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'Game of Thrones' showrunners make a case against spoilers

‘If there was a website called Last Pages of Great Books, would you read that?’

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Helen Sloan/HBO

Deliberately reading a spoiler from a movie or TV show that you’re otherwise anticipating is arguably like eating sugar-stuffed junk food — an all-too-brief dopamine-spike indulgence to satisfy a nagging itch that’s often followed by a regretful crash. Reading a plot twist crudely blurted out online has to rank among the least enjoyable ways to experience story revelations, especially when compared to watching the drama play out on screen…

At least, that’s how spoilers are viewed by many top Hollywood creators — such as the showrunners of Game of Thrones, who ramped up production secrecy to unprecedented levels for upcoming season 6. 

“Any sane person would admit that knowing this stuff in advance lessens the experience of watching it, and yet people are really hungry to find out things that that will make something they presumably like worse for them,” showrunner Dan Weiss tells EW. “So I don’t totally get it.”

To pull off the new season of the Emmy-winning drama, the first that’s set almost entirely set beyond the scope of George R.R. Martin’s novels, the producers implemented a score of heightened security measures. No more paper scripts (all electronic). The “circle of trust” was tightened among the cast and network executives with regard to story detail. Code names were used for certain characters and scenes. HBO’s international partners will get their copies of episodes much closer to each hour’s U.S. debut. And on the set itself, security was increased in an attempt to prevent fans from taking photos of the production.  

“It’s like protecting your house,” reasons showrunner David Benioff. “You make it as hard as possible for burglars in hopes they look for some other house to burgle, but it’s impossible to ever completely secure your house.”

Quips Weiss: “Go burgle The Walking Dead.” 

Thrones‘ house was indeed pilfered a couple times last year despite the team’s efforts. “One guy hiked 18 hours on foot in the middle of Spain’s La Mancha desert to take pictures,” Weiss marvels. “Another guy in Northern Ireland crawled through the mud and did his own little private commando mission.”

On the Hollywood spoiler tolerance spectrum, Benioff and Weiss rank up there with The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams in their desire to keep their mystery box tightly sealed. And while their dispositions are typically unflappable — they never seem to get outright angry or stressed out despite the enormous pressures of their show — a few leaked images managed to rile. “I just want to point out that guy’s an a–hole,” Benioff says of one of the paparazzi infiltrators. “You’re not cool for doing that, you’re an a–hole.”

A degree of their frustration likely stems from how famously difficult Thrones is to produce. When you’re working year-round managing hundreds of cast and crew members to make every frame of an epic fantasy series as perfect as possible, your goal every day is to maximize the viewer’s eventual experience. As many Emmys as Thrones now has on its collective cast and crew mantel, the show has never been about pleasing the elite (critics are not even receiving screeners this year), but about crafting the best possible show for the show’s legions of fans. So when viewers find out about The Red Wedding or Jon Snow’s death from an online board rather than Martin’s novels or the show itself, there’s something inherently disappointing about that — for both the producers and presumably for viewers.

That said, some firmly and convincingly insist spoilers do not lessen their enjoyment of content (EW writer and screenwriter Jeff Jensen, for example, loves to know story twists ahead of time, arguing, “A story’s construction is as riveting as the story itself, and spoilers help illuminate that artistry”). Yet the showrunners have a tough time wrapping their minds around such a dessert-first approach to pop culture consumption.

“It’s crazy enough to be the person crawling through the bushes in Northern Ireland with a telescopic lens taking pictures — there are crazy people out there,” Benioff says. “But the idea that people want to go to sites and find out those spoilers … it’s like if there was a website called Last Pages of Great Books, would you read that?”

“I’m going to start that website!” Weiss says. “By the logic of the Internet that would be popular — ‘Don’t read Anna Karenina, here’s the page where she jumps in front of the train.'”

Weiss pauses. “Spoiler alert.”

For more on season 6, follow @jameshibberd for ongoing GoT coverage, subscribe to our Thrones email newsletter, and bookmark this page for our latest GoT stories. Game of Thrones returns to HBO on April 24.

And, of course, we cannot possibly write this story without also adding Spoiler Sansa…