Game of Thrones

Game of spoilers: Social media is killing DVR culture

June 9, 2013 at 12:12 PM ET

via Know Your Meme
via Know Your Meme

A week ago, "Game of Thrones" broke the Internet, and the DVR lost all meaning. Like winter, we should’ve seen it coming.

The Internet is lousy with "GoT" tributes: Pouty Jon Snow GIFs, “Stupid Game of Thrones Characters” memes, King Joffrey Bieber, a Siamese cat auto-tuned to sing the "Song of Ice and Fire" theme, lost pet signs asking "Where are my dragons?" — even fan fiction creating romance between adversaries Robb Stark and Jaime Lannister. Post "Hodor" as your Facebook status, and more than a few of your friends will respond in kind, like the huge stable boy who can only say his name.

Not everybody watches "GoT," but those who do watch the heck out of it. Torrent Freak reports that it was the most pirated show of 2012. When the third season premiered, 5.5 million viewers watched the episode's first airing, breaking a prior record. Add in DVRs and HBO Go, plus repeat showings, and the weekly average has been a none-too-shabby 13.6 million viewers. On Twitter, #GameofThrones and #GoT trend every Sunday night.

Still, as the season wore on, the number of people who tuned in for the episode's debut began to dip. Then came the "Red Wedding." Now, no "GoT" fan would dare miss watching it Sunday — or at least let it sit unwatched on the DVR for long.

The VCR, DVR and video on demand have freed us from the tyranny of TV schedules but the Internet imposes its own dictatorship — at least if the show is worth it. Raging at tweets for spilling the beans, or shouting "Shut up! I haven't watched it yet!" at your co-workers, proves increasingly futile.

This marks a return to "appointment television," says Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University. Before VCRs, missing Ed Sullivan or "Roots" meant missing out on a cultural experience. "You needed to watch the show, at least to know what the fuss was about."

A sports fan can TiVo the game, but seeing a "Hail Mary" pass you already know is coming doesn't compare to the excitement of witnessing the unexpected. Now the same is true for smart, hot TV series like "Game of Thrones."

Vine
Vine
A Vine video reaction to the "Red Wedding," posted by Maisie Williams (the show's Arya Stark) received more than 1,830 tweets within 24 hours.

Not all shows created equal
Those who missed their appointment with the "Red Wedding" — the episode actually titled "The Rains of Castamere" — will never experience the dramatic shock of seeing major characters violently murdered at a wedding reception. The spoiler-rich rending of garments by real-time viewers on Twitter, Facebook or Reddit took that away.

The closest the procrastinators will ever come to virgin "Red Wedding" surprise is a six-minute video of reactions on YouTube — a compilation of horrified "GoT" viewers screaming profanities at the TV, filmed (apparently) by friends or family who read the books and knew what was coming.

Spoiling "Big Bang Theory" is never an issue, says Thompson, even though its got a far larger audience than "Game of Thrones" — 18.68 million vs. 13.6 million, according to Nielsen.

"Nobody's going to say, 'Wasn't that interesting how Sheldon was socially inept?'" Thompson points out. Such shows are "formulaic and fun, but they don't give you the meat to sink your teeth into."

Case in point: A Tumblr search for "Big Bang Theory" returns approximately 191,000 results. Searching "Game of Thrones" yields 1.3 million. "Big Bang" viewership may be wider, but the "GoT" audience is deeper.

It’s the blue chip shows that don’t play well with DVR culture. "And lets face it, these shows are finite," says Thompson. "Homeland," "Breaking Bad," these are the kinds of shows that people talk about like they're sporting events. (Can you imagine what watching the first run of "The Wire" would be like today?)

Parody is sincere flattery
"It's like the '80s all over again," says Erin Gibson, writer and director of the increasingly popular (though not safe for work!) "Gay of Thrones" episode recap show on FunnyorDie.com. "If you didn't watch the show, you don't get to talk about it the next day."

Gibson's Web series stars real-life California hairstylist Jonathan Van Ness, who subjects a new client each week to his over-the-top run-throughs. Van Ness calls the platinum haired Mother of Dragons "Christina Aguilera," tells customers they're "serving Winterfell realness," and enviously describes Jaime Lannister's severed hand necklace as "fetch."

Alfie Allen and Jonathan Van Ness in Ep. 3, "Gay of Thrones."
FunnyorDie.com
Alfie Allen and Jonathan Van Ness in Ep. 3, "Gay of Thrones."

As silly as it sounds, this is high-quality comedy with gravitas. In one episode, Jonathan’s client is none other than Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy on the actual show. Each episode is funnier than the next.

"You can't do this kind of recap with 'Duck Dynasty,'" Gibson says. "GoT" works "because there's so much meat, it gives us something to talk about." She adds, "So much comedy makes fun of how stupid things are — it's great to celebrate something that's actually good."

And many are getting in on the celebration. Along with "Gay of Thrones," FunnyorDie.com also posted "Where Are My Dragons?," a reality show spoof about Daenerys as a mom. And there was "School of Thrones," a Degrassi-style mashup with a "Prom is coming" theme. Following the "Red Wedding," Second City gave grievers an "It Gets Better" parody, not for bullied gay teens, but anyone who endured the horrific violence . It gets better, "GoT" fans are told.

SPOILER ALERT! ... It does not get better.

But "GoT" fans should know that by now. If last week's episode reinforced anything — other than the fact that bad things continue happening to good characters — it's this: If cyberspace spoils another episode of your favorite show, you have only yourself to blame.

Helen A.S. Popkin is Deputy Technology & Science editor for NBCNews.com and TODAY.Follow her onTwitter and Facebook.

Owl Under My Cowl/Tumblr
Owl Under My Cowl/Tumblr
"Game of Thrones" Internet cheat sheet.


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