The following contains spoilers for Game of Thrones up to this Sunday’s Season 7 finale.
For Game of Thrones fans, the excitement of following a television show that has continued to upend traditional storytelling conventions through its first seven seasons is mostly derived from tuning in every week, seeing which main character will die next, or be resurrected, and waiting to see when the inevitable dragons versus White Walkers final battle will take place to determine the fate of Westeros once and for all.
To keep that suspense going, viewers — specifically those who have not read George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire — have to navigate a tricky balance of immersing themselves in the series — reading episode reviews, consuming weekly podcasts, diving into fan theories — without spoiling upcoming plotlines for themselves. Now that the show has caught up to the books, the landscape is a bit easier since both sides — those who only watch the show and book readers – are on a level playing field.
But there’s a growing number of fans who openly seek out spoilers, with communities coming together, piecing together set photos, leaked script pages and casting information to figure out exactly what will happen on the show before it even airs. Many of these people already knew the larger plot points of the entire seventh season before the first episode premiered.
One of the places these spoiler folks congregate is /r/freefolk (warning: do not click the link if you don’t want to catch spoilers). On the front page of the subreddit, /r/freefolk bills itself as a “wide open and unmoderated subreddit to talk about Game of Thrones/ A Song of Ice and Fire books and show.” The description is apt. Once you land on the page, there are threads with images, comments and memes that reference plot points in Season 7 that have yet to air.
There are open discussion threads for leaked episodes. On the top of the page, there’s a countdown clock to the season finale this Sunday. The countdown clock description references one of the final scenes of the season. It’s almost a wink and nod to those who are part of this community. My favorite part of /r/freefolk is how they refer to those who don’t engage with spoilers as kneelers.
I spoke with Reddit user weirwood-raven, a moderator on /r/freefolk, who declined to provide his real name. W.R. (as he'll be referred to for the rest of the article) is in his mid-20s and started watching Game of Thrones after three seasons had already aired when he had a job with plenty of downtime to stream shows. From the series premiere when the White Walkers were introduced, to the opening scene and Bran Stark being pushed out the window by Jaime Lannister before the credits hit, W.R. was hooked.
After quickly binging through the first three seasons, W.R. remembers encountering his first Game of Thrones spoiler: seeing an image of Catelyn Stark reanimated as Lady Stoneheart, a plot point in the book that has yet to unfold and is unlikely to be part of the series' canon. Seeing that, W.R. immediately ordered the books and further immersed himself. “Nothing has ever grabbed me like this television show before,” he told me via email.
Eventually, W.R. became a moderator on /r/freefolk, where he went to discuss episodes from Season 5 that leaked early. He soon started to put up weekly episode discussion threads as well. W.R. calls /r/freefolk “just a bunch of mates having some banter with each other.”
While the recent HBO hacks have sparked conversation around protecting the intellectual property of television shows, W.R. has his own rationalization for consuming the spoiler-filled material. “Whenever I see there’s been a leak of something I watch or am planning to watch, I’ll read it,” he says. “I buy every single episode of Game Of Thrones legally anyway. I just want to watch them early with everyone else.”
But what about the kneelers, those who are just going online to get more context for what they just watched, who don’t want to have anything spoiled for them, but accidentally stumble upon a place like /r/freefolk where it only takes a few seconds on the subreddit to potentially have the season ruined for them in advance? “Don’t browse, spoil yourself, then moan to us,” W.R. says. “All you have to do is stay away from the internet for a short time and watch the episode.”
As for the question of whether knowing what’s going to happen in advance will ruin the viewing experience, W.R. actually believes it enhances the overall experience. “There’s even scientific studies on this that prove looking at spoilers and leaked info makes you enjoy whatever it is even more,” he contends. Even if people disagree with how shows should be consumed, with or without spoilers, W.R. isn’t blowing smoke. Nicholas Christenfield, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego, published a study a few years ago and found that the spoiled group in his study enjoyed stories more than the unspoiled ones.
W.R. already knows what’s going to happen in this Sunday’s Season 7 finale, so now the attention of the spoiler community turns to the final season of the show, for which shooting will begin later this year. The scripts for Season 8 have reportedly been completed, which means before Game of Thrones returns to air (likely to be late 2018 or early 2019), the ending of the show might make its way online.
If that happens, even a freefolk like W.R. will be faced with a difficult choice. “I have said for a while now that Season 8 is the last chance I'll get to go into Game of Thrones with a completely fresh slate,” he says. “It's going to be hard to not read every single bit of information that comes out, but I'll try my best.”
Now find out how much Game of Thrones stars earn per episode.