Social watching 'GoT' in the Netflix age
It’s Sunday night. Everyone gathers in a room too small for the party size. Beers are cracked open. Snacks are passed around. The group squishes, squeezes and finally settles into their seats. It’s Sunday night, and “Game of Thrones” is about to begin.
The anticipation in the room is palpable. In the moments leading up to 9:00 p.m., theories are thrown around the room as to what bomb will be dropped this evening. Reddit is referenced. Someone says something outlandish that the rest of the group pretends not to hear. Two watchers engage in a heated debate about the parentage of a certain bastard. Another reminds the room of the significance of a two-minute scene three seasons ago. The host silently worries something will go wrong with the sound or live-stream and he or she will face the wrath of the guests.
At 8:58 p.m., the host logs into his or her parent’s HBO Go account and pulls up the home page. The room tenses. Then, at 9:00 p.m. the new episode appears on the site. It begins. The “previously on” rolls, signaling what will be significant this week. Eyebrows are raised when a moment from Season One shows up. One member of the group fist bumps the air when the two-minute scene from three seasons ago re-appears. Collective sighs are heard when a now-deceased character graces the screen.
The room obediently sings along to the melodic “buhm-buhm- dum-dum- dum” of the theme song. Even after seven seasons, fans remain amazed at the theme as it takes them from Westeros to Winterfell to the Iron Islands. The magic of a map, scored by an intense instrumental beat, never gets old.
Then the show begins, and for somewhere in the range of 60 to 90 minutes, the room is enraptured in pure cinematic bliss. Even after it ends, they spend days re-living those moments, anxious for next Sunday and fearful for the rapidly-approaching end.
In an age when television content is over-saturated and viewers can choose from 30 different platforms to watch 1,000 different shows, a common viewing experience is almost as mythical as Khaleesi and her Dragons. It’s out there, but hard to find. Even harder to keep safe and sacred, if you can get your hands on it in the first place. Once this experience is harnessed, however, the sheer magnitude and power it holds is inimitable. It’s rare, endangered and on the brink of extinction.
People don’t set aside a consistent, weekly hour to watch a TV show anymore. They don’t gather their friends and family together for content that’s available anywhere, anytime. They don’t walk into a party, an interview, a classroom and feel confident that others will know anything about what they’ve just seen.
With the rise of streaming content came the fall of collective watching. That is, with the exception of “Game of Thrones.”
Disclaimer — I haven’t seen seasons four through seven of the show. My HBO account remains frozen on season three, episode nine. The infamous Red Wedding is one episode away. There are four seasons of secrets, betrayals and gruesome murders I’ve yet to see.
Despite this deficit of knowledge, however, I tuned in on Sunday, Aug. 27. to watch the season seven finale. Now. This is the point where die-hard Thrones fans cringe. Where they print out a picture of my face and throw darts at it. Unfriend me on Facebook and unfollow me on Instagram. What I’ve done, what I’m doing, what I do, is a travesty to the narrative of the show.
Despicable, some might say. Why, they ask, would I choose to ruin the show for myself? My answer? I don’t want to miss out.
For roughly eight weeks of every year, this rare “collective watching” experience occurs. The opportunity to be a part of it is akin to Sunday Night Football. At the risk of over-playing the importance of “Game of Thrones,” there is a sense of something greater than ourselves when watching the show. It captures the essence of what entertainment should be — an experience that brings people together and sparks discussion.
So, I choose to engage in a show I’ve only half-watched. I don’t ask when an unrecognizable character enters. I keep my opinions to what I know. I try not to blow my cover as a dedicated “Thrones fan.” Because when shit hits the fan, when the dragons breathe fire, and the White Walkers wreak havoc, it doesn’t matter if you know everything there is to know. It’s about being there, in the moment, creating a collective memory.
I watch “Game of Thrones” socially. On the night of the season finale, I found myself sitting in a room with six boys I’d met just minutes before. Eager to watch Thrones in a group setting with people passionate about the show, I asked my new neighbors if they were watching. They were. There is no better way to get to know the neighbors than over dragons, incest, murder and the general fear of winter.
No other television series in recent years, in my opinion, has had the same widespread following and general public awareness as “Game of Thrones.” Maybe it’s because we’re desperate for something to bring us together. But also, maybe because at the end of the day, “Game of Thrones” is just an amazing fucking show.