LONDON: Once upon a time, when I was young and naive, an ex-boyfriend coerced me into spending an evening playing Dungeons & Dragons with his boy pals.
A covert little gang, the fantasy board game enthusiasts were well aware that their hobby made them look like massive losers, and so the gathering was a fairly clandestine affair, hosted in one or another’s flat and played, as I remember it, crouched on the floor, like hobbits round a brazier.
Within five minutes of observing four adult males role-playing and strategising over which path might best suit their “quest”, I realised two things.
First, that Dungeons & Dragons is the most painfully boring activity in the world. And second, that any affection I might have felt for my young wizard, or Prince Twgwyidd, or whatever guise he had assumed as his fantasy alter-ego, had clean disappeared.
I had a similar reckoning a couple of years later when another boyfriend revealed a disturbing adoration for the work of comic fantasy writer Terry Pratchett. Love may conquer all, but Discworld will never be sexy.
The fantasy genre still makes me shudder. JRR Tolkien, the subject of a glossy new biopic starring the delectable Nicholas Hoult, gives me the heebie jeebies. I hate anything featuring a “daemon”. Most superheroes are a snore — even more so when they have “origin” stories. Harry Potter and his wizard brethren are just lame.
Which is why, despite the urging of so many, I have remained utterly unmoved by the cultural juggernaut that is Game of Thrones. I have swerved the sprawling television epic first serialised in 2011 and currently reaching its dramatic apotheosis on HBO, and ignored the fantasy novels by George RR Martin upon which the show is based.
Throughout, I have remained happily oblivious as to the health of all the various landings and direwolves and Whateveros. But lately, as the show has neared completion and the final battles to claim dominion reach their climax, I have felt a twinge of envy.
All that nerd energy as the Thrones “stans” discuss in earnest the state of Daenerys’s mental health, or gather in pubs to watch the next surprise casualty while roaring like football fans on match day, is quite compelling.
As these past few weeks have gripped social media, and the office water-cooler has claimed its metaphorical moment once again, I’ve felt the quiet throb of Fomo (fear of missing out). Though it being that, and this being this, I should probably call it “Thromo”.
And so I’ve started to tune in.
Rather than attempt to do the show any real justice or claim any kind of legitimate authority as a fan, I’ve decided to join the action right now, in the dying throes of the drama.
Forget the complexities of plot development, nuance of character or hope of understanding anything that’s going on — I’m just in it for the spoilers. And the opportunity to laugh knowingly at the memes of Thrones and generally join in. The fact that most online discussions have moaned about plot cogency and continuity this season have only helped prove the point: If you can’t keep up with box-set culture, start at the end.
It’s been a revelation. As someone who has always maintained an orthodox loyalty to the notion of “completion” — diligently finishing one book before starting another, making sure to read the novel before watching the film adaptation, and sitting through every goddamn episode of Mad Men only to realise, save for a few spare minutes of crystalline genius, that it was the most overrated TV drama of all time — I have always believed that there is no honour in fandom without a corresponding investment.
You’ve got to put in the hours. It’s why I never watched The Sopranos: by the time I realised it was worth watching, I was too burdened by the volume of what I had missed. For years, I have trotted off to the cinema to catch various films in their opening weekend so as to be armed and ready with an opinion. When it comes to pop culture, I have to get in early and then stick around.
But no more. Late adoption requires no investment, spares you tons of time, and still allows you a free pass to whichever cultural cabal you wish to cleave to. Does anyone in the “group chat” need to know that “The Long Night”, one of this season’s deadliest episodes thus far, was the first "GoT" I ever watched? Of course not.
Emancipate yourself from the burden of “catch-up” and just crash in. In most instances, the unctuous adulation in which critically acclaimed dramas are held — the BBC’s much- lauded Bodyguard or Doctor Foster for example — is unfounded anyway. Both shows were utter drivel — well, the denouements were, at least.
With very rare exceptions, such as Fleabag and any crime dramas with a foreign copper, the only golden feature of this current age of TV is the social media conversation around it.
Game of Thrones is absolute dross, but the myriad memes, jokes, threads, insta posts, graphs and gifs created in its honour have been quite brilliant. I watch the show while simultaneously checking Twitter — the real-time incest jokes make it worth the effort alone.
Surely the show is held in such affection because it offers belonging — that each viewer is part of a great big culture club.
No one could possibly be watching for the acting. Which is absolutely awful. And an obsession with dragons is still dorky as hell.