Let’s not play: HBO can do whatever it wants with Game of Thrones and we’ll all come a-calling to watch it anyway. So it’s of little surprise — after screener episodes from Season 5 were leaked — that HBO put a lockdown on all advance copies moving forward. It’s still a largely unprecedented move; even if a series withholds a premiere episode (like The Walking Dead did last season because it revealed who Negan killed), AMC still provided weekly episodes early for recappers and critics.
As has been pointed out in the past (like when HBO made the pronouncement about withholding screeners throughout the season last year), there is no way that it was a critic who leaked the episodes. We know better than that. But when a network sends out screeners, they don’t just send them to critics, or the press in general, but to usually a huge, long list of people — some of whom may not even work in media anymore. Often, lists don’t get updated, passwords don’t get reissued, and credentials don’t get rechecked. So just about any random person who has, at some point, had access to a press mailing list or an online screening room can probably get to these screeners and leak them. It’s a crappy thing to do, but people can be crappy (for example, the person who leaked the entire season of Orange Is the New Black before its premiere).
While I don’t think it’s a great move for HBO (they could set up a new, secure site, they could send mailers to select press outlets, etc), Game of Thrones is admittedly an exception in many ways. It’s a show that is so hugely a watercooler juggernaut that watching it week to week with everyone is pretty fun and satisfying. Yes, our recapper Kayti Burt and I will have to stay up really late on Sundays so she can write and I can build and post commentary for each episode, but it is what it is. The fun of watching Game of Thrones for me (finally) is that it has moved away from the books so that each episode is a genuine surprise, and getting to experience that live with everyone else is a rare treat.
The other side of it is that reviews for shows this deep into their run aren’t as essential as comments on new shows, or ones returning for a second season. If you’re already six seasons into a series, a review is basically just confirming that it’s still good, or that maybe it’s dipped in quality. We can’t give spoilers or specifics, so really it’s just entrenched fans going “huh!” and watching anyway. Once the season starts, it’s a little irritating to not be able to have coverage planned for specific moments from certain episodes but, it’s not like we won’t be doing it — it’ll just come a little later than before.
If HBO screens the first episode during a red carpet event for the premiere, then critics may be allowed to write reviews from that, but also remember that Showtime didn’t allow anyone to write up the Twin Peaks red carpet premiere screening until after it had aired in full on the West Coast on its debut night. Twin Peaks is another example of a series that wasn’t screened early and, for most of its parts, hasn’t been available before it airs live. But then again, you could see those episodes multiple times weeks in advance and still not know what the hell is happening (and we are all the better for it).
All of this is really to say that, hey! there aren’t going to be any Game of Thrones reviews before the new season once again. But we will have recaps, editorials, explainers, and each week throughout the season, so keep an eye on Collider for all things Iron Throne.
Game of Thrones premieres for everyone Sunday, July 16th on HBO.