Millions of fans watch Game of Thrones like it’s their job, but when you review television, it is in fact your job.
All the recent articles looking back on the early days of Thrones might have you reminiscing about what was going on in your life when the show first started, and everyone in your circle was eagerly awaiting the same pop culture mega-event.
For me, there were colleagues who joined me in ducking out of work early to stalk the Game of Thrones’ food trucks; my BFF helped create themed cocktail recipes for crowded viewing parties; and there were so many knowing looks passed between two strangers both reading ASoIaF books on the subway.
This was before people started ducking out on the show because of lack of time, general boredom, or because they didn’t like the amount of violence on display, especially sexual violence. Then there are the book-only stans who preferred to avoid spoilers for George R. R. Martin’s still unpublished books. (Poor, hopeful and deluded souls.) In the meantime, friends moved away, had babies. Coworkers got new jobs.
A lot can happen in ten years.
In light of the last season, here are some reflections and observations I’ve made about writing about Game of Thrones on the internet. It’s hopefully a not-too-self-indulgent peek behind the curtain into the salacious life and times of a TV blogger.
There was a lot of tea and fretting. But sometimes cool perks and hard lessons.
Don’t get too attached to early favorites
Khal Drogo passing into the Nightlands, those brave, dumb Stark men losing their heads, Margaery Tyrell learning how to wield an insult worthy of her grandmother, on and on it goes… The body count on Game of Thrones has been insane and I should know better than to declare for a team. Even when that team is an underdog. Maybe especially when the team is an underdog. Looking at you, Daenerys “Burn Them All” Targaryen.
Writing a pro-Greyjoy post was probably one of the most short-sighted things I’ve written. But it was fun and I still think a mad, Cthulhu-worshipping pirate ship of mutes is badass as hell, just… not actually that riveting onscreen. Perhaps I’d feel differently if the showrunners had listened to me and cast Mads Mikkelsen as Euron Greyjoy instead.
Sansa never sucked
I read a funny meme where Sansa lamented majoring in political science while everyone around her went on magic quests and, yeah, it’s easy to see why early-season-Sansa can be boring to a lot of people. She also made the rookie mistake of trusting the wrong people, just like her father. She was also thirteen. Not every little girl needs to be Arya Stark or Lyanna Mormont.
Sansa suffered some of the cruelest turns of fate over the years and emerged as a cunning champion for the North. And she kept her dignity and grace (and her biases, like everyone else on this show). She takes on the unglamorous work of keeping track of Winterfell’s food stores and weapons and navigating fragile alignments with her allies. Sophie Turner (and her hilarious Instagram episode reactions) was one of my favorite parts of the show. To say nothing of her stunning black dresses. She is a true queen.
People get really mad when you point out that their favorite thing is also problematic
This, I learned right after the premiere, when I expressed my disappointment with Drogo and Dany’s wedding night. Jason Momoa will always be my perfect sun and stars, but I much preferred book-Drogo to TV-Drogo early on. From Khal Drogo being turned into a tired trope of a mindless savage to the rapes of Sansa and Cersei, Game of Thrones fans have extremely strong opinions on how sexual assault was portrayed on the show.
You can bend the knee to our badass young Khaleesi burning the patriarchy and liberating slaves, but it’s also worth noting that hers is just one white savior story in a long history of similar stories in pop culture, too. She’s not yelling “Dracarys!” in a vacuum. It’s a hard conversation to have, and it’s also a conversation that needs to be listened to, especially when that means paying attention to the voices of people of color. #DemThrones, for example, was a welcome running commentary that widened and deepened the range of popular opinions.
No one cares that you don’t care
The Battle of Blackwater, The Mountain and the Viper, the Sept of Baelor. All of these moments were even better shared in a room of friends stuffing their faces with your homemade lemoncakes. I still have claw marks on my arm from when my friend reacted to seeing the Red Wedding for the very first time.
In those halcyon early days, it really did seem like everyone was watching. Even more people are watching now, but with every huge fandom comes a vocal minority who must performatively announce that they stopped watching or never watched the show. There are totally valid reasons to stop watching a show—see above re: too much rape or too little time. But my personal favorite Worst Hot Take: they don’t even own a TV, man, because it’s all trash.
