HBO continues to troll everyone by declaring today that they will not be releasing any screeners for Game of Thrones Season 6. Last year, after the first four episodes of Season 5 were sent out, they appeared in quick order on BitTorrent, where some major plot points were spoiled. That’s lame, but don’t blame critics — the circle of people who receive screeners for series is often extremely wide, not very well policed, and can easily include people who decide to leak footage without much fear of reprimand or its effects on the rest of the industry.
It’s a tricky thing for networks, who used to send out hard copies of DVDs for review, before switching over to online screening rooms (which is less expensive and more secure). And while at first it might be easy enough to share passwords, some screening rooms count your device logins and IP addresses, or include huge watermarks across the content (or even worse, moving watermarks … that’s the curse of ABC screeners now). Others (like Netflix) often require signed non-disclosure agreements where your first born is promised to Marvel if you say anything you shouldn’t about upcoming episodes.
While at some point you do need to trust your process, HBO has the particular luxury of not needing to. Game of Thrones is a ratings juggernaut that probably isn’t going to be affected much by reviews at this point — it’s really more about hype. It’s why critics often get screeners in the first place, so that (ideally) we can point viewers in the direction of great shows they might be missing out of, or to suggest you stay away from series that look awful (which the creators and PR firms don’t like, but it’s still calling attention to a show, which in this noisy landscape means something). Most series, though, fall in between, so the point there is to explain what they’re about, whether they fall into your particular niche of viewing, and how well they handle their material. (Obviously — this isn’t news).
Still, programming president Michael Lombardo told EW that,
“We’re not sending out press copies this year, anywhere in the world. There will be no copies for review. It’s painful for Dan and David [when leaks happen]. When you have press copies, inevitably friends ask, ‘Can I see your copy?’ There are things that happen. We talked about the upsides and downsides. Some of the press are fans who might be disappointed, but they’ll understand.”
Hmm, not really. Basically, there had better be a fat spoiler in the first episode to make not even sending that worthwhile. Even The Walking Dead sends out the first episode of new seasons, and in no way does AMC need to with that (again) hugely popular series. The other thought, if one chooses to look at it this way, is that after all of the controversy in Game of Thrones’ last season, maybe Weiss and Benioff are attempting to protect themselves from comments on how the new season is addressing these issues before it airs (and therefore, potentially turning viewers off who were on the fence about continuing). If that’s true, that’s the worst reason possible.
Because of this change, we obviously won’t have a review, but we will have recaps. What do you think of this new level of secrecy from HBO, though? Are you annoyed you won’t get a preview of the new season in this form, and do you think the show is holding itself in too high a regard? Or does it not ultimately matter? Personally, I’m inclined to suppose the sinister about their reasons for holding back episodes. And as a critic, I’m also obviously disappointed in the decision, and think it’s a slippery precedent. Time will tell, but not — apparently — before April 24th.