By Barry Schwartz
Special to the Advocate
With the highly anticipated fourth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones upon us, the power dynamics have once again started to shift. Make no mistake, my ladies and lords, war is coming to Westeros.
A savage internecine struggle is being fought between two rival factions: dorks who watch Game of Thrones and dorks who read A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin’s as-yet-unfinished fantasy saga upon which the HBO series is based. Whatever peaceful overlap may still exist between the two camps, well, that is almost assuredly going to end.
In this battle for dominion of the realm, no segment of the audience wields more power than those who have read the books. Because if you read the books, you know that. …
Gotcha! See? We could spoil everything for you. We simply choose not to. Every day you don’t know what happens to Arya is a day we’ve given you solely out of our benevolent mercy.
Can you comprehend the restraint this requires? It’s so much harder to not spoil it for you than it is for you to avoid spoilers. The way you search our faces, secretly hoping we’ll betray our better nature and reveal what’s going to happen with a smirk.
“Are they all going to die?” you ask, and we think to ourselves, “Well, it is called The Red Wedding, so ….” but all we offer you is an expressionless shrug.
Because snitches get stitches — but spoilers? There’s a special black cell beneath the Red Keep for them, and that’s the unspoken, unwritten agreement book readers and viewers have shared these past three seasons: You guys get to enjoy your little show and we get to take perverse pleasure in watching you cry. It’s adorable, really. You haven’t even met any of the main characters yet.
J. Daniel Ford, 33, is a political strategist living in Los Angeles. He’s been reading (and re-reading) A Song of Ice and Fire since 1996. He’s a true Maester. You can check his credentials.
“I have first-edition hardcovers of every book,” Ford says. “I picked up the first book the day it came out in paperback. I happened to be working at a book store. I was stocking shelves when I decided to read it and fell in love. I was 15 years old.”
You must be a remarkably patient person.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been patient. It’s been driving me insane! I’ve invested more than half my life to this story. My only real desire is for it to be finished before I’m 40.”
Ford says he’s a fan of Game of Thrones. He says the best part is watching the show with people who haven’t read the books.
“I hate spoilers for myself,” says Ford, “so when people egg me for information, I don’t give it to them.”
How benevolently merciful of you.
“Some people I watched the Red Wedding with might disagree.”
Still, with only five of the saga’s planned seven books completed, it’s become increasingly apparent that HBO’s production speed is threatening to surpass Martin’s notoriously unhurried writing process. The coming season will even dramatize events found in the most recently published volume, A Dance with Dragons.
In this month’s issue of Vanity Fair, when asked if the show is catching up to the books, Martin responded, “They are. Yes. It’s alarming.” Dark wings, dark words.
Earlier this month, with promotion intensifying for the premiere, a cryptic post promising future surprises on Martin’s website ignited rampant speculation that a release date announcement for the saga’s forthcoming sixth volume, The Winds of Winter, was imminent. Martin collaborator Elio Garcia would later quell these rumors, confirming that “the book is not yet done, and no firm release date can be given until that time.” A sample chapter was released last week, though Martin again offered little encouragement a complete next installment will be arriving soon.
Ideally, Martin will complete the final two books of the saga in a timely manner, but to paraphrase Benjen Stark, nothing someone says after the word “ideally” really counts. We stand on the precipice of doom. Like, Doom-of-Valyria-doom. Martin’s detailed plan to prevent the show from catching up to the source material is neither detailed nor a plan. If The Winds of Winter has no release date in sight and its supposed final volume, A Dream of Spring, remains only a gleam in his eye, devoted fans from both ends of Martin’s universe face the distinct possibility that HBO might finish his story for him.
For an adaptation to outpace its source material in medias res is a truly postmodern conundrum. It feels unprecedented, doesn’t it? Could devoted readers ultimately be the ones who face spoiling?
And by people who only watch the show?!
Game of Thrones executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss have confirmed a recent visit to Martin’s home in New Mexico to lay the groundwork for future seasons, including the final season of the show.
So basically, they know how it ends. So basically, all the spoilers. So basically, this has all been an elaborate scheme by two book readers hell-bent on spoiling everything for themselves even if it means spoiling it for everyone.
Michael Craft, 27, is an independent game developer from Shawnee, Okla. He’s been reading A Song of Ice and Fire since 2002, when he was a sophomore in high school.
“If the ending of a series I’ve been reading for over a decade gets spoiled before I crack that final page and read the words myself, that would be a really big bummer,” Craft says. “Honestly, if and when it happens, I will have to just go on a media blackout. I will have to remain vigilant against spoilers and soldier on waiting for those books. I just can’t learn the ending from a TV show. I just can’t.”
Save for some minor complaints, readers have generally agreed that Game of Thrones renders A Song of Ice and Fire beautifully, offering as faithful an interpretation as one could hope for given the immense challenges presented by its source material. The next few years, however, could present a much different narrative, one not unlike the story itself, with Benioff and Weiss as usurpers to the throne and Martin as the cuckolded, exiled beggar king.
“I have a lot of faith in George R.R. Martin,” Ford says. “I find it very hard to believe he would allow himself to be backed into this type of corner. They need to use the books to push the show and the show to push the books. Regardless of how we get it, what matters to me is that it’s consistently his vision.”
And that’s why we can’t allow this to happen. For when the audience is divided against itself — readers against watchers, watchers against readers — and when A Song of Ice and Fire becomes the novelization of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the realm will bleed.
Perhaps the fault lies with Martin for licensing his creative property and revealing his endgame to producers. Still, you can’t help but feel sorry for him. The tale grew in the telling, as they say. That its conclusion could be determined by fan-fiction feels like injustice.
I will answer injustice with justice, for George R.R. Martin and the Danny Fords and Michael Crafts of the world. Today, on the Isle of Faces in sight of the Green Men, we sign here a pact between readers and watchers. We haven’t spoiled anything for you; don’t let them spoil anything for us.
Or winter is coming for us all.
Schwartz is a freelance writer for the Washington Post.