Imagine that you are a chef at the height of your craft. You have spent years researching a combination of ingredients to make the perfect Black Forest Gateau. For hours, you toil in your kitchen to present that cake in a way that honours its quality. You present the cake to your diner, and before you can say 'bon appetit', they're cramming the it in their mouth, grabbing chunks faster than they can chew. You think they enjoy it. It's hard to tell, for the only sound they make is a strained pleasured groaning from their gullet that might be thankful. Deep down, you can't help but think they would be better off with just one slice.
With the leaked episodes of Game of Thrones Season 5, I can only guess that this is how David Benioff, DB Weiss and the denizens of HBO feel right now. The Game of Thrones fandom is swallowing faster than it can chew, and hey, maybe that's okay. Maybe that's even the future of television.
So we all woke up on Monday April 13th ready to watch Game of Thrones Season 5 through varying degrees of legality, when it suddenly comes to fruition that the first five episodes have been leaked, and are ready for download. "How awful! I hope they catch those miscreant pirates!" I said while downloading episode 1 for myself. Suddenly, people were boasting on social media that they had downloaded all five episodes, and would instantly know more than anyone else. Although failing to realise others have been ahead for years simply by reading the books, these petty thieves do prove something. Five instant episodes of Game of Thrones Season 5 is still pretty tempting!
Game of Thrones is the most torrented television product ever. You'd think would be a slight thorn in HBO's side, but they've gone on record as being okay with the piracy surrounding their flagship show. They're just cool with it, like annoying hippy parents who let their kid hang out with weirdos under a bridge. The nonchalance ends however, with these five leaked episodes. HBO are fine with many seeing Game of Thrones for free, but if they see it before the official broadcast, oh no now they're breaking the rules. We're left with two options. Either the TV audience is an insatiable monster that doesn't know what's good for them, or weekly broadcast simply isn't the optimal model for TV anymore.
The answer is both. Multiple shows today posit their very release as events, yet benefit from the Netflix model, where every episode it available for the viewer to binge through at any rate. House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Daredevil are only a few success stories, and in comparison, Games of Thrones is holding the last bastion of weekly watershed episodes. All it takes is one leak of the most talked about show on TV and WHOOPS! NOT ANYMORE!
That is of course an exaggeration, but with so many people out there inconsiderately knowing more stuff than me about a fantasy series that started in the 90s, it begs the question, would Game of Thrones benefit from a Netflix style "all you can eat" model of broadcast?
What Would it Gain?
You know how episodes of Game of Thrones are on average about 50 minutes long, but they always feel like 5? That is a testament not just to the construction of the show, but to the massive rich expanse that is George RR Martin's world. There is so much to learn and store away to mansplain later. It almost seems wrong to cram such content into individual episodes. Of course, TV is a good medium to create buzz, build a fan base and oh yeah make money, but a consensus seems to be growing that Game of Thrones functions better as something that can be indulged in and dipped in and out of. It would probably work as something where you create your own production in your head at any pace. Sadly, I know of no such thing, so we're stuck with TV.
Upon watching Episode 2 of Season 5, a moment occurred where Arya arrived in Bravos. A waterside market was bustling with energy. Dozens of extras were in motion, all seemingly oblivious of a lead character entering their scene, all working to make this place seem like a real, functioning space. And then the moment ended, and it was all gone. It's moments like these that make me realise Game of Thrones genuinely works better as something you can bathe in. Video games do it, books do it, yet weekly episodic TV paints HBO as a magic gremlin that constantly runs away with the thing you love singing "tee hee come back next week!"
What Would be Lost?
If HBO suddenly adopted the Netflix all-consuming model of broadcast, Game of Thrones the story might benefit, but Game of Thrones the show? It would be at risk of losing its very identity. When I hear about a new season of Game of Thrones, I don't think of watching the show itself, but of everyone else watching it, and the little explosions of opinions that emerge every Monday. That reaction; that clamouring for proof that you sat down for 50 minutes to watch an episode is what made the Game of Thrones experience, and it's been diminished slightly by these leaked episodes. Think on it like this. When the Red Wedding first broadcast, we got this...
Book readers (or those simply catching up with the show) were on the other hand treated to sniggering hush hush nonsense from their peers. Just because readers consumed the story at different rates, fans were suddenly saying "have you reached it yet? Have you reached it? I won't spoil it for you... even though I basically just did." This is the landscape we would see if Game of Thrones was suddenly put on a platter for us to gorge from. It would still be your typical beard-strokingly good television, but we wouldn't be united in our simultaneous viewership. I JUST WANT TO BE INCLUDED DAMMIT!
I can only suspect that the first five episodes don't involve any huge revelations, for I've seen very few gremlin people sniggering and teasing that they know more than me. At least, the ones I see don't watch TV... what?
Spoilers have almost become a kind of currency. I legitimately once stopped someone spoiling Game of Thrones for me by holding them hostage with the prospect of spoiling Breaking Bad for them. It's crazy that will live in this world of paranoid one-upmanship, where the release of every show turns into an arms race of binging. So what do these five leaked episodes do to the future of Game of Thrones. Hopefully, not much, aside from proving that human beings are incredibly weak willed, especially when it comes to quality big-budget television. It's our own compulsive watching that really makes the money!
It's pretty clear why HBO have been switching up events from A Song of Ice and Fire in their show. It's to stay ahead of their audience, and have us constantly at their mercy, scared of what they could do next. That's why a small section of fans illegally getting ahead muddies plans so much, and why I fervently oppose anyone caving, and binging ahead. It's okay for us to all live in fear of HBO. I just want everyone to live in fear together. Isn't that a lovely thought?