex. The book readers know they aren't as attractive as the people who've just watched the show. We were too busy getting laid.

  • Globetrotta

    Or they are sleeping with fellow book readers

  • Bad Superman


  • BlackRabbit

    And the audiobook listeners will be in the corner, masturbating furiously.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I get that people who have read the books get a sense that they know more than the show watchers. And that's fine. I read the books and I think there is something to that.

    But for anyone who defends the books as being better than the show? GTFO. If anything it's a push.

  • manting

    that is just straight crazy talk. Dulce, sabroso, locuras.

  • I would like to send this to my SIL about everything in the whole world.

  • Three_nineteen

    Starting next season, it's going to be the show watchers who will be in a position to spoil upcoming books.

  • Maddy

    I know and it terrifies me.

  • Finance_Nerd

    Jeffrey's name is Joffrey?! No wonder he was such an asshole

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Some of us book readers aren't as good as other book readers that know every house sigil, every bastard child's name, every color dress worn by every female character, every word uttered by Jon Snow. They've climbed aboard the crazy train headed to OCD land.

  • Maddy

    There are definitely different levels of engagement. I've only read them twice but they're so complex I often forget things. And people have different characters and plot lines they're more invested in.

  • Lord Inferno

    I haven't read the books, but I could give a rats ass about spoilers, so I've gathered much of the book reader's info off of summaries and internet spoilers. Not sure where that puts me.

    Probably at the back of the class with the rest of the Spark Notes kids.

  • BlackRabbit

    So do you mean you don't care about spoilers for you, or about spoiling in general?

  • Lord Inferno

    Meh, in general. I think people get way too worked up over it. I've never understood the obsession. For me, the very best stories are the ones I go back to again and again and never tire of. Sure, shock value is great when you first see something, but if a story is done well it will still captivate you even if you know every line.

    Nobody bitches about seeing Shakespeare performed well, even though it has been done thousands of times. I will also never complain about watching Big Trouble in Little China for the hundredth time.

    Shock and surprise are fleeting. Good stories last forever.

  • manting

    Well said. Also when some wild eyed 8 foot tall maniac grabs your neck and taps the back of your favorite head against a bar room wall and looks you crooked in the eye and asks if youve paid your dues. You just state that big sucker right back in the eye and you remember what Jack Burton always says at a time like that. Yes sir, the check is in the mail.

  • Lord Inferno

    Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we're not back by dawn... call the president.

  • manting

    I still use that line to this day.

  • lowercase_see

    As long as I get to stay superior about reading Harry Potter.

  • lozymandias


  • Merski

    This is how I know I'm a terrible fan: I've read all the books, seen all of the episodes of the show and it still takes me half a minute to work out what someone means every time they write ASOIAF and DWTD...

  • Bryan

    Um, help me out here... DWTD? I'm pretty well versed in the show and books (I even have their Wiki bookmarked) and I have no clue what DWTD stands for. I even Googled it and nothing ASoIaF-related came up.

  • Merski

    Hahahah, my bad, it's ADWD, as in "dance with dragons" not "the dragons"! See, I am terrible at this! :P

  • It takes endurance to read those books. Endurance, patience, fortitude, and not a small amount of masochism. Book readers SUFFERED with the deaths of beloved characters because they spent hundreds or THOUSANDS of pages with them. My husband was shocked when the Red Wedding happened, but I read page after page with tears streaming down my face. He talked about it for ten minutes after that episode, but their deaths had been with me for weeks. Why? Because I KNEW them. The time the series devotes to most characters is minimal, whereas the books are so much more in-depth. I don't think book readers mean to be preachy, or harp on-and-on relentlessly. I just think they generally feel so much more strongly about it because of the devotion necessary to keep reading when your heart as been torn out again and again. Maybe we all have a bit of ASOIAF PTSD.

  • lingli

    I do agree with you but I have to say that my OH (who is one of those people who breaks out in hives at the thought of reading a book, and especially a series of doorstops like ASOIAF) was in a foul mood after the Red Wedding, which was rekindled every time anyone mentioned it. In fact he stomped out of the room when the episode ended, swearing that he was done with GoT. (He's still watching.)

