This Sunday, the finale of the seventh season of Game of Thrones will air on HBO. Millions of fans, seemingly half of them employed as episode re-cappers for various media outlets, will tune in to see how it ends. Will Jon Snow reclaim the throne of Gondor? Will Westeros unite against the Witch-King? Will Daenerys be able to tame Smaug? Will… oh, sorry. I think I’m getting my fantasy epics mixed up. You see, I haven’t watched a single episode of Game of Thrones since it staged a takeover of the pop culture landscape in the spring of 2011. I’ve resisted multiple entreaties from friends and family, as well as the overbearing pressure of our culture at large. So many people have suggested, urged, and practically demanded that I watch Game of Thrones that not doing so has now become a point of stubborn pride for me, so I doubt I ever will.
The world of pop culture can be a cold, lonely place for someone who has neither watched Game of Thrones nor read the (likely eternally-incomplete) George R.R. Martin book series on which it is based. In fact, it might be as cold and lonely as I think some places in Westeros are, though how would I know? On the Monday after a new episode of Game of Thrones, the Internet—especially Twitter—becomes essentially one giant Game of Thrones discussion forum.
Every website that covers pop culture has at least one writer dedicated to Game of Thrones. The AV Club even has two different kinds of reviews: one for “beginners” and one for “experts.” Takes, clips, quotes, and GIFs from the latest episode pour forth across the web in volleys like I assume sometimes arrows might in Game of Thrones. Although I’m just guessing, because that’s something that usually happens in this kind of thing. Really, I have no idea.
And these days, what happens on the Internet unfortunately does not stay there, so Game of Thrones has crossed over into the larger culture. Game of Thrones is everywhere: in conversation at dinners and parties, in baby names, in the trivia at bars, and even the bars themselves. And because a disproportionate number of journalists and politicos watch Game of Thrones, journalism and politics are the most heavily affected.
The most insufferable example of this is the compulsive analogizing of reality to the show. Is Game of Thrones “secretly” all about climate change? Is Hillary Clinton Daenerys (whoever that is)? Does Steve Bannon’s return to Breitbart after leaving the Trump White House mean that “winter is coming” (whatever that means)? Is Trump King Joffrey? Take your pick: Liken your favorite (or least favorite) Game of Thrones character to your favorite (or least favorite) political figure, and someone has probably already produced the take. As we have seen with Harry Potter, a discourse ostensibly dominated by adults obsessively views reality through the lens of fantasy.
I will not, however, go so far as to say that you or anyone else should stop watching Game of Thrones because it’s too popular, too immoral, too overplotted, or any such thing. All I assert is my right not to watch, care about, or have an opinion about it (not counting this article). Indeed, I loathe that simply not caring about something in pop culture has become a big deal. Too often, the Internet, supposedly founded to foster freedom, functions more as a sort of hive-mind, or mob, in which a single “cool” thing, point of view, or news item dominates, and rigorous enforcement drowns out dissent. That is happening right now with Game of Thrones. There are more worrisome examples of this than the collective obsession with a TV show (such as the firing of James Damore from Google), but the fact that many of us now process popular culture in a way similar to how we process real controversy is still worrisome.
So this Sunday, when Game of Thrones airs, I will happily abstain from viewing and do something else, just like I’ll do whenever the series finale airs. I’ll admit it’s possible that I would enjoy the show if I did actually watch it. But the fact that so many people are telling me I should thoroughly disinclines me. And if there are any other non-Game of Thrones watchers out there, I encourage you either to stand strong with me, or at least only watch it because you want to, and not because everyone else tells you that you must. Just because everyone is doing something doesn’t mean you have to do it, too. It’s like when Jon Snow made his courageous stand against the Uruk-hai at Helm’s Deep . . . right?
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