I don’t give a shit about Star Wars, but when a big trailer drops, I keep my yap shut because life is hard enough without someone stomping on your tiny found joys, and many of my favorite fandoms are small and it gets real lonely. It’s just plain fun to share in excitement with a crowd and I’m not one for sports, so CleganeBowl is it for me.
A brand has no shame
I’m not jumping through hoops to get a special can of “Arya’s List” Mountain Dew, but I love that it exists. Ommegang’s line of officially licensed Game of Thrones beer were legit delicious, especially the Night’s Watch stout and the peppery Fire & Blood red ale. The Game of Thrones scotch line was fantastic, too—especially the Night’s Watch Oban blend. Apparently my tastes suggest I should take the black, or maybe go to an AA meeting. I guess I can’t really scoff at Marvel’s partnerships with Taco Bell now, can I? The corporate sponsorships are silly, but they haven’t cheapened the show for me like I thought they would.
See above re: finding tiny joys in getting hyped with a large crowd. Now excuse my while I stuff my maw with Dragonfire burgers from Shake Shake.
Being press is fun
If you’re going to talk too much about TV anyway, why not try to find an outlet to write for? While I wasn’t at the top of any press lists over the years, I did get to meet some great publicists at HBO and take advantage of a few special perks, like the ability to skip a monstrously long line at San Diego Comic-Con’s Game of Thrones exhibit to do dorky things like fight virtual White Walkers or surprise my husband with a pair of free tickets to Ramin Djawadi’s epic Game of Thrones Live concert experience for his birthday. Some other great memories include watching the season four premiere with 4,000 other fans at a NYC stadium and going to my one and only season premiere red carpet event last month.
I salute the hard-working publicity department of HBO. They are masters at what they do, demonstrate enthusiasm for their rather thankless jobs—my day job is marketing, so I know a little about working in a less visible role on something great—and, not surprisingly, were also all women.
Walder Frey is a delightful man
I got to meet David Bradley at a Comic-Con party not four days after his infamous final scene aired. He was approachable and really pleased with the fan acclaim he’s been getting so late in a long career. He was excited for his Doctor Who special and we chatted about other upcoming BBC shows. Then he got me a glass of wine from the open bar and even said “I don’t normally waste good wine on women, you know.” He said the line! To me! And I survived. A class act.
Pirates suck and I’m not just talking about the Greyjoys
I don’t want to sound spoiled, but, one of the benefits of being press is press screeners. After the first four episodes of the second season leaked to pirate sites before the season premiere even aired, HBO stopped sending screeners to all but the very top media outlets. I am sympathetic to them, but it sure did suck for those of us who take our early access privileges seriously. Which leads to my next revelation…
I really hated Monday mornings when Game of Thrones was on-air.
For those who are math maesters, there were 63 Sunday nights I had to watch an episode live, then watch it a second time, to write my review for first thing Monday morning. This meant I often got about 5 hours of sleep those nights and was a zombie the next morning. Learning that the eighth season episodes would be mostly super-sized kinda had me fit to weep a bit, even as I was excited for epic battles and ice dragons and smoldering Tormund Giantsbane looks.
I learned how to write under pressure
Were all of my reviews perfect, poignant ruminations of larger pop culture trends that went insta-viral on social?
But they were up every Monday morning and made people that aren’t related to me chuckle. I’ve even had a few strangers at Comic-Cons say they recognized my name from my Thrones reviews and liked my stuff. That makes me really proud. There’s nothing wrong with being a workhorse and when I didn’t have time to agonize over ever word, I, you know… just made the best of the words that came to mind.
Writing these reviews has really helped me be less precious about my own fiction writing, especially in the draft stage. Something is always better than nothing, even if it’s not quite as perfect as you hoped it would be. And sometimes it was a struggle, sometimes I chose… poorly, and often I was frustrated and sleepy.
But I also knew the commenters would always be there to pick up the conversation if I faltered. The intelligent discussions definitely made me rethink (some of) my opinions, notice way more details than I could have picked up on my own, and were always full of people who were just as eager to discuss some of television’s biggest cultural events with me. And I’ll miss that a ton. Maybe as much as my sleep.
Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com. Her fiction is forthcoming in Strange Horizons. She’s also gotten enthusiastic about television for Boing Boing, Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast and Den of Geek. Send her a raven via Twitter.