'Game of Thrones': Why Book Readers Should Not Abandon the Show

George R.R. Martin's next novel won't arrive until after season six, but ditching the show won't save readers from spoilers.
HBO

George R.R. Martin's announcement that The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series on which Game of Thrones is based, won't arrive before the season six premiere of HBO's adaptation left many readers reeling, as if hit by a ton of frosted bricks falling from The Wall.

"For years my readers have been ahead of the viewers. This year, for some things, the reverse will be true," Martin wrote on Saturday. "How you want to handle that … hey, that's up to you."

Some viewers, who consider themselves book-first loyalists, have chosen to "handle that" by pledging their intention to stop watching Thrones, in an effort to avoid the new season's twists and turns before they're revealed in Martin's work. As Martin says, "that's up to you," but abandoning the show is far from a surefire defense against the winds of spoilers.

Take what happened to Jon Snow in the season five finale, for instance. Even a cursory glance at a Facebook feed in the minutes after his brutal stabbing contained numerous rants about the beloved character's fate. In subsequent days, most attempts at protecting the "spoiler" disappeared, giving way to open conversations about Jon's "death" and probable resurrection.

The list of similar water cooler events goes on and on when it comes to Thrones, one of the most talked about shows of all time, and certainly of the moment. Dodging spoilers requires a level of dexterity that even Neo of The Matrix would have trouble mustering — especially for fans with a vested interest in the series. If the decision to abandon Thrones comes down to wanting to avoid spoilers before Martin gets a chance to tell the story his way first, then rub your nearest Tyrion action figure's head; you're going to need all the luck you can get.

Martin himself brings up another point about the relationship between the show and the books, stressing the differences in each version of his story. He's right to point those things out, too. Critical characters and concepts, like Lady Stoneheart and the Griffs, have virtually zero meaning to people who have never read the books, and likely never will; there's a lot that can change in the year ahead, but both of those examples feel way past their due date if they're ever going to make it on the show.

In other words, continuing on with Thrones before Winds of Winter arrives will certainly lead to some major developments, especially with major characters like Jon and Daenerys. But there are other important plot points from the books that will remain untouched by the show, areas where readers will always be ahead of those uninitiated with Martin's prose.

Indeed, that's the biggest and most important point of all: Martin's prose, all on its own, makes the experience of living and breathing Westeros an entirely different and primal affair than Game of Thrones. Likewise, watching Martin's characters spring to flesh-and-blood life is its own distinct pleasure, too. Once again, Martin's own advice sums up the situation best: "Enjoy the show. Enjoy the books." Or, as Sansa might suggest, there's no reason you can't have your lemon cake and eat it too.

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