Where were you when everyone on the internet spotted a coffee cup in the fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ final season? Probably watching Game of Thrones. Or fuming about Thrones spoilers. That’s Sunday, for you, at least for the next two weeks.
After eagle-eyed fans caught a stray cup sitting alongside Daenerys during the rowdy post-Battle of Winterfell celebration, conversation exploded over what happened, who was the culprit, and why this was one of the funniest things the internet had ever seen (and to be honest, it was). But in the wee hours of Monday night / Tuesday morning, HBO replaced the cut of “The Last of the Starks” with a version in which the cup had been digitally removed. When you play the game of memes, you win or you die.
As fans had a field day with the error, Starbucks seized the opportunity. (Though an anonymous source close to the show told Wall Street Journal that the coffee was poured at craft services, not an official Starbucks store.)
TBH we're surprised she didn't order a Dragon Drink.— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) May 6, 2019
So did former Starbucks chairman and current presidential hopeful Howard Schultz, who may or may not watch Game of Thrones, based on his reaction.
With all the well-intentioned ribbing, those involved with Thrones spent the 24-hour meme cycle apologizing, standing up for the craftspeople on the show, and poking fun at themselves.
“The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake,” HBO said in a statement. “Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea.”
“Our on-set prop people and decorators are so on it, a thousand percent,” Thrones producer Bernie Caulfield told NPR’s All of It, adding, “Westeros was the first place to have Starbucks. It’s a little-known fact.”
Hauke Richter, an art director on Thrones season 8, had a pretty succinct explanation to address every reaction.
“Things can get forgotten on set,” Richter wrote to Variety after the incident, adding that the conversation was “so blown out of proportion [because] it has not happened with Thrones so far.”
If there’s any take away from CoffeeCupgate, it’s that Richter is right: Thrones is immaculate. As detailed in a breakdown of episode 4, the women and men who work on the show’s sets, props, costumes, and special effects dedicated weeks and weeks to fine-tuning every visual in the series. A non-action sequence like burning the dead is still the confluence of engineers who can put actors next to controlled flames, and VFX artists who can replicate the tangible set-pieces without missing a shred of detail. The coffee cup lands like a thud because, for 71 episodes, Game of Thrones has basically been a still, picturesque pond.
The coffee cup is gone, joining Henry Cavill’s mustache in Justice League and the modern cars that accidentally showed up in the background of the Lord of the Rings movies. Let the preserved screencaps be a monument to everything Game of Thrones got right. Now let’s watch some bloops.