On the satisfaction scale, Sunday’s Game of Thrones season finale ranks somewhere between “Winning two dollars on a $10,000 bet,” and “Massage parlor raided by police seven seconds before happy ending.” While the series’ misguided deference to author George R.R. Martin’s mediocre source material and an unwillingness to significantly advance key characters’ plotlines beyond where Martin left them on the page resulted in a wildly uneven season and a stunted finale, Sunday’s episode did manage to resolve one longstanding storyline: book reader superiority.
We’re all off the map, now. The literati have as much insight into Jon Snow’s fate as those just hoping to glimpse a nice rack before saying their bedtime prayers. Watchers and readers stand alongside one another on the front lines of uncertainty united in their overwhelming desire to discover what comes next.
And craving for information is going to ruin next season before it even premieres.
Consider where we are for a second. Rather, consider [/clears bong] when we are. Entertainment reporting and social media have both boomed since Game of Thrones premiered five years ago. Comprehensive television coverage online lived somewhere between nascent and inevitable. Large players like Entertainment Weekly and other Hollywood trade pubs dominated the industry; Alan Sepinwall still wrote for the Newark Star-Ledger not even a year before the first episode aired. Game of Thrones wasn’t an immediate sensation, either. The first season delivered strong if unspectacular ratings, averaging 2.51 million viewers Live + Same Day. Atlantic City (Boardwalk Empire) and New Orleans (True Blood) — not Westeros — were the jewels in HBO’s empire.
Now hop back through the wormhole to today. Game of Thrones is arguably the most popular series in television history. Over 300 million people use Twitter, up from roughly 80 million in spring 2011. Well-respected online-only outlets dominate pop-culture coverage, and they’ve changed our expectations for entertainment news by leveraging social media’s ability to broadly and quickly disseminate information. It’s practically impossible to prevent leaks, hide surprises, control narratives or stifle rumors. If Kit Harrington shoots a scene in Belfast this summer, any potato-fucking Notre Dame fan still sober enough to work a camera phone before breakfast can share that information with the world in seconds. And the world will devour the information faster than an Irishman fights another Irishman over the right chug hot Guinness from a leprechaun’s asshole.
Which creates a massive, previously non-existent problem for Game of Thrones. Prior to Sunday, anyone interested in satisfying their spoiler craze could walk down to the local book museum — some small-town backwaters still call them bookstores or libraries — and pick up all five Song of Ice and Fire novels. Or visit one of the hundreds of sites offering detailed plot summaries and fan theories. Unlike an Irishman, you didn’t need to work very hard to catch up to the pack (I’m Italian but self-identify as Irish, so I can make these jokes, OK?).
That’s over now. We’ve run out of track. But the Internet abhors a vacuum. We can’t sit patiently until April 2016 to write about Game of Thrones. This piece alone is evidence of that. Do absurd rumors about comic book movies annoy you? Sources Say Doomsday Will Have an Exposed Dick in ‘Batman vs. Superman.’ Tupac Alive, Signs Nine-Picture Deal to Play Martian Manhunter in Lars Von Trier’s ‘Avengers’ Reboot. Jared Leto Cast as Joker in ‘Suicide Squad’. Just go ahead and become Amish now because this is your life between now and April 2016. Every Game of Thrones set photo will set off an avalanche of speculation; each episode title will spark a flurry of think pieces. You’ll either have the entire season spoiled by Christmas or lose your sanity trying to decide whether the shaggy-haired guy in the crooked, low-res set photo is Harrington or a dirty mop stuck upside down in the snow.
Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss at least seem cognizant of this new reality. This week, they — along with Harrington — went out of their way to publicly insist that Jon Snow truly gave up his ghost in what must be the most laughably transparent coordinated misinformation campaign since the Pentagon claimed burning jet fuel — AND NOT EXPLOSIVE CHARGES PLANTED WEEKS IN ADVANCE BY HIGHLY-EVOLVED LIZARDS WEARING HUMAN SKIN SUITS SUPPLIED BY HALLIBURTON — caused the World Trade Center towers to collapse on 9/11. Knock the hustle all you want. Label them liars when their ruse is inevitably exposed. The stakeholders understand all too well how the Internet parses their every word for yarn wall material. Being honest isn’t laudable. Preserving a few genuine surprises in this media climate is.
Arguing that all this is easily avoided betrays a stunning lack of understanding about how interconnected a series as large as Game of Thrones is with other aspects of your daily life. Especially the lives of anyone who regularly frequents this here establishment. Sure, you can avoid clicking on posts covering Game of Thrones. If you enjoy Game of Thrones, however, you likely follow Game of Thrones-related Twitter accounts, like Game of Thrones-related Facebook pages, visit Game of Thrones-related websites. Between banner images, leading headlines, spoiler-heavy retweets and revealing comments, it’s not difficult for even most disciplined spoiler-phobes to inadvertently run across enough information to piece together key plot points.
So far this conversation centered on the television series. While cracks about Martin’s evolution-esque writing speed never get old (I called him a “tortoise on Ambien” in the first piece I ever wrote here), it seems increasingly likely that he’ll have Winds of Winter on shelves before the sixth season premiere in April 2016. Martin is clearly rattled by the prospect of the series overtaking his life’s work, and it’s difficult to imagine Benioff and Weiss crafting such a cliffhanger-heavy finale — particularly the ambiguity regarding Stannis’ fate — if they weren’t trying give Martin the last little bit of time he needs to finish the sixth novel. Frankly, it’s probably better for everyone — Martin included — if he takes his time. Entering season six with a clean slate will be hard enough without Twitter eggs spoiling the novel 12 minutes after it’s released.
Ordinarily, this is the point in the piece where I reveal the brilliant, all-encompassing, easy-to-implement solution to this mess. Sorry. Please see TK for refunds. Short of shutting down social media accounts, avoiding pop culture websites (a practice we simply cannot endorse unless the websites you boycott do not have Pajiba anywhere in their names) and dodging conversations with co-workers, you’ll likely have a fairly strong idea of what to expect in season six months before it debuts. This is the way things work now. Rather than fight the inevitable, just hope the leaks expose some truly exciting revelations rather than full episodes dedicated to Sam searching for books in an Oldtown library.