Spoilers for the first four seasons of the show are ahead.
Winter was coming when I moved from Miami to New York in mid-November, so I ended up doing what a lot of people do in the Northeast when it gets cold and dark and miserable for months: I stayed inside and watched TV. I watched all the TV. All the TV except for Game of Thrones.
When I told people this was because I didn't like "fantasy," everyone, without exception, replied, "But that's only, like 5 percent of it!" That would actually go a long way in explaining why it's HBO's most popular show ever. After all, there's no way that all 18.4 million people who tune in to Game of Thrones on the regular are the kind of people who read Wheel of Time books. Correctly or not though, I had the idea in my head that the show was merely dwarves fucking princesses with some dragon cameos, and as such, it didn't have much to offer a person like me.
But season five has started, and that means everyone is talking about it again, and I decided, after a period of peer pressure that bordered on bullying, that it was my duty as a screen-watching citizen of the world to catch up on it, or at least try to, and this morphed into the idea that I should watch every episode —a.k.a. 41 hours—of Game of Thrones and film myself doing this. I would be like David Blaine; David Blaine in a Dungeons & Dragons version of Videodrome.
It turns out that the rumors are true about the sheer amount of fucking that goes down in Westeros. About an hour into the show, I think I've seen every possible configuration of characters have doggy-style sex. I feel extremely bad for Daenerys, who gets creeped on by her brother and then married off to a terrifying, muscular husband, though she cheers up after she suddenly gets into him after following some Cosmo sex tips from a servant. Also I'm confused—there are 500 characters and they are all named D'horen. It's a lot to keep track of and I fear I am unable to follow the plot. That does not bode well for this experiment.
Two friends come over and order Mexican from the place downstairs, but given the incest and evisceration continually playing out on screen, food doesn't seem appealing. Watching Daenerys eat a horse heart doesn't help, either. I don't think this experiment is the ideal way to watch a show; it kind of stops you from enjoying it and forces you to endure it. I like Arya well enough—but when her dad gets decapitated and she becomes a Dickensian street urchin, I remain unmoved. Am I broken?
I had planned to take a short break in the middle of seasons one and two, but I don't pause the marathon. I want to keep the momentum I have going. Also I've been watching this show for long enough that I don't really know what I'd do for a "break." Anyone who binges on TV knows this, but after a few hours of the binge you're past the point of shame. What's the difference between watching eight episodes of a show and watching 15? Either way you're probably going to lie to everyone about what you did over the weekend. By the start of season two, every episode feels like a step forwards on a long long journey. I imagine it provides the same sort of high as leveling up does to people who play World of Warcraft .
Soon, though, it becomes clear that Game of Thrones is the most terrifying show to binge on, because there is so much death and misery. Every scene is someone getting gutted by swords or hate-fucked by someone else for political gain. It's so stressful. My stomach lurches, and I realize it's about 1:30 in the morning and I haven't eaten anything in a long time since well before Joffery became the devil incarnate. Nothing's open, so I call a diner in Queens and select an open-faced chicken salad sandwich slathered in yellow American cheese and almost-raw bacon. I take about two bites and throw it on my bed, where it will sit for the next 12 or so hours.
I get extremely paranoid that I'm hallucinating everything and I conclude that my mental state is definitely deteriorating. I keep watching.
At 3 AM, the only new friend I've made since moving back to New York, a guy I'll call Tom who lives down the street from me, texts and says, "buzz me in? i need a minute." I don't know what he needs a minute for, and I don't care, I just want company in my tiny room that feels increasingly like there should be padding on the walls.
But when he comes up he starts sobbing on my couch and unspools a complicated story about a sick friend, coming home late, and his parents kicking him out. He keeps repeating himself over and over again to the point where I figure he must be on something. Game of Thrones rages on in the background the entire time, although he doesn't seem to notice or mind that I haven't looked away from it. Tom then offers me a hit of acid that he had wrapped in tinfoil. I consider it for a second, but decide that throwing my mind any further into this fantasy world would be an incredibly bad idea. He sleeps on the couch in my living room and the next day acts like none of this had happened.
I keep watching.
That afternoon, when normal people are awake and doing things again, some other friends come to check on me, and I sort of get to experience what I imagine being a drug dealer is like. People drop in for a few minutes to sit on my couch, leave, then come back to find me still sitting on my couch doing the exact same thing I was doing last time.
Once the visits dry up, though, I grow unspeakably lonely. "When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die," Cersei, who I've now decided is my spirit guide, forewarned in the first season's seventh episode. "There is no middle ground." As I approach the halfway point of my marathon, these words speak to me. I am playing the true Game of Thrones and I will win or I will die.
During all this, I was filming myself. I had some idea that the footage would be funny (though only one part—beneath—turned out to be). At some point I notice that a light on the camera filming me is blinking red, so I text a guy who understands cameras, and ask him what to do. Almost immediately, he sends me two pictures of the back of the camera and step-by-step instructions on how to change the memory card. It's all a block of meaningless text. I can't make sense of the words even as I read them out loud and try to isolate each sentence as a separate directive. He emails me a video. The narrator's voice is a monotone, and no one is getting beheaded, which is presumably why I can't pay attention. I watch it twice before giving up.
I've been futzing with the camera for an hour, and as I try to pry off a clearly bolted-on part of the camera with my bare hands, I get the sense that I'm being laughed at. Except no one is there. I take the barely-eaten sandwich and emphatically throw it in the garbage to regain some sense of agency.
Finally, I call someone else who knows how to use the camera. She explains that I push the button that says "push" to eject the card. I start the show again and hundreds of men are being burned alive in their ships.
Nothing shocks me anymore. Life is cheap in Westeros, and blowjobs are cheaper.
I haven't taken an official count but I estimate that I've seen Peter Dinklage get 47 blowjobs. I am completely inured to this. In fact, nothing shocks me anymore. Life is cheap in Westeros, and blowjobs are cheaper. Earlier Maester Aemon explained earlier that there was a winter coming that "will be long, and dark things will come with it." My life is a long winter.
Twenty-five hours into Game of Thrones, I am a shell of my former self. But when things start gearing up for a royal wedding, I sense something climactic is coming and gather the strength for a second wind. That instinct proves correct, because one scene, which I now know is referred to as "The Red Wedding," is possibly the most intense thing I've ever seen on TV. The first time I watched Kids, when I was like 17, I spent the entire last five minutes on my feet screaming at the screen. I have pretty much the same reaction here. Although I've been able to deal with all of the deaths thus far, even Ned Stark's, I can sense tears streaming down my face. I stare fixedly at the screen throughout the credits and only snap out of it when the glow of HBO's logo startles me back into reality. This is what that looked like:
The outburst leaves me spent. For the first time, I feel like I could actually fall asleep if I wanted to. I seriously consider putting on a baseball cap and sunglasses Weekend at Bernie's–style to fool the camera. I conclude it is a "good idea" and that "no one will know." I give the camera angry side-eye, because I now consider it my enemy.
The Red Wedding, actually, is the last plot point from the show I can remember. I begin season four, but I am completely out of it to the point where I might as well be staring at a blank wall. Game of Thrones washes over me like some bloody wave, but I was disengage from it, my eyes glaze over, and completely by accident I fall asleep.
When I wake up on my couch with my shoes on about 11 hours later, the first thing I see is the blinking light telling me that the camera is no longer recording. The second thing I notice is that it's a goddamn beautiful day outside.
As I waddle down the staircase to experience the first day of spring, I feel less like a grown person than two toddlers wearing a trench coat. The lower half of my body doesn't want to coordinate with the top. But it doesn't matter. Winter is over. And it has been a long one.
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