Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

My week of avoiding ‘Game of Thrones’ spoilers

I have done everything in my power to avoid them - and still I have been caught out

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in the final episode of 'Game of Thrones'. Courtesy HBO
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in the final episode of 'Game of Thrones'. Courtesy HBO

This week has mainly been spent trying to avoid Game of Thrones spoilers. I barely even use social media, but it has still been a veritable minefield.

Our office is dotted with TV screens that stream all the big international news channels throughout the day. On countless occasions this week, I have glanced up and been greeted with scenes from the hit HBO show that I had not previously seen. I have had to tune out the conversations of countless colleagues – at times literally covering my ears, like a child in the throes of a mini tantrum. Reading the news (or, in fact, anything) on my phone has become a hazard-filled endeavour. I have trained my eyes to scan headlines in soft focus, to make sure there are no GoT references before I read anything properly. It’s exhausting.

'Game of Thrones' might be over but it has united the world. HBO via AP
'Game of Thrones' might be over but it has united the world. HBO via AP

And still I have been caught out. I was tricked by a seemingly innocuous headline about Sophie Turner’s new tattoo, which offers a major clue as to how things turn out in the end. Thanks Sansa. Another major plot twist made itself known when I was doing a completely unrelated Google search. Pictures that tell a thousand words have jumped out at me when I least ­expected it. And even though there are lots of plot details that I’m still unclear on, I do know that most ­people are bitterly disappointed by how the final season played out, which will ­invariably colour my watching experience.

I took an extended hiatus after watching season six – I felt like I needed a little break from all the violence and intrigue. I’m sure ­diehard fans will say that since it was my choice to get so far behind, I deserve to have the ending completely ruined for me. I made my bed; now I must lie in it.

Now it’s a race against time. Either I get to the end of the series in the next few days, or all the years spent wondering who ends up sitting on that (hugely uncomfortable-looking) Iron Throne will have been a complete waste of time.

I was up until 2am this morning desperately trying to get myself back in the GoT game. I am at a disadvantage because, in truth, I am only midway through season seven. Don’t judge me. I took an extended hiatus after watching season six – I felt like I needed a little break from all the ­violence and intrigue. I’m sure ­diehard fans will say that since it was my choice to get so far behind, I deserve to have the ending completely ruined for me. I made my bed; now I must lie in it.

Approximately 18 hours after the final episode aired, a colleague of mine joked that the statute of limitations was officially up. We had all had our chance to watch it and, if we hadn’t and she happened to let something slip, that was on us, not her.

It’s a sign of our times. We are no longer able to watch things at our own pace. We are not able to savour, digest, reflect and revisit. In this age of instant gratification, we have to consume immediately or suffer the consequences. Spoilers are a ­necessary evil of our social media- and streaming-fuelled, information-overloaded times.

Of course, there are some theories that suggest spoilers may not actually spoil things at all. In a paper entitled Story spoilers don’t spoil stories, based on three separate experiments, Jonathan Leavitt and Nicholas Christenfeld of the University of California discovered that in many instances, knowing key plot details in advance actually enhanced people’s enjoyment of a story. It allowed them to enjoy nuances that they might otherwise have missed, and to focus on the characters and storylines that mattered, rather than those that didn’t.

The paper maintains that “people’s ability to reread stories with undiminished pleasure, and to read stories in which the genre strongly implies the ending, suggests that suspense regarding the outcome may not be critical to enjoyment and may even impair pleasure by distracting attention from a story’s relevant details and aesthetic qualities … nervous stirrings of uncertainty may become warm anticipation of upcoming events once the story is laid bare”.

I would suggest that none of the above applies to Game of Thrones. One of the best things about the show is how unpredictable it has been from the get-go. The execution of Ned Stark in the first season (oops, spoiler alert) set the tone – from there onwards, it was clear nobody was safe. You watch every episode with the understanding that, at any given minute, your favourite character might meet an unthinkably gruesome end. It’s the antidote to a lot of anodyne popular culture, where the good guys invariably win, and the bad guys get their just desserts. Not so in Game of Thrones.

This is not a show about “warm anticipation”. It is a show about shock and surprise, which make spoilers all the harder to bear.

Updated: May 24, 2019 03:31 PM

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