April 27, 2015
We are very fortunate to be living in what many critics have dubbed “the Second Golden Age of Television”. Beginning in the early 2000s, with the popularity of critically acclaimed shows such as The Wire and The Sopranos, the standards of good television today have far surpassed the expectations of a good movie. Though it has met some fair competition in AMC-produced shows such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, HBO maintains its spot as the most prestigious television content producer with the cultural phenomenon Game of Thrones. I won’t waste your time explaining just how popular Game of Thrones is. Any self-professed television fan that has had any sort of exposure to the outside world, online world or routine human conversation has heard about how badass Tyrion Lannister and the Khaleesi are. However what fans of the show may be blissfully unaware of is the completely unknown, unwritten territory that the show’s fifth season explores. Up until now, the producers of the show have used the novels to structure the basic plotlines of the TV characters. When the show began its run in 2011, the fifth novel was soon-to-be released and most fans of the books were excited to see their favorite literary characters come to life on the TV screen. At that time, not many could have foreseen the cultural avalanche that would ensue or the unforgiving pace at which the show would catch up to the books. That time is now. As season five progresses, many characters’ storylines have already reached (and will now surpass) their literary fates. With no plans to release the sixth novel anytime soon, this is cause for great concern amongst the purist bibliophiles.
Wary of being spoiled (perhaps the most insufferable sin in the eyes of booklovers), many fans of the novels have vowed to shield themselves from any developments in the show. Others, such as myself, understand the futility of such an effort and have resigned themselves to accept that we will have to watch how the story ends before we’re able read about it. As the undisciplined glutton I am, when I caught news that the first four episodes of the new season had leaked, I quickly found a way to view them and had an interesting revelation.
The show and books had diverged so vastly I was unsure as to if I was being ‘spoiled’ or not. As the story in the novels grows more and more complex, show producers are faced with having to sacrifice some plotlines and characters for the sake of simplicity. As such, many of the things that have occurred and will occur in the show could never happen in the novels. But there was no way of knowing whether what was occurring on-screen was filmed fabrication or whether that was truly the literary fate of the character. In fact, until I actually read the future novels and observe the character’s fate in the literature I couldn’t possibly know if I had been spoiled or not. The facet of fans that are both book-readers and show-watchers are trapped in a strange form of limbo, somewhere between spoiled and unspoiled, unable to determine how spoiled we truly are until we read the books. I’ve dubbed these unknowns as ‘Schrodinger Spoilers’.
This is new, unfamiliar territory for everyone involved. Usually the cinematic adaptations of stories are produced long after the literary ending and, more often than not, lambasted for not remaining one hundred percent faithful to the page. However, now fans of the books will have no further grounds to criticize the show for not following the book to the letter and the show’s producers have the luxury and responsibility of presenting the fresh narrative to millions of non-suspecting viewers. This is clearly a task in which they partake with great relish. The showrunners are well aware of this new power they’ve gained and with a sense of narrative sadism rivaled only by the novels’ author George R.R. Martin, they’re using it to painfully great effect.
If you haven’t watched the first two episodes of the fifth season, I’d recommend doing so before continuing. You’ve been warned. Only a couple of episodes in and already the show has taken leaps and turns that not many saw coming. Sansa doesn’t stay in The Vale, but is brought west to meet her betrothed. Mance Rayder does not escape his death sentence but is shown mercy by Jon Snow. Brienne and Podrick actually succeed in their mission and find both Arya and Sansa. Jaime and Bronn team up to retrieve Myrcella from Dorne. Perhaps the most vicious blow comes at the end of the fourth episode that teases the potential death of a much beloved character still very much alive in the books. All men must die, indeed. None of these things happen in the novels and so no one is quite sure where the journeys will end; all that’s left is to enjoy the ride. In a world as dramatic and tumultuous as Westeros, book-readers have had a long comfortable reign of prescience in knowing how the chaos plays out. That reign has now ended. Now we’re in the same boat as Jon Snow. We know nothing.