It began with a challenge to myself, the way some decide to run a marathon or summit Mount Everest. Dare I attempt to catch up on the HBO epic “Game of Thrones” before the final season begins April 14?
Fantasy and sword fights are not my thing. GIFs of Jon Snow in the snow had not moved me. Yet I began to have the unsettling sense that I was missing an essential cultural touchpoint.
I’d have to watch seven full seasons — 67 episodes of about an hour each — in five weeks. Could I even?
On a gray Saturday morning, I tentatively watched the first episode and was rocket-propelled by its audacity. The next time I looked up I had burned through Season 1. The following day I watched all of Season 2. I rubbed my eyes. The workweek was about to interrupt, but a still-daunting to-watch list was now surmountable. A fan of the show sent me an encouraging tweet: “All men must die. But we are not men.”
The show was sexy and exhilarating and traumatic. There were deaths, a great many of them. “Everyone is going to die, so I won’t like anyone,” I told myself. “Nothing can surprise me at this point anyway.”
Oh, but it can. And for that reason, the effort to avoid spoilers was worth it.
Near the beginning of my quest, my very newsroom published a slideshow called “Game of Thrones: 33 Shocking Deaths,” or as I thought of it, “This Could Not Be Worse for Me Right Now.” I avoided scrolling the Tribune homepage for a few days.
I fretted about spoiler fear to my deskmate, and we concluded “The web is dark and full of terrors.” I handed over my phone so he could block a long list of character names from my Twitter feed. He and others humored me when I began conversations with “I want to talk about ‘Game of Thrones,’ but you can’t say anything.” Very few people can resist basking in their superior knowledge by dropping a hint or two.
Nonetheless, I trustfully tweeted my progress. Friendly fellow travelers sent messages of support or exclaimed about key events I’d safely passed. Watching out of sync with society, I experienced the broad outlines of the “GoT” plot — battles among groups of people while a more existential threat looms — as a climate change allegory. Not everyone agreed with me, but since they were forbidden to speak, they couldn’t argue much.
In real time, viewers had recovery time after the intensity of high-stress episodes, though usually there are just one or two gory sword fights amid the soap opera. But watching eight hours a day, it seemed wise to shield my brain from exposure to that much violence. I learned exactly where to hold a hand in front of my eyes to blot out the worst but follow along at the edges of the screen, to the tune of clanging swords and tortured screams. I had vivid dreams.
When I binge-watched “The Wire” years ago, I stayed up too late and let routines fall by the wayside. This time I tried to keep up with life at least a bit. By skipping the four-minute opening credits, I saved enough time on longer watch days to briefly be Returner of Phone Calls and Doer of Dishes. I did invest precious minutes in the directors’ recaps, though, to catch my breath and review family names and themes.
Before long, it will be almost impossible to avoid last-season spoilers. Target has shorts with Westeros written across the butt, a sure sign that the hype beast has awakened.
In real time, contract talks tipped viewers that certain characters would survive to see another paycheck. Such entertainment news is also a reminder that they’re simply actors, and I was spared that. For me, in the last few compressed weeks, they’ve been Tyrion and Cersei and Daenerys and nothing more.
I know what’s coming, though, as I revel in this richly drawn, suspenseful universe for just a little longer, disconnected from the very cultural chatter I sought to join. The joy was in the journey. The sad words of the final ritual will be intoned all too soon: “And now her watch has ended.”
Andrea Hanis, first of her name, writer and editor at Chicago Tribune, watcher of episodes and slayer of spoilers.