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In Game of Thrones terms, winter won’t arrive until late April — for fans and media alike.
For the first time since the show’s debut in 2011, HBO will not be sending episodes of Thrones out to critics and reporters ahead of the coming sixth season. HBO programming president Michael Lombardo confirmed the decision in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying, “We’re not sending out press copies this year, anywhere in the world.”
The move comes after the first four episodes of season five leaked early online last year. It was a crucial batch of episodes filled with twists and turns, like the death of fan-favorite hero Barristan Selmy, a character still alive in the A Song of Ice and Fire books on which Thrones is based. HBO subsequently abandoned sending out physical DVDs and switched to a password-protected digital screening site in which users must go through an extensive credentialing process before they are approved.
Indeed, the books are another likely factor in HBO’s decision to withhold episodes from the media, as Thrones is currently passing through a unique creative moment. Season six differs from past seasons in a major way, furthering the stories of Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister and other characters before their stories advance in the pages of George R.R. Martin’s novel series. In January, Martin confirmed that his sixth book, The Winds of Winter, would not be published before season six of Thrones, putting the show’s story ahead of the books. Given the highly secretive nature of the story as it stands now, it appears HBO is taking extra precautions to keep the aftermath of Jon Snow’s “death” and other secrets exactly that — secret.
According to Lombardo, Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were lead advocates in the decision to keep early episodes close to the vest this season.
“When you have press copies, inevitably friends ask, ‘Can I see your copy?’ There are things that happen,” he said. “We talked about the upsides and downsides. Some of the press are fans who might be disappointed, but they’ll understand.”
Game of Thrones returns on April 24.
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