Off Book

Warning:  By necessity, this post will discuss spoilers up to and including last night’s episode of Game of Thrones.

I’d been playing the Game of Thrones long before the TV series came along.  I got into the series at what, in hindsight, turned out to be the best time.  It was the paperback release of the first book, just before the second book came out, followed a year later by the third.  This was before the writer’s block and the Meereeneese knot and the agonizing waits and the infamous split.  I was able to plunge through the first three books at a relatively fast clip, and got fairly well battered about by Ned’s beheading and the Red and Purple Weddings and the Viper vs. the Mountain.  It was one hell of a ride.

When the TV series came along, my excitement wasn’t so much about seeing all that awesomeness brought to life as it was about seeing the reactions to what I knew was coming.  I saw the anticipation for Sean Bean in the lead role and could barely contain my delighted cackling.  I saw Robb and Catelyn become fan favorites and prepared myself to feast upon tears down the road.  I looked forward to each episode almost solely to see TV viewers go through what we book readers had already gone through.

No doubt it was completely sadistic.  I gleefully took to YouTube in the minutes after “The Rains of Castamere” and watched the stunned reactions to the Red Wedding.  And it was glorious.  I gorged upon the despair.  The secret I and other book readers had been keeping for almost three years was out and hitting the Unsullied like a thunderbolt.  A good number of the reaction videos hinged upon book readers knowingly setting up their unsuspecting friends, and you could see them laugh as those friends gasped, shouted, cried, and vowed never to watch the show again.

Of course, the show eventually outpaced the books — and I will not get into George R.R. Martin’s writing habits here — and suddenly we were all in the same boat.  Nobody knew what was coming.  And as much as I’d enjoyed the role of leering voyeur of others’ misery, now I was letting the show actually be a show rather than a catharsis delivery system.  I was just as Unsullied as the rest of them.

These last two episodes have been among the best things the show has ever done.  I literally squealed with delight when Sansa and Brienne showed up at Castle Black while Jon was still there.  After so many near misses, we were finally getting a Stark reunion.  And not knowing it was coming made it all the sweeter.  Of course, that applies to the opposite end of the spectrum, as I watched with slow dawning horror last night as it became clear first that Hodor was going to die, then that it was all Bran’s fault, and lastly that his very nature as Hodor was Bran’s fault too.  That it was very likely this gentle, giant meme inspiration had lived a good portion of his adult life with the knowledge of how he was going to die burned into his brain.  Such overwhelming knowledge that he was unable to completely articulate it.  And yet, when the moment came, still able and willing to make the sacrifice he knew he’d be asked to.

Last night, after five and a half seasons, I felt like I finally became a true fan of the TV show, and not just a fan of the books who also watched the show.  It’s somewhat telling that this coincided with the show very possibly leaving the books behind.  Perhaps it speaks to Martin having lost all control of the story he so famously said grew bigger than he intended.  Perhaps it’s gotten so big, it no longer falls to him to definitively tell it.  Which has to be both an honor and something that gnaws at his authorly pride.

I don’t regret my earlier sadistic delight.  As much as it was driven by a desire to watch the stunned reactions, it was also in no small part due to the fact that something that had in the past been solely the realm of the geeks had now become the raw nerve of the mainstream.  We might all be off book at this point, but we’re also all on the same page.


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