Sunday, January 28, 2018

"Game of Thrones" and Spoiler Culture

Despite the title of this post, no spoilers lie ahead.

Once I finished this latest season of "Game of Thrones," months later than everyone else as usual, I set about catching up with the fandom. I read reviews, listened to recap podcasts, and went back over fan discussions of various episodes so I could see the reactions and speculation. Usually there's some chatter about leaked spoilers and set reports, but this time around it was very different. Apparently at some point last year, well before the season started, somebody involved with the production leaked a scene-by-scene breakdown of all the episodes.

Now, "Game of Thrones" has always been a fandom where a viewer has to watch out for spoilers, because a good chunk of the fans read the George R.R. Martin books, and discussion of the adaptation choices has always been very lively. I knew about the Red Wedding years before it happened, for instance. This situation is something very different. I tracked down a copy of the spoilers myself and found a list of bare bones plot points, essentially. They had no possible function except as spoilers, and it turned out that they were very accurate ones. Only one or two of the described scenes didn't turn up in the final version of the show, possibly because they were being saved for next year or because the writers had changed their minds about a particular development.

It's one thing to be familiar with a piece of source material that's being adapted into another medium. It's quite another to simply have a plot synopsis of everything that's going to happen. I don't understand the appeal of the latter, but apparently there's ravenous demand in the "Game of Thrones" fandom for these details. Nobody would have leaked the synopsis if there wasn't. Along with the breakdown that turned out to be real, I found several others with erroneous speculation about what was going to happen this season. More fascinating were people piecing together information from set reports and media coverage to figure out which characters were going to appear in which locations, and in what combinations.

HBO has been very proactive about stopping early leaks of the completed episodes, and scripts are subject to all kinds of security measures, but how do you prevent something like these latest spoilers? I suppose that the saving grace is that there was no way to confirm the synopsis was real until the new episodes were actually released. And I should note that there were enough eyebrow-raising developments in the last season of "Game of Thrones" that the leaks were suspected of being fakes for a good long while. Without that confirmation, the spoilers wouldn't be considered newsworthy, so there was little danger of a spoilerphobe like me accidentally stumbling across them.

Still, there is a lingering risk. There are always those internet pests who love posting spoilers everywhere, and once the leaks were confirmed at the start of the season, they would have surely been emboldened to go on another rampage. I think what really disturbs me most about this situation is that somebody close enough to the production to have all this information is knowingly enabling this kind of behavior. At the time of writing, the leaker remains anonymous, so there's a good possibility that what happens in the final season of "Game of Thrones" may also wind up leaked well in advance. And this time around, more people may pay attention - willingly or unwillingly.

And if "Game of Thrones," one of the most lucrative and high profile productions isn't safe, what is? I cringe at the thought of "Star Wars" or "Avengers" spoilers floating around out there, especially as those film series are approaching some pretty significant climaxes. For those viewers who like their spoilers, and can somehow enjoy a piece of media in spite of knowing all the surprises in advance, I suppose there's nothing really wrong with that. However, the spoiler culture that they've allowed to flourish is getting out of hand.

I'm grateful now that I've detached myself a bit from the current entertainment media, because the distance provides some insulation from these kinds of spoilers. However, this is also a reminder that I have to be more vigilant than ever to enjoy my media the way I want to.


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