Tuesday, 15 April 2014

SPOILER ALERT: George RR Martin is not Shakespeare



Note: there will be no spoilers in here for “Game of Thrones” but there will be for some of Shakespeare’s work, specifically Romeo & Juliet.

Romeo & Juliet: not yet dead in this picture
Something happened on last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones”. A momentous twist in the make-up of the show. I haven’t seen the episode yet, but I have already been spoiled. Though Twitter blew up with spoilers yesterday, it was mainstream media outlets that let the cat out of the bag for me. Not so much because of what they said, but what their headlines implied. I get subtext, guys. I can read between the lines.

This led not to a discussion about the storytelling in the show, which can be a minefield at the best of times, but to the subject of spoilers: who should reveal them and when. And are spoilers from a fourteen-year-old novel really spoilers? Once they’ve aired on television, in one market, are they fair game?

Because Twitter is instantaneous, it’s only the East Coast of the US than can watch the episode without fear of spoilers. A few hours later on the West Coast can be too late, if you’re not careful. In Australia, there’s a couple more hours to wait if you can watch it live on a Monday afternoon. Or a few more hours if you have to wait until after work.

By that time yesterday, mainstream press was alluding to the plot twists. Mashable spoiled it in a headline. Stephen King had tweeted the spoiler. I hadn’t watched the first episode of the season, let alone the second – plus I was distracted by the “Mad Men” premiere. No spoilers for that here, either.

Sometimes plot twists seep into the culture. Some of the great works of literature and film cannot really be appreciated in the same way as they once were because we know the major reveals of the plot. That said, if a story is really good, it’s the detail of the story that should make it worth watching. Knowing what happened in last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones” shouldn’t ruin the experience of watching it – if it’s done well.

Someone I follow on Twitter said that reacting to a spoiler in a fourteen-year-old book is like saying that you’re surprised that Romeo & Juliet die. There’s a lot of things wrong with this, I think.

“Game of Thrones” is a different kind of story. Romeo & Juliet is a literal tragedy. We are waiting for that ending to come. Let’s not forget that Shakespeare spoils the ending of Romeo & Juliet in the prologue:

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life

He wants you to know it’s coming. He wants you to watch his characters meet their inevitable fate. “Game of Thrones” is on one-hand about political machinations. It’s about characters wanting to ascend to the Iron Throne. And there are dozens of characters vying for that position. We know the end game, but we don’t know who will be left to play it.

Cersei, not yet dead - as far as I know!
Cersei says in the first season of the series, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” George RR Martin is sticking to that promise – several characters playing the game have died. Often in shocking ways at surprising times. But because the narrative isn’t over – on screen or on the page – we can’t yet know which losses will impact the end of the story. The journey is barely half done.

“Game of Thrones” is not a tragedy, it’s more of a melodrama. It seems epic in the Shakespearean sense of the word – lots of characters, political and court intrigue – but it’s hard to judge a story on the revelations of one chapter. Yes, I’ve had last night’s episode spoiled for me, but will that ruin the experience of watching the series? Probably not.

Should people who haven’t read the books expect to remain unspoiled? I think so. Not everyone can read everything ever. And there are more people watching the series now than have ever read the books. And, in fact, it’s not the book readers who have been doing the spoiling over the last couple of days – it’s been TV viewers hell-bent on revealing that they’ve seen it first, everyone else be damned.

I try my best to avoid social media on days when I know it will be difficult to miss spoilers, but I’d appreciate it if mainstream media kept a lid on some of the reveals – at the very least until the episode has aired in each market. And don’t be too clever with your vague headlines, allusions can spoil as much as outright declarations.

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