(Game of Thrones spoilers up through this week follow)
This weekend, millions of Game of Thrones fans all around the world let out collective screams as Oberyn Martell lost his fight with the Mountain in the most brutal fashion possible. Tyrion’s flamboyant champion had the bout all but won, but got carried away trying to extract a confession from the man about the murder of the Martell family in King’s Landing years past.
The lack of focus allowed the Mountain to knock Martel to the ground, then proceed to literally crush his skull into pulp as the man screamed in agony.
It was one of the most unexpected, most harrowing scenes in the show’s history, and like the Red Wedding before it, inspired many YouTube reaction videos of book-readers filming their friends witnessing the spectacle.
I’m one of those book readers, but I’m finding that it’s simply not enough for me to take joy in watching my wife squirm or scream at events like these when I know they’re coming. I miss being able to be truly surprised by the show, something that hasn’t happened since seasons one and two. Now, it’s a different experience, and I don’t like it quite as much.
There’s a reason I read the books, and it’s not because I was some hipster trying to be into A Song of Ice and Fire before it was Game of Thrones. Rather, to paraphrase Tyrion Lannister.
“Wear your spoilers like armor, and they can never be used to hurt you.”
Writing on the internet for a living, I found myself constantly dodging spoilers, ultimately with little success. All it would take was one rogue flick of the eye, and entire season-long arc would be ruined. Though I still was surprised by the show in many way, huge moments were ruined for me like Ned Stark’s death or Joffrey’s eventual poisoning.
By the end of season two I was so fearful of having all the big moments ruined for me, that I read the books.
Naturally, the books are amazing. If they weren’t, Game of Thrones wouldn’t exist as a show. Martin’s universe is gorgeous and terrifying on the page, and I made up my mind that nothing from the show would ever be spoiled for me again. I would wear the spoilers like armor, experiencing them at least for the first time in the book. I would trade the ability to ever have the show surprise me for the fact that no amount of internet a-holes could ruin anything else for me.
I got to experience events like the Red Wedding for the first time in the books, and have been shocked at many more character deaths still to come on the show. And yet, I miss it.
As much as the Red Wedding or Oberyn’s failed fight were well-written on the page, I miss being part of that global television event where the vast majority of viewers are all experiencing the shock and horror for the first time. The problem with Game of Thrones is that the show is SO well made, that these moments are handled perfectly on screen, and often times it feels like they would have had more of in impact experienced for the first time on TV, rather than in the book. I blame my own imagination, not Martin’s writing, for that.
I know what’s going to happen at the end of this season, and at the end of the one after that most likely. And once George RR Martin finally does release The Winds of Winter, I will sit down and read the entire thing on day one, lest I run across spoilers for it otherwise.
I wish I didn’t have to do this, but with my job based around consuming internet pop culture 24/7, spoilers are simply too scary a prospect to ignore. I tried for years to avoid them, and it cost me some of the best moments of the series. I won’t let that happen again.
And yet, it does make me sad that Game of Thrones almost never surprises me anymore, unless it deviates in some minor way from the books. I miss TV that could truly shock me, which is why Breaking Bad was such a compelling experience for everyone watching. There was no “book crowd” or “show crowd,” there was just one group of fans that didn’t know what was coming next.
There’s no real answer here that I can see, and each just has to find a way to enjoy the show in their own way. For me, that required immunizing myself from spoilers via the books, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that for everyone. You do lose something going down that path.
[Photo via HBO]