Spoilers are coming: the real significance of the Game of Thrones leaks

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(Original post at The National Student)

Unless you’ve been offline for the past month, chances are you’re aware of the Game of Thrones leaks.

The fantasy drama is one of the most popular shows ever made, and with every new season there comes a spike in online piracy. HBO’s flagship programme is the world’s most pirated TV show, and the seventh season has been plagued by hackers and accidental leaks from the company’s international offices.

Despite the leaks, Game of Thrones has unprecedentedly high ratings. The Spoils of War, the fourth episode of the seventh season, was leaked two days prior to its planned airdate. Nevertheless, the much-acclaimed episode secured 10.17 million viewers in the US, a record which the following episode Eastwatch broke the very next week.

The latest instalment, Beyond The Wall, was also leaked by hackers, but still obtained viewing figures of 10.24 million people in America.

HBO isn’t the only company to have had its programming leaked. Earlier in 2017, hacking collective the Dark Overlord leaked ten episodes of Orange is the New Black when distributor Netflix refused to pay the group ransom money.

Likewise, the leaks had little effect on ratings for the show; although Netflix is notoriously private about viewing figures, data company Nielsen estimated that 6.7 million people binge-watched Orange is the New Black in the first three days of its release.

HBO is unlikely to ever eradicate piracy, or the appetite for it. Game of Thrones is available in more countries than ever before, but there are still areas where HBO and its programming remain unavailable through legal means. Nevertheless, piracy seems to be having little impact on HBO’s profits or ratings, with plenty of viewers valuing convenience and clarity over cost.

The leaks may not be adversely affecting the company, but the show’s highly pirated nature indicates something more significant about the writing of Game of Thrones.

The show has always depended on shocking its audience; spoiling particular events in Game of Thrones is still considered an egregious faux-pas in certain social circles.

Guarding yourself from spoilers has become an integral part of the viewing experience for the average Game of Thrones fan.

At times, these shocking events have worked brilliantly in the show’s favour, and are amongst the most memorable moments of Game of Thrones. But in later seasons, the emphasis on generating plot points that shock the audience has impacted the show’s overall quality.

Game of Thrones is at its best when plot points have been hinted at for episodes or even a season, yet nevertheless surprise you. No-one can deny that the Red Wedding or the death of Jon Snow in season five were shocking, yet they were moments that were foreshadowed throughout the seasons.

Other events, like Sansa Stark’s rape, were completely left-field and were emblematic of Game of Thrones at its weakest. Viewers responded with anger to the scene, which seemed designed merely to horrify the audience and inflict sexual violence on an unpopular character.

The constant generation of these moments is part of what makes Game of Thrones leaks so popular, and so difficult for viewers to resist.

The demand for Game of Thrones leaks isn’t a problem for the show, but it is a symptom of it.

As it stands, the show is designed to be satisfying upon first viewing, at its most thrilling when the audience doesn’t know what’s coming. Once the thrill subsides, it’s the consistency and quality of plot and character that endure in the mind of the viewer.

You can only experience a show for the first time once. Game of Thrones needs to function as a show you can rewatch if it’s to be inducted into the TV hall of fame. Right now, it’s not doing a good enough job of protecting its own legacy.

As the series draws to a close, Game of Thrones needs to shift its focus from generating shocking spoilers to delivering the dramatic conclusions it has foreshadowed for seven seasons. What the leaks have shown is that Game of Thrones spoilers are highly in demand, though perhaps not for the right reasons.

Game of Thrones: Season 7 concludes this Monday. 

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