[WARNING: The following contains spoilers from Game of Thrones' first five seasons. Read at your own risk!]
Even before Game of Thrones aired its first episode, the existing fan base created by author George R.R. Martin's books felt an excitement beyond the promise of finally seeing their favorite stories made flesh. As one of those in the know, I also wondered about the uninitiated — those unsuspecting viewers who would be pulled into the addictive drama and then get shaken to their very core when, inevitably, the show's central character Ned Stark (Sean Bean) was killed off in the first season.
In some ways, living vicariously through the non-book fans amplified my enjoyment of the show: There was the pleasure of anticipation (Ned's going to die!), watching the scene play out (Whoa, I'm watching Ned really die!) and then hearing the outcry from the non-book viewers (Wait, what's Joffrey doing? That bastard! Ned can't die. Someone's going to save him, right? RIGHT?! Nooooooo! Damn that sick bastard George R.R. Martin! Is nothing sacred?!).
This thrill repeated itself over the years: for the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Lysa Arryn's flight through the Moon Door, and the Mountain and Viper duel, to name a few. But in the past year, my experience has dimmed a bit, and I found I was actually happy that next year the show will throw out the book, so to speak, since the series has now outstripped the events in Martin's books as he feverishly tries to get the next one finished. Let's be clear: This is not a judgment on how the show is better than the book or vice versa. I've always found that view to be so limiting in the joy to be had from both.
Here's why I think next season will be more enjoyable:
1. I finally get to be surprised Although the show's executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have always written in new scenes that weren't seen in the books, the majority were of the backstory variety, such as conversations that made characters richer... and not just because some were Lannisters! There have only been a handful of real surprises: meeting the Night's King, Sansa's marriage to Ramsay, Shireen's death (and that last one is actually a spoiler for book readers because Martin revealed to the producers that scene is coming in the next, as-yet-unpublished book). Oh, to have a pure, unfiltered reaction to a scene!
2. I don't have to live in fear of revealing spoilers anymore Although some of the books' fans relished feeling superior in their foreknowledge and even spoiling big plot points, I never did. In fact, not spoiling was a responsibility I took very seriously and stressed out about quite a bit. I didn't even want to mention the words "Red Wedding" before that fateful episode aired in case anyone within earshot figured out the bloody plot twist.
3. I won't have to be that annoying person who says, "Well, in the books..." There were times when friends, confused by the convoluted show, would ask for clarification on a point or a character. Since almost nothing is simple in Westeros, this always meant launching into a far bigger conversation about true motivations, history, the social mores or the implications of a move. Although there will be some deeper knowledge that has not yet been presented on the show (such as the legend of the Rat King), for the most part, book and non-book fans will be on a level viewing field in Season 6.
4. I won't have to cross-reference my Wiki pages Keeping straight what happens, did not happen and has yet to happen on the show versus the books is tricky, and that's not to mention the changes — such as the different names that comprise Arya's hit list — from one medium to another. And the Many-Faced God forbid if I make a mistake, which was always so helpfully pointed out in the comments section.
5. The storytelling will even out Books 4 and 5 meandered a lot and introduced new, pointless characters because Martin wanted to give Daenerys time to realistically learn to rule in Meereen. As a result, this past year, Benioff and Weiss had to tighten those narratives by compressing story lines and giving existing characters better (read: not aimless) plots as they moved toward more convergences. While some of these really paid off — Tyrion and Daenerys' meet-up was everything we wished for, and the Hardhome battle eclipsed all previous battles — it made for an even season. The producers and Martin have discussed what the endgame is, but even with that shared destination, the show will own its narrative from this point on as it never has before.
6. We'll get pay-off much sooner The show and the books have enjoyed a parallel relationship so far. There are five of a projected seven books published, and we've just finished the fifth season on HBO. But who knows when Book 6, The Winds of Winter, will be released, given that it took Martin six years between installments last time, and it's been four years and counting for the latest so far. Even if somehow he manages to publish Book 6 before Season 6 begins, there's no way he can finish Book 7, the forecasted final installment, before the parallel Season 7 airs. Since the current buzz is that the series will wrap up with that seventh season, no matter what, we'll see the endgame on HBO long, long before we read it.
What's your take on this past season? Are you psyched or nervous about the upcoming season?
VIDEO: Here's why the Night's King is important