By Steven Smith
My cultural tardiness struck again a few years ago. I heard rumblings of a new fantasy series and mentioned the “saga of fire and ice”, as I thought it was called, to a friend, and he stared at me with piercing eyes, destroying every last vestige of my nerd cred, and said, “You’ve never read George R. R. Martin?” To which I replied, “Do they all have to have two R’s as middle initials?” He then hit me a copy of "A Game of Thrones."
AND I was hooked, HOOKED, lacerated by the story telling, marveling at the first-person accounts (what up Bram Stoker!), and decidedly mad at myself for hearing Boromir had been cast as Ned Stark, now that’s who I pictured in my head. I’m pretty good at not letting live versions creep into my brain hole but Sean Bean was so perfect there was nothing I could do, he’s Eddard and that’s that.
Which leads us directly into spoiler culture. I don’t know who first coined the phrase but I like to think it was Stephanie Brown (NERDY). Saying spoiler alert is very annoying and very hard to avoid. I can’t remember what site I learned of Sean Bean’s casting but it was somewhere well before I drove through "A Game of Thrones" and "A Clash of Kings" like a maniac. Then came "A Storm of Swords" and I got upset, in a good way, that kind of good way where you let the story sink into your consciousness and you care about the characters so much you don’t see what’s coming. Which is all I can say because I DON’T WANT TO SPOIL IT.
When I was in college I studied film and when we got to "Citizen Kane" my professor walked right in and said, “Tonight we’re seeing 'Citizen Kane.' Rosebud is the sled.” Now I hadn’t seen "Citizen Kane" but I knew through popular culture what Rosebud was. Unfortunately for a number of my classmates, who did not know, the lesson was lost. Students were outraged, angry, more so to the sounds of my maniacal laughing, at what he had done. But all he did was talk about the mystery and let us concentrate on the film as a whole. This is different for television series as you wait each week in anticipation of what’s going to transpire. But "Game of Thrones" is different. For those of us who read the books we KNOW what’s going to happen yet we are still excited. Why? What’s the diff?
To be honest, I have no clue. If you’re watching a television series based on books, you could read the book and know everything. Does it change how you feel? Maybe a little. Or a lot if it’s "True Blood." but I read every "Harry Potter" book and still watched all the movies. I read the "Return of the Jedi" adaptation when I was a kid and there was all this goop in there about Emperor Palpatine and the Senate. It sucked then and it does now, but it didn’t spoil anything. Now don’t get me wrong, I hate being spoiled too. Seriously, that same film professor came right out and ruined the end of "The Commitments" for me and that flick had just come out, but I still went to see it. And I saw it more than once.
The cast and crew of "Game of Thrones" are very tight-lipped about the show, which is exciting. Working as a secret cabal is very cool and what’s cooler is many of the people who watch the show already know what’s going to happen, so you’re fighting to keep a secret from people who know it! What we don’t know is how it’s going to happen on the screen, and that’s nerve wracking. Good nerve wracking. What I feel people forget about spoilers is those who seek them out, are still fans. You love the show so much you want to know what’s happening right now! It’s akin to people downloading a song that was leaked. The difference being if you’re watching "Game of Thrones" you’re probably already paying for cable and most likely you won’t buy that single again.
The trick with spoiler culture is the film, show, play, book is about the journey, not the ending. It’s hard and sad when you now the woman in the "Crying Game" is a man, but spoilers can be avoided. Look at J.J. Abrams and even M. Night Shyamalan when he didn’t suck; spoilers can even be used to your advantage. Control the leaks yourselves. Plant new things to make the audience hungry. The super fans will be psyched, the casual fans won’t care, and you’ll give the Internet less to winge about. And isn’t that what we all want?
Steven Smith is legitimately nervous to watch this season of "Game of Thrones," the guest on his Going Off Track podcast is Mark Beemer, the man behind the breast cancer charity Shirts For a Cure, and knows one days his paths will cross with George R.R. Martin and it will be glorious.