When Game of Thrones and HBO first announced an IMAX screening of the final two episodes of season 4 and the premiere of the first season 5 trailer earlier this month, I knew I was going even before I finished writing the article.
For one, I write about Game of Thrones on the Daily Dot (a lot), so it would be a natural to follow my beat into the theater. But also, at this point I—like everyone else—was desperate for a full-length trailer.
I did my civic duty as a fan and signed up for The Sight, a blatant viral marketing ploy from HBO. The basic gist was that if you signed up for these notifications, you would randomly get a text or Twitter DM every so often giving you a link to a mobile site offering a fleeting trailer, or Sight. They were designed to be like the Sights that Bran Stark got from the Three-Eyed Raven in Winterfell and as he moved closer to the Weirwood tree.
Each clip showed something different, with the Raven as the one constant, and usually played out something like this.
— Game of Thrones (@GameOfThrones) November 25, 2014
With each new Sight, I got increasingly frustrated. Because you could only view it once, it proved hard for fans to figure out what was in there—or to speculate which aspects of A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons would be included in the show. And because of, well, the Internet, people very quickly figured out how to work around the restrictions on the mobile trailers and uploaded them to YouTube almost as quickly as they popped up on our phones; for example, if you tried to screenshot, the trailer would shut down.
I received another Sight before the screening Thursday night and I couldn’t even muster up any enthusiasm for it anymore. (I couldn’t send my not-so-witty response because unfortunately, the Game of Thrones Twitter account doesn’t follow me back.)
But the theater screening was different. I was going to see a real, actual trailer with none of that Sight bullshit attached to it.
There’s been plenty of TV show screenings at movie theaters before, but HBO made history by being the first to offer it in IMAX. For a casual moviegoer like myself, it’s cool, but it probably won’t convince me to see all of my movies in IMAX in the future.
The IMAX screenings are essentially reruns that anyone can watch on HBO Go right now with a password they own or borrow. They can also watch it on DVD or pirate it (and plenty do). But HBO is selling out theaters on Super Bowl weekend just for the promise of a couple minutes of new, exclusive footage, and it’ll likely make HBO a few million. It’s pretty genius, once you think about it.
Of course, that exclusive content is pretty much guaranteed to leak the moment people leave the first screening and potentially ruin whatever kind of “awe” HBO was aiming for when setting up this whole thing.
I tried to ignore that as I made my way down to the AMC in Cherry Hill, N.J., with my boyfriend, Bart, tagging along for the ride. Considering one of our first conversations consisted of R+L=J, it seemed like a natural fit to go to something like this together.
He’s one of those book fans who will tend to get annoyed with every minor change the show makes, and he’s still pissed about that major twist missing from the end of “The Children” seven months later. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss basically missed the perfect opportunity, he’s told me multiple times since it aired. (I told him that once you take out that expectation, the episode plays a lot better.)
I’ve been to a number of fan screenings over the past year, including the Game of Thrones Epic Fan Experience in Brooklyn last March. People would cosplay, strike up conversations with strangers, and some of them even got fake-stabbed with a springy knife (with permission) for fun. Fans get there hours ahead of time for these events to get a good spot and generally geek out.
We got to the theater around 9pm, an hour before the IMAX screening was set to start, and it was… not that.
That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing. I ended up at one of the theaters that didn’t sell out its first show, but the bunch of fans who did show up were really excited, even if there wasn’t as much hype as when Stannis Baratheon fans finally got their due last year. It was a Thursday night, and plenty of us still had to get up early for work the next day.
The first 300 people got to collect a free poster from Robert M. Ball’s Beautiful Death series. Depending on which theater chain you attended, you either got the one from “The Watchers on the Wall” or “The Children.”
Once we piled in after about a half hour of waiting, the crowd only filled about half the theater. It ended up being just like any other movie except everyone knew to stay for the Marvel-style after-credit scenes. And like most movies, there were plenty of trailers before it started.
“I didn’t come here to watch previews,” Bart grumbled next to me after the third or fourth trailer, a portion of which happened to feature Game of Thrones cast members or alumni.
“Actually, you did,” I replied, smirking.
The episodes you saw on TV are what you get in theaters—HBO didn’t add any new scenes, so story-wise you’re getting the same experience. However, the episodes were converted to IMAX through a conversion process. After watching the episodes in a private screening, Benioff and Weiss were floored at what they’d seen.
“It’s a completely different viewing experience, one that’s so immersive and so superior,” Weiss told Entertainment Weekly.
Benioff agreed, noting that the experience of watching it with others “is the way it’s really meant to be seen” and “to feel like you’re there is just something you don’t get while watching on television.”
And it was. There was more depth to everything, and while Benioff’s quote about feeling like you’re there may have felt like an exaggeration, it almost felt like I was watching something closer to me than at the very back of a movie theater. And the audience’s reaction made it. Did I feel bad when I laughed at Ollie’s headnod to Jon Snow after he shot Ygritte with an arrow? Of course, but I wasn’t the only one by any means.
All the ill-will generated by the viral marketing campaign for the new season disappeared. I was sucked back in instantaneously, and even Bart had to admit that “The Children” played better without that major expectation—which I totally held against him.
And then the trailer hit. We were not ready.
By now you’ve likely already seen it leaked online. Until HBO puts the official one up, it’ll hopefully be enough to satisfy fans. It’s in your face, it both teases too much and not enough, and I’d say we might be reaching the point where reading all of the books might not give you an edge anymore. I already downloaded that “Heroes” cover on iTunes. I haven’t quite started counting down to April 12 yet, but it’s only a matter of time.