  • JustOP

    Fantastic comment. When I finished the RW I just stopped reading that night. It was utter misery - I've played/read/watched some shit in my time but that ranks right up there with the most visceral reactions I've ever had to fiction. I literally couldn't fathom what had just happened. There was a period of about 15 minutes where my brain just repeated 'why?' over and over. And then I just sort of meandered into the living room and ate a chocolate bar.

    Although, oddly enough, watching that scene as a book reader was so fucking good - especially as I was with non-book readers.

  • F'mal DeHyde

    Well said.

  • Captain_Tuttle

    I have read all of these books and have seen about 10 minutes total of the show because I am too poor to have HBO and too lazy to scam it from anywhere else. Not sure where that leaves me on the superiority spectrum.

  • JustOP

    >It does not make you a smarter fan

    I think it probably does. Books allow us inside the heads of characters in a way the television show doesn't - it also allows for far greater detail and time to be spent in places than the limitations of a one hour television show. More details > wider scope of the universe > more knowledge.

    I don't think it has anything to do with being 'superior', it's just that those who've slugged through 5000 pages of the novels are probably more invested in the show than those who haven't. Because of that, they're likely to have stronger and louder opinions than those who haven't, due to the fact they have a very solid idea of what *should* be happening.

    Might be harsh to say, but like you said, there's those who tune in just to see dragons and boobs and people getting chopped up. I think there's always gonna be people whom have a more... insightful opinion on than the proceedings.

  • I read the first two books after each of their corresponding seasons. I enjoyed them for the most part, and a lot of that came from spotting the adaptive differences between the material (not to judge, but because I find the process fascinating), and then I stopped to wait for the show to wrap up the third book. It's not necessarily about spoilers, either, I just find I'm much more surprised by story twists when watching moving picture shows than when reading novels. In the intervening two years, though, all I've heard from book readers is that Storm of Swords is the best and everything is downhill from there, in regards to the slog if not the plot.

    I may read Swords this summer, but why would I want to read Feast for Crows or Dance with Dragons if every book-reading fan tells me they suck and are hard to get through? Purely to say that I've read them, that I did the homework? Just because I love reading books doesn't mean I want to read every book ever, especially when word-of-mouth isn't positive. If the showrunners are going to trim the excessive fat from those stories, that sounds like a much more, one might say, superior way to experience the same story.

  • Wish people had replied to this well expressed comment, as it would have been really informative (for me). The lackluster quality of the last 2 books is barely ever touched on by book readers and that's *interesting*. James Hibbard said he'd absolutely combine book 4 & 5 into one show season because it's necessary due to their quality. And Libby Hill (AVClub) and Zack Handlen (AVClub) say they have almost zero interest in books 6 & 7 because of books 4 & 5.

  • FripTastic

    You dismissed the superiority label, then proceeded with an argument that boils down to "book readers are superior."

  • God Of Bal-Sagoth

    No, that makes you a more well-informed fan. It does not make you a smarter one.

  • BlackRabbit

    Thank you-I wasn't sure how to say it but you did quite well.

  • Loser Prentice

    I agree that special care should be taken by book readers to respect ASOIAF and GOT as fundamentally different cultural artifacts, even if one is based off the other. While I'm not really hip to the discord of these comment sections, it's always a shitty thing to spoil plot points or talk down to people.
    In regards to being a "better fan" I guess the dichotomy is the same. They're different texts. Still, I believe that people who have put in the time to read the books and know the source material should garner some semblance of respect from others. I'm not a book reader, but spoilers aside, I like hearing the context that book readers can give me. I don't think it's elitism, I simply think they KNOW more about the source material. It's a fair differentiation.
    While it's clear from the tone of this that you're frustrated, it seems like you're kind of disenfranchising book readers of their expertise as well. After all, GOT is based on ASOIAF, not the other way around.

  • The Replicant Brooke

    I should respect someone who chose to read a book that I haven't? Really?

