I’ve been waiting for the start of season five of Game of Thrones basically since the last episode of season four wrapped. I’m up to date on the books, but, unlike some, I’ve been at least indifferent to almost all of the changes the series has made to the books. I didn’t like seeing Jojen Reed go, and having Bronn train Jaime made no sense at all, but generally the changes have been fine.
But now, we know that the series will reach the end of the story before the books. And I must confess, I am conflicted. I’ve never been opposed to spoilers. If something is well-written, I tell people frequently, it doesn’t matter if you know the story ahead of time or not. But today, I am mad, so very mad, that I will read the remaining books already knowing the plot.
With a few days to mull it over, however, I’m left with more of a philosophical question: Are spoilers more damaging while reading or watching? Is it better to read first or watch first?
Martin’s books are genius on many levels. But one way the books function so well is that, despite their length, they keep you reading to find the answers to cliffhangers and questions. How many times in A Dance With Dragons did I flip ahead to see if there was another Tyrion chapter so I was sure he hadn’t died falling into a river or touching someone with grayscale? And the Red Wedding? I’m incredibly glad I read that first in the book. The build up was longer, slower, inexorable. You knew something bad was going to happen, but you didn’t know what or when. And then, when the musicians started firing their crossbows, you realize the clues trailed back across the chapters and you kick yourself. That’s a pleasurable reading experience. And now we’re all going to be deprived of that sensation.
But spoilers on tv aren’t inherently better or easier to handle. We’ve all avoided Facebook the day after a big show we couldn’t watch (that’s right, Facebook. I’m old). Watching Game of Thrones next to my wife, she blocks my face from her field of vision with her hands so my expression doesn’t inadvertently give away when bad things are about to happen. For myself, season one, which I watched before I’d read the books, was pretty damned exciting television. Ned’s beheading was stunning. Had I read the books, the impact would have been much less severe. And when the show has taken liberties with the books, I’ve found myself on the edge of my seat again - like when Jojen got blown up.
So now I’m torn. I want the hours of suspenseful reading from the novels, but I also want to be engaged and excited by a television show. And I sympathize with David Benioff, et al. The good Mr. Martin writes slowly and in volume. Waiting around for him to finish the next 3,400 pages is unreasonable. Actors would age out of their parts. Others might just age. Public attention could wane and the series could end up unfinished. They must press forward and use the information on the end of the novel that Martin already gave them. But should we watch it?
I can’t say I know the answer right now, but I’m going to start out watching. For one thing, I know that, once the episodes air, it will be basically impossible to avoid spoilers. Not watching will gain me no advantage as I await the massive novels. But this seems like an annoyingly terrible reason to throw away the long-term enjoyment of reading a book without knowing where it’s going.
On the other hand, I just love the story and I’m excited to see where it goes. This is a better reason, but I’m still watching through conflicted feelings.