12:00 pm EDT, March 24, 2015

A ‘Game of Thrones’ fan’s dilemma: To watch, or not to watch?

That is the unexpectedly painful question

Spoilers are coming to Game of Thrones, and all fans of A Song of Ice and Fire must chose between watching and reading.

Denial

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“Do you think the show will ever spoil the books?”

Going into season 1 of Game of Thrones, this question was almost a joke. With four thick books to get through – and A Dance with Dragons finally coming after six long years — it seemed ridiculous to worry about an eventual cross-pollination between Game of Thrones and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Even as the seasons progressed, it was easy — albeit naive — to believe that this decision would remain theoretical. Martin still had plenty of time to finish The Winds of Winter; Game of Thrones still had plenty of dense material ahead before hitting true spoiler territory. Hopefully, I’d never have to chose between the books and television show I love so much.

But in typical Game of Thrones fashion, that hope has died — or rather, been brutally murdered. Showrunner David Benioff recently confirmed what I tried for so long not to believe: The HBO series will spoil important events of A Song of Ice and Fire, up to and including its ending.

And now thousands of hungry fans have what is (in the scale of our fandom) an extremely serious decision to make: To watch, or not to watch?

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Bargaining

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I am going to watch.

It’s an easy sentence to write, and it was even an easy decision to make.

I love Game of Thrones. I love watching the show, reading about the show, and covering it myself. I love the spectacle, I love the acting, and most of all I love sharing this world and these characters with so many other people.

As a fan who has been disappointed by too many adaptations, or found the properties I love dragged through the mud of popular culture never speak of The Last Airbender I know that the phenomenon of Game of Thrones is something to be treasured.

And I do treasure it, ultimately enough that I will continue watching the show in spite of its upcoming acid rain of spoilers. But that decision is not one that comes without sacrifice.

Depression

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A Song of Ice and Fire is some of the richest, most dense, and thoroughly life-changing fantasy ever to be written. These are books I have been reading for more than a decade, stories I have waited for and cried over, and occasionally hurled violently across rooms.

These are books which have achieved the highest echelon of book-ness for me: They have bound me to other people. My family, my friends, and in internet communities where I have discovered a host of incredible people, and a whole new side of myself. I treasure A Song of Ice and Fire, with its secrets and subtleties and Sansa Stark. I would not be the person I am today without these books.

So it’s not without a certain grimness, even bitterness, that I continue on with Game of Thrones. I value the art of writing and reading, of learning information from an author as he or she chooses to reveal it; I will lose that with A Song of Ice and Fire. I love the dense mystery of a new installment, the guarantee of shock and awe, but I will lose that too with A Song of Ice and Fire.

It comes back to the bitterness: I wish I could place blame for what I’m going to lose.

Anger

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I wish I could blame George R.R. Martin for not writing the freaking books fast enough — but I don’t. He is a writer dedicated to his story and his craft, and I believe him when he says The Winds of Winter just isn’t ready yet.

I want to blame Benioff and Weiss and HBO, for churning through the printed material in what feels like the blink of an eye — but I don’t. They have created something wonderful in a cutthroat business, and I know they can’t stop time or television to wait for Martin’s books.

I also want to blame the internet, which guarantees that spoilers from Game of Thrones will spread like disease throughout my digital environment — but I don’t. This story that plays out over ten intense weeks is incredible; how could you, how could we, how could I hold back from discussing it?

The fact is, there is no one to blame for this sorry mess we Song of Ice and Fire fans find ourselves in. Which means there is nothing else left but…

Acceptance

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Let’s look on the bright side.

Much as Martin has tried to stamp the flame of hope from my soul, he hasn’t entirely succeeded. I continue to hope that he might miraculously finish The Winds of Winter before season 6 of Game of Thrones, which would extend my spoiler-lease for at least another year.

In addition, there is still published canon left to explore. While much of the cast is trooping through territory charted in A Dance with Dragons, several storylines remain in books three or four (we’re looking at you, Jon Snow.)

And as for those, like Sansa Stark, whose stories extend beyond the bounds of what readers know… heck, I can always hope it turns out differently. Martin himself has promised that several characters will die in Game of Thrones season 5 who remain alive in the books; I plan on clinging to good old denial until George himself signs the death certificates.

In the end

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Perhaps it’s fitting that A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones would cause its fans so much anguish. This story, whether told in George R.R. Martin’s prose or across our HBO “subscriptions,” is not an easy one to hear.

It’s a story of pain, of bright lights that flicker into darkness. It’s a story of magic, and the meeting the limits of what is possible. It’s a story where sometimes the good guy gets his head chopped off, and sometimes the bad guy wins the crown; sometimes, justice is imaginary, and people make do with what they’re given.

So while I would have preferred the morals of the sad and beautiful story to remain fictional, I guess I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

Winter and spoilers are coming. We all just have to decide what we’ll do when they get here.

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