Okay, so this doesn’t have anything to do with what I normally write about but the year is winding down and I’m in the mood to write about something a little more fun than usual. In a recent post on what I’m currently reading, I mentioned that I happened to know a bunch of spoilers for the TV series The 100 before I actually started watching it and how that’s been helping me manage my expectations for the show in the long term. Later this month, I’ll be talking a little about how knowing the ending for Mr. Robot was what got me to go back and watch the show after giving up on it early on (and I’m glad it did).
So let’s talk spoilers and why I like them so much.
Note: The following post contains mostly vague spoilers for Harry Potter, Avengers Infinity War, Avengers Endgame, Broadchurch, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and The Haunting of Hill House. It also contains some specific spoilers for Game of Thrones (the books and the TV series) and The Stand (the book and the old miniseries but probably also the upcoming TV series unless they’ve changed the story drastically).
To be clear, I’m mostly talking about spoilers for TV series and movies. For whatever reason, I’ve never been one for seeking out spoilers for books that I read, with the exception of the last Harry Potter book (…where I read the epilogue first because I wanted to know which characters made it to the end). It’s not that I’m more of a purist when it comes to books than I am with TV and movies. It’s probably just that spoilers for books are generally harder to find and aren’t likely to show up as a headline in any of my entertainment news feeds.
I’m also not into spoilers that take detective work. Like when they “killed off” Jon Snow on Game of Thrones and people were, like, stalking Kit Harington at the airport to try to prove that he was still on the show (which, come on—we all pretty much knew that was going to be the case). I’m not into that sort of thing. I like my spoilers easily findable.
What type of information do I like knowing? Pretty much anything. Character deaths are a big one. Romantic developments (either the start or end of a relationship) is another. Plot developments and big reveals. Sometimes even solutions to mysteries.
My friend who detests even the smallest spoilers doesn’t understand this at all. Doesn’t knowing what’s going to happen ahead of time ruin the experience of the story? And doesn’t it violate what the storytellers intended?
For the first question, I would say that knowing spoilers actually enhances the story experience for me. That’s because the best kind of suspense, in my opinion, is the suspense that comes from knowing more than the characters about what’s going to happen. Sometimes that type of suspense is built in as part of the story. But looking up spoilers is a way to manufacture that suspense for myself. It’s exciting to watch the characters figure out something you already know. And watching how the story gets there is a big part of the fun for me.
When it comes to character deaths, spoilers are especially important to me because knowing a character is going to die ahead of time allows me to emotionally prepare myself for that loss. When I was a teenager, I read The Stand for the first time. If you’re not familiar, The Stand is an epic novel about a battle between good and evil in the wake of a virus that has killed off most of the human population. Obviously, this is a story where a lot of people are going to die. I knew who a few of those doomed characters were before I started reading because I’d seen bits and pieces of the miniseries based on the book when I was a kid. But then the book introduced Larry Underwood, a character I didn’t really remember from the movie at all. I immediately fell in love with him and as soon as I did, I asked my mother (a big Stephen King fan who had been begging me to read the book for years) if Larry died. She told me he didn’t. About two hundred pages before the ending, it became apparent that my mother had lied to me. When I asked her again if Larry died, she told me the truth. I was devastated.
Realistically, Larry is a fictional character whose death has no impact on the world or on my life but I think I felt the “loss” especially keenly because, well, I was an emotional teenager and also because I happened to be reading The Stand right after the September 11 terrorist attacks. It was a tumultuous time and The Stand was not exactly comfort reading even back then (it’s even less so now) but having a character to love like that helped make things feel a little better. When I found out he was going to die, I put the book down. I couldn’t bear to read more.
I mean, I did eventually finish it. Larry’s death is dramatic and heroic and kind of cheesy and I cried my damn eyes out, but I made it through all the way to the end.
So what would knowing about Larry’s death (the facts if not the details) ahead of time have changed? I don’t know, exactly. I just feel like I could have braced myself a little better if I’d known what was coming and appreciated the book a little more. It certainly wouldn’t have ruined Larry for me to know that he died. If anything, I think I would have loved him even more.
Either way, my mother now knows not to lie to me about character deaths. Which is just as well because I’ve learned not to ask her. The internet, it turns out, is a much more reliable source anyway.
So the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones? Yeah, I knew about that long before it aired. I blame Entertainment Weekly for that one—they had a cover story about Game of Thrones that specifically warned people not to look up the Red Wedding ahead of time. I couldn’t not do it after that.
And all the people who got dusted in Avengers Infinity War? Looked that up, too. Also all the characters who died in Avengers Endgame. I couldn’t go to the theater not knowing whether my favorite characters were going to make it to the end. To be clear, no matter what I found out, knowing who died in that movie would not have prevented me from seeing it (twice). It just allowed me to process what was going to happen a little before I went to sit in a theater full of strangers to watch it all unfold.
Of those examples, the Avengers Endgame one might be the most controversial because the people who made that movie went to great lengths to make sure no spoilers got out (to the point that some of the actors didn’t know what was actually going on in their respective scenes while they were filming them) and then asked fans not to seek out such spoilers before going to the theater. What I did went directly against the wishes of the people who created this thing that I love so much.
The thing is, when I seek out spoilers, I’m not trying to disrespect the people who put so much work into these movies/TV series/books/whatever, even though I know they might not take it that way. It’s just that there is a specific way that I prefer to experience a story. For me, knowing what happens ahead of time only ever enhances my enjoyment.
And not knowing generally does the opposite. When I first watched Broadchurch, I deliberately avoided spoilers for the original season-long mystery because I wanted to see if I could figure it out on my own. When the solution was revealed, I was so disappointed that it retroactively ruined the rest of the series for me, which I had been enjoying quite a bit up to that point. (To be fair, many critics disagree with my disappointment.)
More recently, I avoided spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Haunting of Hill House, both of which I watched around Halloween. I wasn’t a huge fan of either series to begin with but the surprises and big reveals in both series only made these feelings worse rather than better. I actually think I would have liked them both a little more if I had known more about what happened in them ahead of time. (And if they had been told in chronological order rather than relying so heavily on flashback, but that’s another story for another time.)
The moral of the story, by the way, is I’m aware that liking spoilers is a quirk specific to me and that not everyone feels the same way. I understand that others prefer to experience the story as it happens and generally respect that preference.(1) I would never deliberately spoil a story for someone who didn’t want to know that information ahead of time.
One last thought: as someone who writes fiction, I’ve often thought about how I would feel as an author if my work was published and I was lucky enough to develop a fan base and some of those fans sought out spoilers about the stories I was writing before reading them. The truth is, if it helped them enjoy the story more the way the spoilers I seek out help me, I think I would be fine with it as long as they didn’t purposely reveal any important stuff to others who prefer to be spoiler-free.
So there you have it. Some totally random thoughts on spoilers, as promised.
(1) I generally have no patience for people who comment on articles on entertainment news sites just so they can scream about the spoilers those articles sometimes contain. The one exception might be when the spoiler is a) specific b) new information—like it’s about an episode that aired less than 24 hours ago and c) appears in the actual headline. But even then. Jeez.