Game of Thrones is a singular case in pop culture.
There have been other culturally significant and popular episodic shows taken from books or comics, but in most cases those shows were adapted once the work was done. In other cases, such as The Walking Dead, the show has so little to do with the source material that it's irrelevant.
Game of Thrones, the show, seeks to be a mostly faithtful adaptation of the books, but Martin is an author that famously releases new books when they're done ... and not a moment before.
That means the clockwork-like nature of the television adaption has caught up with the books, and will soon surpass them. Fans of the property have to make some hard, and kind of weird, decisions: Do they wait for the books, or watch the television show as it's released?
George doesn't care, but we do
"This whole concept of spoilers is one that I've never gotten," George R.R. Martin told a Verge reporter. "Yes, there's a pleasure when you're reading a book, or watching a television show — What will happen next? Who will win? Who will lose? But that is by no means the only reason to watch a movie or a television show. It's not the only reason to read a book.
"I read a lot of historical fiction, you know? I know who won the Civil War — it's not a spoiler to me. But I can still enjoy Gettysburg, even though I know how the battle came out. I can still enjoy historical fiction about the Wars of the Roses, even though I know who won the Wars of the Roses," he continued.
"And for that matter, I still enjoy watching Citizen Kane every few years even though I know 'Rosebud' is the sled. So there — I just gave a terrible spoiler to all the people who haven't seen Citizen Kane. Rosebud is the sled, but nonetheless, you should still watch Citizen Kane, because it's incredible!"
We get it, Mr. Martin, but c'mon. There was a sort of implicit contract when the show began that we could enjoy either version of the work on our own terms. The walls between the two have already begun to break down — the show watchers know one or two things that have yet to be confirmed to book fans — but now that spoilers will likely begin to flow freely in either direction the contract is broken.
No matter how you watch or read, one version of the work will be impacted by your viewing or reading of the other. The clear distinctions we used to enjoy, such as the ability to read each book and then enjoy that season of the TV show, are gone.
That linear and clear separation of books and TV show was what allowed things like the Red Wedding to become instantly memorable; book fans knew to look out for reactions of those of us who hadn't read the books at the time. The book readers were always safer than TV viewers, because they knew what was going to happen before it happened, and there wasn't much the show could spoil for them. You could make a decision of how to enjoy the property and stick with it.
The clear distinctions we used to enjoy are gone
But now all bets are off. Fans of the book are going to have to be careful around social media, and they're going to be almost forced to watch the show live or close to it, even though this season won't suffer from this issue.
"We're not really beyond the books yet," Show runner David Benioff told Mashable. "Thinking about the first scene of the season and the last scene of the season, it’s all still within the novels [published so far], so you’re still mostly safe."
After that? It's anyone's guess, and the Internet doesn't quite seem to know how to respond, but everyone knows this is a big deal. This sort of thing, as we discussed above, is brand new.
The spoiler issue is a big one, and later seasons will force our hand a bit. It's not about knowing a spoiler, it's about losing the ability to experience and process it in real time, through either a book or a show. Hearing about it via Tweet or conversations sucks all the power out of the revelation, and lessens the fun of taking the ride.
My prediction? Book fans are going to be all but forced to move over to watching the show first to preserve those moments from themselves, or make peace with the idea that they'll hear about major plot points before they are able to watch or read about them. Hell, even Stephen King tweeted a spoiler on the air date of an episode with a major event and seemed taken aback by the reaction of fans.
We take our spoilers seriously, even if Martin is able to laugh off the concerns. This is going to change how people consume the show and books, and you can expect some of the most dedicated fans of the books to be a bit grumpy about it.