You Love the Books, Should You Watch “Game of Thrones”?

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

Through (most of) five seasons, the world of Game of Thrones fandom was split more or less between two groups of people: those who had read George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy novels and thus knew, more or less, what was coming, and those who were only familiar with the TV show. Now, however, we’re in an unprecedented space for a serialized TV show: we’re beyond the Wall, in a sense, because the show has outpaced Martin’s writing pace. 

No More Spoilers

On the one hand, if your only exposure to the story is through the TV show, you’re likely somewhat relieved that you no longer have to deal with smug book fans who like to tease you with their superior knowledge of future events—most often in the form of advice not to like a certain character too much, since Martin kills them in a future chapter. Since we’re all equally clueless as to the story to come, no one can lord their superior knowledge over you.

Folks who have been reading the books since 1996, however, have a different quandary: Should they continue to watch the show, which is now actively spoiling the story? 

The Choice

There’s an argument to be made that Spoiler Culture has really gotten out of hand. After all, at a certain point, spoilers become meaningless. Everyone knows the solutions to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and yet we still read them. And when long-time fans of the books started watching Game of Thrones in 2011, they already knew the story the first five seasons would tell, as each season was (roughly) pegged to each book in the series—so they were spoiled going in. And yet it didn’t render the show any less enjoyable.

Similarly, watching the show before reading the books won’t necessarily spoil anything. Martin is likely to differ slightly from the show; the series showrunners have already diverged from the novels a little in the service of a different medium, eliminating characters and subplots in order to craft a more efficient and well-paced TV show.

Of course, if you prefer the reading experience and want to enjoy it without knowing what’s coming, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that decision. One thing to consider, however, is the nearly-impossible task of avoiding spoilers delivered by the show for what may be years to come.

The Inverse

Of course, there is a small but vocal group of fans who think the last two books in the series (A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons) were sub-par compared to the first three books in the series, and wonder if Martin has lost his touch for the complex story and the huge cast of characters. Some people have decided they’d rather watch the TV show, which dispenses with some of the more unpopular story threads that Martin has been doggedly pursuing for years. For people who groan every time Quentyn Martell appears on the page, the focus of the TV series is a relief. For people who despaired of ever seeing Tyrion meet Daenerys, there were likely cheers and dancing when the characters met at the end of Season Five.

The choice of what to do as Game of Thrones unspools on our television screens is a unique one; fans of bestselling books or hit TV shows have never had to make this specific choice before. There really isn’t a wrong choice; it all comes down to your fear of and respect for spoilers—and your affection for the added depth and complexity of the books versus the more efficient storytelling of the series.