HBO has always had an uneasy but not directly hostile relationship with Game of Thrones piracy, and the company has recently taken steps towards improving how the show is offered in order to make the product itself easier to access. You can't stop the signal though, and the first four episodes of season 5 have been leaked online.
You shouldn't watch them. This is why.
Wait for better quality
"Sadly, it seems the leaked four episodes of the upcoming season of Game of Thrones originated from within a group approved by HBO to receive them." HBO said in a statement. "We’re actively assessing how this breach occurred."
Screeners have immense value for critics due to their timing, not their video quality. We're able to get our coverage schedules, recaps and reviews all lined up nicely before the shows air but no one is ever going to claim the screeners themselves are the best way to experience the show. HBO sends the content on a set of DVDs, containing standard definition versions of each episode.
It's a good value proposition for those of us covering the show, but for fans? It's the worst way to watch. Game of Thrones is a show that lives in the details, and sacrificing a high definition image just to see the show a few weeks early seems like madness.
Critics watch a version of the show that's significantly worse than the beautiful image offered via any other method. Hell, once the shows air you'll likely be able to pirate HD versions of each episode if you know where to look. Why rush to watch an ugly version of such a beautiful show?
HBO is one of the few cable channels doing it right
Game of Thrones was already the most pirated show on television, and the first episode of the new season has already been downloaded over a million times.
"At the time of writing more than 135,000 people are sharing a single torrent of the first episode of season 5, which has already been downloaded over a million times since its release 18 hours ago," TorrentFreak reported.
"The other three episodes are hovering around a million downloads as well, and that’s only via public torrent sites. The piracy totals will most likely double if the totals of streaming and direct download sites are added."
You'll never be able to stop piracy, but HBO has consistently been the company that has tried to offer a service to at least compete with it. You can pay $15 a month for HBO Now if you want to pay for the channel without a cable subscription. The app is exclusive to Apple devices for now, but you can simple borrow someone's iPhone to create an account than watch on your laptop.
The company has taken a laissez faire approach to dealing with customers sharing their HBO Go logins. Game of Thrones is now shown on the same date in most markets.
In other words, HBO gets it in a way that's rare in the modern content industry. This leak isn't likely to have a huge impact on the company's business, but it's hard to justify trying to remove any of the company's revenue via piracy when HBO is so far ahead of its competitors in terms of meeting the customer halfway.
There is a real fear that HBO's competitors will decide not to try the same approach if piracy continues or even increases after HBO has done so much to improve and expands its service.
The fun is what happens between episodes
Game of Thrones lives by its plot twists, surprise moments and tense conversations. It's a show that's enjoyable to watch in the moment before you get spoiled online, but then the second fun bit comes from the conversations that happen online.
Did you see this? What did you think of that? How did the books handle it? What do you think will happen next?
Game of Thrones has taken over the water cooler, and the thrill of not knowing what's going to happen next is a part of that. You're depriving yourself of the fun week that takes place between each episode by binging on four low-quality rips from this season.
Shows like Daredevil were built from the ground up for binge viewing; everyone involved knew from the start that's how many, if not most, people would be enjoying the show. Game of Thrones is a weekly show, and the rhythm of each episode and final scene is improved by the week in between. It's a show that rewards multiple viewings, and speculation about what will happen next and what it all means.
You can download four low-quality rips of these episodes and cheat yourself out of the full enjoyment of the show, but why would you? The impact of piracy on HBO is endlessly arguable, but I promise you'll have a better time watching the show in high definition the night it airs.