Game of Thrones secrecy is going to a whole new level.
HBO has decided to not give the media any advance episodes of the Emmy-winning series for season 6. The upcoming season is on such a content lock-down that the press and Hollywood insiders will not receive any episodes in advance — either on DVD or via online screening — circumventing industry convention. “We’re not sending out press copies this year, anywhere in the world,” HBO programming president Michael Lombardo told EW. “There will be no copies for review.”
The move could be a first for a major series, though isn’t entirely surprising in the case of Thrones. This is the first season where the show has largely surpassed the narrative published in author George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, so for the first time even hardcore fans of the books have no idea what’s coming next. Also, last year HBO sent the first four hours of season 5 to its usual media distribution list, and the content leaked onto BitTorrent before the show’s premiere — spoiling nearly half the season for some viewers as plot points gained coverage online. While HBO has since switched to a more secure online screening system for critics, the company has nonetheless opted against taking any chances with the intensely anticipated new season of its highest-rated series of all time. Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss advocated the no-screener strategy to protect season 6 content and, after some discussion, network executives agreed.
“It’s painful for Dan and David [when leaks happen],” Lombardo said. “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.”
The move comes amid considerable suspense and speculation about the storyline of one character in particular — Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who was killed off in the season 5 finale.
While movie studios often refuse to let critics see films in advance if a title is expected to get poor reviews, it’s extremely rare on the television side to not provide review copies — particularly for a critically acclaimed series. The decision is all the more impactful since Game of Thrones shattered Emmy records, winning 12 awards including best drama, and is one of the world’s most popular shows (in the U.S. alone, Thrones season 5 averaged 20.2 million viewers per episode when all forms of viewing were counted). Yet if there’s any title that can potentially air without any premiere reviews and remain unscathed, it’s Thrones. And one wonders if the move will only serve to heighten fan and media anticipation for the new season, which already seems poised to break the show’s previous premiere ratings records.
Game of Thrones returns to HBO on April 24. Follow @jameshibberd for GoT news.