It was a few minutes before the US premiere of Game of Thrones' fifth season, and George R. R. Martin didn't know what to expect. "A year ago I saw a rough outline for it, but that's the extent of my knowledge," he said as he made his way down the red carpet.
When it comes to the creative relationship between himself and the series' showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, "They do the show. I write the books," Martin says. But as Game of Thrones enters its fifth season, the differences between the show and the books have never been more apparent. While previous seasons have followed a single book (or half a book, as was the case with seasons three and four), season five draws from two of them simultaneously: A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons.
What's more, Benioff has said the show will begin to depict events that haven't yet taken place in the books, potentially spoiling them for devoted readers. I asked Martin what he made of that.
"This whole concept of spoilers is one that I've never gotten," he says. "Yes, there's a pleasure when you're reading a book, or watching a television show — What will happen next? Who will win? Who will lose? But that is by no means the only reason to watch a movie or a television show. It's not the only reason to read a book."
"This whole concept of spoiler is one that I've never gotten."
I thought Martin had made his point, but he was just warming up. "I read a lot of historical fiction, you know? I know who won the Civil War — it's not a spoiler to me. But I can still enjoy Gettysburg, even though I know how the battle came out. I can still enjoy historical fiction about the Wars of the Roses, even though I know who won the Wars of the Roses. And for that matter, I still enjoy watching Citizen Kane every few years even though I know 'Rosebud' is the sled. So there — I just gave a terrible spoiler to all the people who haven't seen Citizen Kane. Rosebud is the sled, but nonetheless, you should still watch Citizen Kane, because it's incredible!" Martin laughed a deep, satisfied laugh, and continued down the black carpet.
Martin's indifference aside, I won't spoil the season premiere, except to say that season five marks a turning point for Westeros. A power vacuum at King's Landing seems to have everyone rethinking previous alliances. There's a sense that almost anything could happen. But as usual, a sense of gloom prevails. "The future is shit," Tyrion Lannister spits at one point. "Just like the past."
The premiere flew by — let's just say a lot happens
But the present is lovely, at least here in San Francisco. The black carpet ran through a large tent where fans gathered to scream and wave as their favorite stars walked by. They chanted for Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion ("Pe-ter! Pe-ter!"), and for Kristian Narn, who plays Hodor ("Ho-dor! Ho-dor!"). Inside the opera house, HBO CEO Richard Plepler introduced Benioff and Weiss, who in turn introduced the assembled cast and crew to rapturous applause. The premiere screening flew by — let's just say a lot happens — and afterward the crowd retired to San Francisco City Hall across the street.
City Hall had been decorated with all manner of Westerosi kitsch — giant bobbleheads for taking selfies with, a vending machine that dispensed Catch The Throne mixtapes, and a Thrones-branded station for charging your phone. The actors were quarantined upstairs, protected by security guards; you could meet them if you flashed a rare gold wristband, or (one guest told me) a $20 bill. The buffet included steak and tuna and lemon tarts topped with milk-chocolate swords for dessert, and guests drank lustily from the open bar.
As the night wound down, I stood in the 40-minute line for "Ascend the Wall," a 60-second virtual-reality experience that takes place on the giant divide separating Westeros from the land beyond the wall. Mechanical fans blew wind and rumble packs shook me as my Oculus Rift headset showed my ascent in a virtual elevator up the 700-foot wall to Castle Black.
Once I reached the top, I stepped out onto the ledge, taking in the gorgeous vista. For a moment, I reflected on the amazing world Martin has created, with its indelible characters and intricate plots. A smile was just starting to creep across my face when the flaming arrow of a Wildling leapt up from the bottom of my field of vision and sunk into my chest, causing me to plunge 700 feet to an immediate and horrifying death.
Death is the only real spoiler on Game of Thrones
I really should have seen it coming. Death is the only real spoiler on Game of Thrones, and it can strike at even the loveliest parties. (Ask Robb Stark.) You can choose to find out who wins and who dies by reading the books, or by watching the show. But you'll find out one way or the other, and probably sooner than you think. Valar morghulis, pass the chocolate swords.
Watch the Game of Thrones Season 5 trailer