A couple of years ago, upon meeting up with my sister, Rachel, and a few friends in a beer garden on a humid summer evening, I mentioned that I did not watch Game of Thrones.
Rachel breathed a sigh of relief. It turned out she didn’t watch it, either. In fact, just before I arrived, she’d made the same confession to another friend. A man seated at the next table swiveled around, his face disfigured into a mask of horror. “What?” he exclaimed, his tone of disbelief tinged with pity and dismay. “You don’t watch Game of Thrones?!”
No. Nada. Vosecchi, to use the word in Dothraki, a language I didn’t know existed until I googled it just now, because of course there is a made-up language in Game of Thrones [Editor’s note: There are actually several], and of course there is an online translator for it. Although it has made for awkward and confusing moments at work, at parties, on dates, and among friends, no, I don’t watch Game of Thrones.
Instead, I have an outsider’s view of one of the largest pop-culture phenomena of this century, averaging 25.1 million viewers per episode last season, not counting the millions of viewers who have made it the most-pirated show on TV. The show is, by some counts, more widely viewed than Sunday Night Football, and, according to one report, more popular than porn. A New York Times TV writer found his Game of Thrones recaps are the most widely read content he’s ever written — and are among the top stories on the site, even at a time when there are plenty of real-life Joffreys and Euron Greyjoys wreaking havoc on the world stage. (Did I use those references correctly? I can’t be sure.)
The show counted among its superfans President Barack Obama, who received episodes in advance of the public. It’s infiltrated pop culture from Saturday Night Live on down to Sesame Street. According to news reports, fans of Game of Thrones are buying huskies in record numbers because they resemble something called direwolves, then abandoning them because they are, in fact, mere dogs.
As for me, though, I don’t know a maester from a warg. When I hear “white walker,” I imagine some sort of insect. I don’t know what a “red wedding” is, but it sounds disgusting.
My ignorance has allowed many a watercooler conversation to run dry. It’s been a major handicap (or, I would argue, an excellent screening device) in my dating life. “You watch GoT?” a guy asks, and the conversation tends to flatline. The good news is, at this point, if someone makes a reference I don’t get, I can pretty much assume it’s something George R.R. Martin-related and move on with my day.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy TV at times — I do. But to answer some other questions I’ve been asked over the years: Before I did not watch Game of Thrones, I also did not watch Breaking Bad, or Downton Abbey. I didn’t watch Mad Men, and I may go to my grave never knowing Don Draper’s secret. I didn’t watch Lost, though I know people were angry about the finale. I once spent an entire dinner wedged miserably between two people trading Simpsons references that I did not understand. I don’t like to admit it, but because I’m among friends here: I also did not watch The Wire.
But none of those spilled over so thoroughly into all reaches of the culture.
And unlike The Wire, which I aspire to view eventually, Game of Thrones just doesn’t strike me as very appealing — not the byzantine politics or the violence or the far-fetched plot points, the birthing of shadow demons and dragon babies. The fact that it apparently requires endless listicles in order to track all the references, callbacks, and Easter eggs embedded in each show? That sounds like a lot of work.
And, did I mention the matter of serial rape? About that: According to one analysis, there were 50 acts of rape in the show (compared to 214 rapes in the book series) just through the 2015 season. The phrase twincest rape is one I’ve heard only in connection with this show, and I hope never to hear it again.
I’m not entirely alone in my abstinence.
My friend Mason shrugged off the incessant Game of Thrones small talk. “I relish the moments in conversation when I can stop listening and let my mind wander, so I don’t mind. As far as I know, it’s a show about dragon rape.”
My colleague Erica Palan has pieced together a more thorough understanding of Game of Thrones without going so far as to actually watch it. She provided this recap.
“Here are things I know: There is a blond lady who lays eggs and has dragon babies. She, at one point, hung out with a hairy guy who wore a lot of leather belts around his chest. He may or may not be dead now. There’s an insane amount of incest. Peter Dinklage is a sex maniac. There are color-themed weddings, red and purple. At least one of them was very violent. Jon Snow was thought to be dead for a while but apparently isn’t. There is an Andre-the-Giant-like character named Hodor. The city councilman from The Wire is in it. EVERYONE wears a ton of animal cloaks, because it’s always very cold, because it’s always winter.”
The thing about Game of Thrones is, any summary of it sounds about as plausible as any other. All of it’s inexplicable.
I did once attempt to watch an episode. I was on a date, and conversation was faltering. We did not have a lot in common, besides being bored and single and having a couple of hours free on a Sunday evening. So he tried the old fallback: “Do you watch Game of Thrones?”
He invited me to watch it with him, and so I sat on a strange leather sofa and wondered what the heck was going on, both on television and in my life. Beautiful, unhappy people wearing lots of chunky jewelry appeared in a series of unconnected vignettes, consuming lavish meals, riding in carriages, seducing one another or perpetrating violence. Every few minutes, I’d ask, “Who’s that?” He would say something unhelpful like, “That’s a wildling” and decline to elaborate further. Eventually, I gave up trying to figure it out, he gave up explaining, and we made out for a while. We didn’t see each other again.
For me, Sunday nights in summer are for barbecues with friends or sandy car rides back from the beach, or cooking up whatever I bought at the farmers’ market.
Yet, I have to admit, the phrase “winter is coming” does hold a certain appeal for me these days. It’s a Game of Thrones reference, I guess. It’s also something to look forward to: The season ends Aug. 27. Please, don’t ask me if I saw the finale.
The Season Seven finale of Game of Thrones airs 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO.