Thought Bubble:
On not watching
Game of Thrones

I can’t wait to not watch Game of Thrones

Game-of-Thrones-Season-4-Dany

Game of Thrones returns this weekend. Like everyone else, I’m really looking forward to it. Which is weird, because I’m not going to watch it.

And no, I’m not making some kind of deliberate statement. I don’t have HBO or HBO GO or anything else that might facilitate legal viewing, and while I could pirate later (I don’t endorse that), I frankly can’t be bothered. There are enough things I haven’t watched on Netflix to keep me occupied and the illegal activity isn’t worth the effort.

That hasn’t done anything to diminish my anticipation, which says a lot about the way we consume media in 2014. I’m not actually looking forward to the show itself. I’m looking forward to Sunday night Twitter and Monday morning recaps – of which there will be many – because an episode isn’t complete until it’s been dissected around the metaphorical cooler.

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Though I don’t regularly watch Game of Thrones, I have read the books and a sizeable portion of the Wiki. I won’t say the books are better, but they did come first, so reading them is like cheating on a test of contemporary cultural ephemera. Thanks to George R.R. Martin, I have an insider’s knowledge of a phenomenon without having to take part in the phenomenon.

And yet I’m genuinely ecstatic about the return of the show, which has me wondering about the nature of television fandom. Do we watch because that’s what we want to be doing? Or do we watch because we want to participate in the weekly ritual?

Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive and there are plenty of shows worth watching solely for artistic and entertainment merit. But Game of Thrones has made me realize that I take greater pleasure in the subsequent appreciation than I do in the initial consumption. I enjoy engaging people on various subjects and I relish Game of Thrones because it’s my one opportunity to be relevant with regards to television.

As much as I love think pieces and speculation and the search for significance in everything from Girls to True Detective to How I Met Your Mother, I don’t get to read much commentary for fear of the dreaded spoilers. For the most part, the arrangement doesn’t bother me. TV is a time consuming medium and I don’t regret my decisions when there are games to be played.

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But with a show like True Detective – which I eventually plan on watching – there’s a palpable sense that I’m missing out on a core component of modern culture. Once I do catch up, all of the best writing will have long since been relegated to the archives of various websites. I could dig those articles up, but many will be obsolete, as will society’s collective interest in the subject matter.

The show will be the same, but the moment will have passed.

That’s why none of the Netflix original offerings – not even House of Cards – have totally captured the public’s imagination like True Detective, which gave fans a full week to watch, process, analyze, and anticipate every episode. Even in an era of on-demand television binges, TV’s true appeal remains serial.

Game of Thrones isn’t changing the media landscape with dragons, banners, or expository nudity (though those are definitely perks). Rather, it’s doing it with ten hours of television stretched across ten weeks of Westerosi immersion, a perfect pairing of hype and delivery unrivaled on the current schedule.

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My own relationship to the show is the result of a quirk of licensing. I’m able to partake of the misadventures of Tyrion, Jon, and, Daenerys without having to tune in for Peter, Kit, and Emilia. That’s unusual, so I’m savoring the sadistic thrills while they last (the Red Wedding was spectacular).

But Game of Thrones is still the biggest home viewing event on my calendar, and I can’t wait to see how the world reacts to the twists of season four. Television is only novel once. Every now and then, it’s fun to be a part of the conversation.

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