Game of Thrones spoilers are actually in this post about spoilers, needless to say.
So, after Game of Thrones finished airing this week (the episode, not the series), I saw some very funny tweets about Joffrey dying – a lot of them, including a particularly funny image-gag hashtag. I tweeted the hashtag as well as a couple of comments and got some unfollows – including some with commentary, of course. Andrew Wheeler (who I like and respect) commented thusly:
It remains my belief that a person's spoiler policy is the most reliable indicator of criminal psychopathy.
— Andrew Wheeler (@Wheeler) April 14, 2014
"Why don't you strive to place your life experiences exactly inside the bubble of my own experiences? Why does your life deviate from mine?"
— Andrew Wheeler (@Wheeler) April 14, 2014
And Andrew has a point about basic empathy there, which is quite fair to make. Of course, the problem with this argument is that, to a certain extent, it goes both ways. Someone asserting that people should not spoil is prioritizing the new reader over the existing one, prioritizing the initial experience of a work over discussion and analysis of it.1
There’s a conflict here, and the absolute end at either side of it (never spoil anything ever/never care about spoiling people) is advanced only by assholes, which is why most people address the issue with the concept of the “spoiler window” – where and when it becomes permissible to start discussing specific details of works. Of course, much like how mostly minute differences in how one practices Christianity led to a ridiculously high number of schisms over the years, the difference of opinion on when spoiling becomes permissible has led to heated discussion, at the least.
And, frankly, nobody is perfect. Not me and not anybody else. Practically everybody I follow on Twitter agrees that anti-spoiling is to some degree worthwhile, but those same people have spoiled me on all sorts of works. People get enthusiastic about things they like and post without thinking, and this happens all the time.
So my general spoiler policy is as follows:
1. One day for current TV shows. One week for current movies. Two weeks for current books. This is a fair amount of time for people who are enthusiastic about the work to find time to enjoy the work. After these time periods expire, my general feeling is that public discussion of specific elements in the work is fair game.
2. When someone spoils you, don’t be a dick about it to them (unless they were clearly spoiling for the sake of spoiling, in which case, hell with ’em). Most “spoilers” are the results of people getting Excited About A Thing and wanting to share that excitement, which is why so many spoiler-fights get so nasty: the spoiler is (probably unconsciously) trying to share a positive emotion with their friends, which is usually a good thing to do in most situations. A snide “thanks for the spoilers”-type comment only makes the spoiling individual defensive – it’s practically inevitable – and makes the spoiler far less likely to delete/retract the spoiling comment, which is the most important reason to comment at them about the spoiling.
3. If you use Twitter or Facebook, the only way to guarantee yourself unspoiled content is by avoiding Twitter or Facebook. People don’t like this because they like social media and don’t like being told that avoiding it is the only way to guarantee not being spoiled. Which is understandable but, sorry, that’s just tough. If you follow a reasonably significant number of people on Twitter – say, over two hundred – and you like the same stuff as a lot of them, spoilers are essentially impossible to avoid – not just because of individual comments but because at that level of following you can be spoiled in the aggregate. (This particularly happened to me with the final season of Breaking Bad, where I was able to figure out the plot of the episode within an hour of its airing based on comments that, individually, were probably not too spoilerish.) This is the price social media exacts. (Of course, “it’s Twitter/Facebook” is not in and of itself an excuse for an individual spoilering comment or post – and I say that with the guilt of someone who has used it.)
4. Remakes or adaptations are held to a lesser spoiling standard (AKA “the Game of Thrones rule”). This is the spoiler stance I take that is probably most controversial, and since it’s in part responsible for Joffreygate (or whatever) it’s worth addressing in full. Bluntly: I am far less concerned about spoiling an original work than I am about spoiling an adaptation. Game of Thrones is especially noteworthy with respect to this rule because it is a TV adaptation of books which have been in print literally for years; Joffrey’s death, in print, predates George W. Bush becoming President. There are other examples of it (the King Kong example made fun of by Penny Arcade in 2005 is one that I know happened to people in real life, and I’ve seen it happen in the last year with the Hobbit movies as well). And while adaptations can change elements of a story (Tauriel’s role in The Hobbit, Bronn’s expanded role in Game of Thrones, et cetera), it’s rare that they change major events within the story’s plot. Now, this should not be taken as a suggestion that spoiler protection should be abandoned entirely for adaptive works; new readers/viewers should still get a reasonable chance to enjoy the work. But I think the window for reasonable spoiler protection on an adaptive work is much smaller than it is on an original one.
- Of course, the difference here is that an existing reader has a vested interest in there being more consumers of a work because then they have more people to discuss the work with, which is why we generally all agree that some level of spoiler protection is reasonable. [↩]