  • Loser Prentice

    I'm sorry, I worded that poorly- I meant respect for the time/effort/insight/stock knowledge they have concerning Martin's world. It doesn't make them a more respectable person, surely. Some are assfaces to the end. But many know their shit, and I can respect that.

  • John G.

    Yes, it's just more information. If you want to know about the battle of Thermopylae, are you going to ask a historian of ancient Greece, or someone who just watched the movie 300?

  • Safely Anonymous


  • whitebay

    To hate reading books is a huge flaw, and anyone who has it is a worst person than me. Yes, I am superior to you because I like reading books.

  • Scorptilicus

    A "worse" person than you.

  • Maddy

    I don't want to be superior but ... People who don't want to read any books I am judging you

  • "a worst person" than you, huh? Maybe you should try reading a few more books and give that comment another look...

  • whitebay

    Oh, I see what you mean. Im not going to correct it because english is not my first language.It's my fourth one.

  • Well, don't i feel like shit all of a sudden. ;)

  • Slytherin Sister

    Hmm...so a person could be a sexist, racist asshole. But as long as they read they are automatically better than people who don't? Interesting.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Not ALL books,THESE books.

  • JustOP

    "Someone could honest-to-God just hate reading books, could break out in hives when they even see one"

  • Mrs. Julien


  • Laszlo

    Plus a lots of people seem to think book readers have better taste or understanding of it, but that's really not true. Plenty of the book readers have stupid as shit ideas about the books, and similarly bad criticisms of the TV show.

  • Maddy

    There are plenty of dumb book readers and plenty of TV watchers who have a much better more nuanced grasp of the characters. Yes book readers who hate Sansa or think Catelyn is the reason the Starks lost and she should have just stayed home like a good wife, I'm talking about you.

  • manting

    Urge to list Sansa's laundry list of flaws rising.

  • BlackRabbit


  • John G.

    I've read the whole series 3 times through, and I wouldn't have half the theories I have without the internet and the thousands of people bouncing ideas off each other.

  • janetfaust

    Hear Hear. That's why it is so great that book-reader discussions are featured here and at the AV Club along with show-watcher discussions. On Reddit, there are separate subreddits for those who are just show-watchers and those who are book readers. I love the books and have to admit I have a bit of a superiority complex about having read them, but I would never spoil anything for those who just watch because I don't want anyone to have their enjoyment of this universe I love so much diminished in any way. My sister is watching the show then reading, that's her choice and I love to hear her reactions to things that happen on the show and her speculations about the future. I told her not to read Storm of Swords yet because there is some stuff that might happen in the next season that she could get spoiled on if she reads. So the spoilers go both ways.

  • cox

    feeling superior is pretty much the only benefit of reading those tens of thousands pages describing armor and sigils, that ultimately lead nowhere.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I do have to give him credit though, for all that talk in ADWD about "nipples on a breastplate", I had a good laugh when he finally gives a character nipples on their breastplate. Pierced even!

  • cox

    who was that? i dont recall. i was pretty ticked off for the most of it, i missed a bunch of stuff.

  • Bert_McGurt

    ETD(elete): I just realized this was a super spoilery comment and there's no warning in the article, so I've removed it for the benefit of our non-book reader friends.

  • basse buus

    I like the story, but it needed an editor. Badly

  • Though I admit I'd kill for some of that Sister Stew.


  • Loanhighknight

    Don't forget the hundreds of pages about the meals!

  • cox

    fucking lemon cakes, man. i got it, they are symbol of innocence of childhood or something, cant we move the fuck along?

  • I think most websites have figured out the way to avoid this fight. By having a non-readers' and a readers' post that each group can join and discuss. And, tbf, I do like to read the stuff from the POV of folks who didn't read the books because it allows me to think of GOT as just GOT and not the adaptation of ASOIAF.

  • John G.

    same here. I like to get different perspectives on things. Call me crazy.

  • TK


  • The Replicant Brooke
  • Krissy

    Where's the Tylenol

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