Why GoT shouldn't have lied to its fans
Is all publicity really good publicity?
"You know nothing, Jon Snow." If this phrase means nothing to you, then you are not a Game of Thrones fan. If, however, it registers, then chances are that, over the last three or four years, you have watched the hit TV show. (Or that you have read the George RR Martin books on which the show is based).
If you belong to the latter categories, then you will have followed the Jon Snow excitement of the last few months. (Spoiler alert: if you have not seen the new season yet, then you may want to skip the next few paras).
At the end of the last season, the Jon Snow character (played by Kit Harrington) was left for dead in the snow, having been stabbed, in the manner of Julius Caesar by his own colleagues. This was - and was not - surprising. It wasn't surprising because Game of Thrones is famous for killing off central characters without a single warning. Early in the life of the show, Ned Stark (played by Sean Bean) - who was the nearest thing the series had to a hero - was suddenly executed. And then there was the Red Wedding, when a whole plot strand was eliminated in a surprise massacre.
So, it wasn't that unexpected for the writers to kill off Harrington. On the other hand, he was a much-loved character; an entire plot strand was built around Jon Snow's adventures and so, it seemed like a brave thing to do.
Sceptics, at the time, said that it was too brave. He is not really dead, they suggested. Or even if he is dead, then the sorceress Melisandre will be made to bring him back to life. Game of Thrones needs the Jon Snow character.
The producers stoutly denied this. Had Ned Stark been brought back to life? What about the people massacred in the Red Wedding? When characters died in Game of Thrones, they stayed dead. Harrington, under constant pressure from the media, announced that he had left the show and was pursuing other projects.
Then, the producers played a masterstroke. The number one fan of Game of Thrones is President Obama. So a story was leaked to the effect that Obama had asked the show's boss if Jon Snow was really dead. And the boss had replied that yes, the character had been written out of the show.
So that seemed to be final.
Game of Thrones returned to our TV screens a few weeks ago. And, in the second episode, the sorceress Melisandre brought Jon Snow back to life. Yup. Exactly as the sceptics had predicted all along. It wasn't really a surprise twist because fans had expected it. But it was more a case of a year of lying finally coming to an end.
Afterwards, Harrington gave interviews in which he said how terrible he felt about lying. Apparently, his scenes had been shot in secret in locations far removed from places where the rest of the cast was shooting. (This is not difficult to do. Game of Thrones has many separate plot lines and, at any given time, the producers are planning shoots in four different locations, if not more).
So why did they lie? Couldn't they just have told everyone what everyone suspected anyway? I can't see a single Game of Thrones fan saying, "No, I won't watch the next season because I know that Jon Snow will be brought back to life."
No, the reason they lied was because they wanted to keep the show in the news. The more the fans speculated about Jon Snow's return, the more free publicity Game of Thrones got.
Personally, I think this is bad form. The producers of the BBC's Sherlock faced a similar situation a couple of years ago. As you probably know, in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle killed off both Holmes and his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, by having them plunge deep into a waterfall. Some years later, when public pressure to resurrect Holmes grew too intense, Conan Doyle relented. Holmes turned up in London and told his partner Dr Watson that, at the last moment, he had used a judo move to send Moriarty to his death while remaining rooted in firm soil himself.
In the BBC's modern retelling, the encounter at the waterfall was replaced by a confrontation on a roof. And both Moriarty and Holmes did plunge to their deaths. But in the final scene, with Watson grieving at the funeral, we saw a glimpse of Holmes, still very much alive, watching the mourners from a distance.
So we knew that Holmes would be back in the next season. The question was: how had he faked his death so convincingly?
That's a much better question than "Is Jon Snow really dead?", and it kept fans occupied for the year that Sherlock was off the air. When Holmes did re-appear in the first episode of the new season, Watson was surprised. But we had known better all along.
Something similar is going to happen to Superman. At the end of this year's Batman v Superman, they killed off Superman. But nobody really minded because we know that Superman can't die. We know he will be back in the next movie. (The Superman comic book has already tried this stunt with the best-selling The Death of Superman). And Henry Cavill who plays the man in the red cape has made it clear that he will star in the next movie.
I reckon that this is a much more honest approach than the Jon Snow saga. Don't lie to the fans. They deserve better.