ESSAY: Playing Readers for Fools: Game of Thrones, the TV Series, Has Pulled Ahead of the Books

By Noah Benjamin-Pollak

I got spoiled by Saturday Night Live — or, more precisely, Game of Thrones did.

Like many fans of the Game of Thrones books, I’ve made the difficult decision to not watch the HBO show and to avoid any spoilers, as best I could. Avoiding a show that I would typically enjoy is an odd, but also necessary decision for many Thrones fans. This is because the plot of the current season of Game of Thrones airing on HBO is actually ahead of the latest book.

Yes, that is how slow George R.R. Martin is going in writing the latest installment in the Game of Thrones series.

So, for the last few weeks I have been off of Twitter, and diligently avoiding Facebook on the days immediately before and after the show airs, and most embarrassingly, hiding in my bedroom with headphones on listening to loud rock music while my girlfriend watches each week’s episode on our television. But all it took to ruin things was innocently turning on Saturday Night Live, as I do every week, and running straight into a skit involving John Snow, one of Game of Thrones’ central characters.

Thrones fans such as myself are in a unique position. During previous large book releases one only had to worry about spoilers if one was a slow reader, or had truly awful friends.  Instead, with the massive interest in the HBO series, and the next book release apparently well beyond the immediate future, Thrones fans have had to make their own unique decisions around how to balance their love of the TV show with their desire to keep their reading experience pure.

Every fan is finding his or her own way to cope.  Indianapolis Colts star quarterback Andrew Luck has said that his way includes avoiding his teammates.  In an interview with The Ringer NFL Show Luck said, “As I understand it the show has sort of passed the books now so I'm really trying to stay away from anybody talking about the shows, especially [Colts tight end] Dwayne Allen who talks about them a lot.”  (When the interviewer asked Luck, “So you're waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish the books before you go into the shows?” Luck responded, “I know the fool that I am.”)

Martin appears to be feeling the heat from his angry fans, recently releasing an excerpt chapter from the upcoming Winds of Winter. Yet his critics still question how much of the book is actually written, since it still does not have a release date, and following the broken promises of a pre-show release they are loath to trust him.

There is also a growing conspiracy theory among fans that most or all of Martin’s progress on Winds is simply leftover material from another book in the series, A Dance With Dragons. The popular sports and gossip blog Deadspin has been leading the charge on this theory.  Martin has, amusingly, felt so threatened by Deadspin’s theories that he addressed them in an email which Deadpan immediately published and parsed, creating additional controversy.

Despite all of this Sturm und Drang, one thing seems quite clear: desperate fans looking for their GoT fix are unlikely to get relief in the immediate future. Unless, that is, they are willing to settle for the TV show, which is supposed to be a dramatization of Martin’s writings — not a substitute for it.

Noah Benjamin-Pollak is a Detroit-based writer.