We might need a drink for this.
Game of Thrones has become the great equalizer — it’s the only major TV show that won’t give critics an advanced look at episodes before they air. (Boo-hoo for us, right?)
It may not seem important (or fair, especially when everyone else in the world has to wait), but advanced episode "screeners" do fulfill an important function in helping outlets to shape their coverage, conduct interviews and write reviews — it’s a tough job, we know, but it is a job.
And even in the age of industry hacks and spoiler culture, it’s still a rare thing for critics to be kept in the dark entirely.
Reviewers got to see all of HBO’s The Leftovers before the final season aired, and even secrecy-prone Marvel and Netflix make the first half of their street-level hero shows like Daredevil and Iron Fist available for reviewers before they debut (although they might regret that last one).
Netflix is still in the screener game despite becoming the target of a hack which saw the the first 10 episodes of Orange is the New Black Season 5 leaked online over a month before its premiere. This security breach didn’t come from a press screener, though, it originated from a production vendor whose security was compromised by a hacker — which is a far more prevalent threat than reporters compromising their jobs and integrity to leak a screener that only a select group has been given.
Even The Walking Dead, the highest-rated series on television, will usually give reviewers an advanced look at every episode before the finale, unless there’s a major twist the show is trying to keep secret, like that infamous Season 6 finale and equally divisive Season 7 premiere.
If they can’t send a batch of episodes out before the season begins (which is harder for broadcast shows than those on cable networks, due to their tighter production turnaround), most networks still make review copies of their series available weekly to facilitate recaps and postmortems, even for buzzy shows like Empire, This Is Us and The Handmaid’s Tale.
But ever since the first four episodes of Game of Thrones Season 5 leaked online ahead of the show’s on-air debut, HBO has been understandably cautious about making episodes available before premiere, confirming to Mashable that reporters won’t receive screeners for Season 7, just as they didn’t for Season 6. Since the show remains the most pirated series in the world, we can’t blame them.
And it’s not unprecedented — Mad Men creator Matt Weiner was famously obsessed with preventing any spoilers from leaking before an episode aired, cutting off review copies to critics in Season 4.
And for Game of Thrones it makes even more sense — the show is now past the narrative laid out in George R. R. Martin’s books, which means that readers no longer have an advantage over casual viewers, making every plot reveal more precious.
In Season 6, we were all clamouring to know whether (or more accurately, how, because LBH, we all knew he was coming back) Jon Snow would be resurrected, and even reporters who attended the Season 6 premiere in Los Angeles were kept in the dark, because Jon’s resurrection wasn’t revealed until episode 2. Sneaky!
But there’s also something to be said for the communal viewing experience of true watercooler TV — Game of Thrones is one of the few shows (along with The Walking Dead) that can actually dominate cultural conversation, and when we’re all huddled around our TVs, logged on to Twitter and reacting together, it does feel a little magical.
HBO will likely hold another red carpet premiere for Season 7, which will allow some lucky critics in at least one major city to see the Season 7 premiere early, but it looks like from now until the series ends (in a mere 13 episodes’ time), much like Gendry, we’re all in the same boat.
Rowing for spoilers.
(H/T Entertainment Weekly)