Monday, June 3, 2013

In Defense of Spoilers


Last night was a spoiler explosion, wasn't it?

In a twist a lot of people couldn't fathom, "Game of Thrones" killed off not only three and a half major characters, but it wiped out the good guys' army. The guy a lot of people assumed we were supposed to be rooting for is now dead. Blind-sided, hundreds of people took to social media to express an emotion they could not process.

Last season, King of the North, Robb Stark, broke a vow his mother, Catelyn, made with Walder Frey by marring the woman he loved, Talisa, instead of Frey's daughter. In the mean time, we've wondered how this would bite him in the ass. Needing Frey for a military victory, Robb offered his cousin to Frey, and an uneasy alliance seemed likely.

Upon their return to Frey's castle for the wedding, Walder taunts the King, his Queen, and his family. This disrespect, it would seem, was the Starks' pennance for their betrayal. The whole awkward wedding goes off basically without a hitch...

... until Frey orders his army to kill Robb, Catelyn, Talisa, and her unborn baby, whom she just named "Ned" after Robb's beloved dead father.

This twist was crazy. TV shows don't just off and kill main characters. True, they did it in season one when they killed Robb's father, but that was the culmination of a series of missteps. The Red Wedding is heart-breaking and sudden. To fans of the show, this was a punch in the gut. People really, honestly, needed support, the kind of support only social media can provide.

In the process, though, they spoiled the hell of this major plot point.

People today don't always watch TV live. Anyone who was out or busy Sunday night, and was looking forward to curling up with "Game of Thrones" this week, got flooded with spoilers ranging from specifics to general emotion. To be clear, all of which were spoilers. Late comers missed out on the chance to get fooled by Frey along with the Starks. They knew something big was coming, rendering the whole thing pretty straight-forward.

Today, as though they knew this would happen somehow, Cracked posted this article:

Among other things, this article talks about how dependent on twists movies have become. We've forgotten that what really matters is character and story. We need to be invested in people and satisfied they've taken a fulfilling journey. It doesn't matter that Bruce Willis is dead or that Brad Pitt is in Edward Norton's head. It matters that Bruce and Ed found emotional peace and catharsis.

"Game of Thrones" and its progenitor A Song of Ice and Fire are so chock full of twists, viewers and readers get jerked from one upheaval to another. Each twist is more brilliant than the next, but I argue you can appreciate them even if you know they're coming.

And that's why I looked up everything online after season 2.

I binge watched seasons 1 and 2 last year. Somehow going in, I had it in my head that Tyrion Lannister was going to become king at the end of season 2. Not sure where I got this, but there it was. Tyrion spends most of season 2 reveling and excelling in the inner workings of the royal court. It seems that a beloved, down-trodden character will finally find his calling. I assumed the entire season was building to his triumph, when in fact, it was leading to his downfall. He does not become king. He is betrayed by his own family and left with a permanent facial scar.

I just couldn't take it anymore. I really love these characters, and I had to know what was coming. It's not like I found priviledged information. The show is based on books, and fans have obsessively transcribed the entire history of this fantasy kingdom. I have no interest in reading these thick tomes (perhaps one day), but I had to know. It's not like I could spoil the ultimate ending. Those books haven't even been written yet.

Finding out about the Red Wedding was somewhat of an accident. I tried to just find the information I wanted and ignore the rest. But then I looked up point of view characters, and found out that after the third book, Catelyn stops narrating. I was disappointed at first, but having seen last night's episode, I realize it was worth it.

Knowing what the episode was building toward, I found greater appreciation in everything that came before it. The non-wedding parts of the episode featured major turning points for three Stark children and Ned's bastard, Jon Snow. The show was trying to tell us the Starks still have a chance. Bran Stark's adventure will now take him North to foster his awesome super power. Rickon Stark will enter a life of safety (or more danger depending on how this massacre turns out). Arya Stark witnessed the massacre and now has revenge on the brain. Jon Snow is no longer playing spy, but running for his life.

Even the wedding parts were better knowing what was coming. Every beat had another layer, watching Walder lay his trap.

Going back several episodes, as Robb found out Talisa was pregnant and he planned his attack on Casterly Rock, it was so fulfilling to see these events knowing they would lead to his death. I know it wasn't the author's intent, but I rather liked watching Robb's ironic downfall, as opposed to thinking I was watching his triumph unfold onto to have it torn from me. The latter is probably more challenging emotionally, but I have enough going on in my life.

Knowing what's coming does not diminish how amazing this show is, just ask fans of the books. It is a well-made, well-written, well-produced piece of television. Would the Red Wedding have been better if I didn't know it was coming? Maybe, but even knowing, it's still one of the best hours of TV I've ever seen.

Somewhat unrelated, I got into it with a friend Memorial Day Weekend about spoiling "Arrested Development." In hindsight, the argument was over semantics. She spoiled something so minor, it could not have possibly ruined anything for anybody. I told her, however, that the second coming of "Arrested Development" was a thing we had all sort of gotten together and decided would be a spoiler-free event. We knew it was available to watch whenever, but we were going to try to binge watch it over the holiday. We knew some people could not keep up, and we knew everyone would want to talk about it on Facebook and Twitter. She was saying her status was not a spoiler. I was saying it was.

So what's the difference?

If anyone was moved to uncontrollable emotion by the fourth season of "Arrested Development," I know the number of a good therapist. 

At the end of the day, I don't care much about spoilers, but other people do. I could argue that if a movie or TV can't stand up once you know the twist, it wasn't great to begin with, but then again, it's not my place to rob someone of that experience. That's what spoilers do. I'm not talking about the thing, I mean the people who spoil. They don't care that they're taking an experience away from someone, just so they can say some stupid thing on Facebook.

Here's my proposal:

Spoilers will refrain from spoiling casually, if the spoiler-averse will forgive a spoiler-ridden mass emotional release.


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