I am going to spoil Game of Thrones in this blog post. It’s not a warning, it’s a fact. You don’t like it, I don’t care. Why?
Because I’m an insufferable little shit.
I read A Song and Ice and Fire. I’m not cool enough to be able to say that I was reading ASOIAF in the 90s, but I did pick up the books after finishing the first season of Game of Thrones. By the time the second season was over, I already knew that Jon Snow was dead. Or had died. Or was stabbed. Whatever. Fuck you. I’m insufferable.
I’m insufferable because during season three, four, and five, whenever someone asked me, “Hey, did you catch Game of Thrones last night?” I would respond with knowing disdain and superiority.
“Yes, I saw Littlefinger push Lysa into the Moon Door. Only Cat. ONLY CAT.”
“Oh, you’re super pumped about that new Dornish character who wants to fuck you? Just you wait!”
“Yes, I saw it. Fuck you. I read it.”
Why did I feel the need to speak like this? Why did I feel the need to lord it over everyone who didn’t read the books? Why the sense of superiority? There is no reward for reading those things. You aren’t a certified Game of Thrones expert just because you’ve read the books. You aren’t special. You are insufferable.
Here’s the deal. Reading sucks sometimes. It just does. Reading takes focus and concentration and a willingness to push forward. TV hits you in the face. It stands in front of you and takes off its clothes and demands you to look at me look at me look at me. Books invite you in, but the looking is more or less up to you.
Is that why the false sense of superiority? Because reading is more work and therefore better? Because it takes more thought power to get through several 5,000 page books than to sit our your ass for an hour every Sunday?
I don’t even know if I agree with that premise anymore. Not with the way TV has been for the past fifteen years. Watching Breaking Bad is a masterclass in character development and symbolism. Six Feet Under can teach you as much about family dynamics as anything O’Neill ever wrote.
BUT GAME OF THRONES WAS A BOOK FIRST AND A TV SHOW SECOND. IT’S MEANT TO BE READ. I’M INSUFFERABLE. I’M SO FUCKING INSUFFERABLE.
A Song of Ice and Fire is a high-fantasy series of novels. Game of Thrones is a TV show. One is a literary story. The other is a visual story. Sure, the story in both of those compound nouns is the same. But is it? In last night’s episode - which covered events largely not yet published in ASOIAF - most of the events will not happen in the book series. Not will happen differently, or will be worse than the novel. They will not happen. Full stop. Theon and Sansa? Not going to happen. Arya and Jaqen? Not going to happen. Jon Snow coming back to life? Probably going to happen, but almost certainly not like that. At this point the stories themselves are so different that even if/when they end up in the same place it will be a completely different experience.
There is a problem, I think, when it comes to people who choose to read source material before seeing adaptations, and that problem is exclusivity. For those of us who had read A Storm of Swords before seeing “The Rains of Castamere,” we were simply having a different experience. But just because we knew what was at the other end of the wedding ceremony doesn’t make us better, and I feel time and time again that people who have read these books feel superior to those who have not. I know this because I feel superior, and I’m completely insufferable for it.
And if you are waiting for The Winds of Winter to come out and are trying to avoid spoilers from the TV show, I’m afraid the onus for that is on you. Sure, you could make the argument that you didn’t spoil anything for the show watchers when you knew what was going to happen at the Red Wedding, but when millions of people all watch the same show at the same time, and when those millions of people largely have Internet access, the spoiler effect is exponentially higher. You live in a world in which you have access to all of the world’s information and breaking news right next to your genitals for nearly every waking hour. Your shit will be spoiled, and it’s up to you to avoid it.
Stories are at their best when the audience feels a sense of ownership over them. Books and TV shows, unlike movies, are great at tapping into this power. When you’re reading a book, you inhabit a world designed by you and for you. The words on the page helped, sure, but before Game of Thrones my Red Wedding was completely different from your Red Wedding. With TV it’s largely the same. These characters exist on the screen, yes, and the image on the screen is the same for you as it is for your next-door-neighbor; however, these characters are coming into your home. They’re hanging out in your living room every Sunday with you and your spouse and your dog and your pizza. They’re part of your family. They’re personal. So where the fuck do people like me get off telling other people that because I read the books, the story is MY story? “I’m waiting for Winds of Winter to find out of Jon Snow comes back from the dead, so you have NO RIGHT to spoil MY STORY!” Bullshit. You’re insufferable.
Forget that the stories at this point are so divergent they are basically separate narratives entirely. Forget that one is a piece of literature and the other is a serialized film. Forget that one relies on your imagination to do the work while the other relies on the tireless effort of thousands of below-the-line people to build the same world. One way is not better than the other way. You are not special because you read a book, and you are not lazy because you chose not to. You are not a sheep because you only care about the show, and you are not a nerd because you read the books. Some people like visual stories. Some people like literary stories. Neither is wrong. Stories are good.