THE FIFTH COLUMN
In the first 30 seconds of the first episode of the first season of Game of Thrones nothing much happens. We see haggard horsemen behind an iron gate and then wait, with only the sound of their torches flapping in the wind, for said gate to open.
I watched that gate open all the way in 2013 for no other reason than I was out of sitcoms. The horses and the men walked down a corridor and out the other end where a wide shot showed them as three dots against a gigantic white wall of ice. I’ve not missed an episode since.
For the latest instalment I’ve noticed people dressed up as elves — are there elves in the show? — outside Nu Metro cinemas for a first showing. Diehard fans are staying up until the ungodly hour of 3am (I’m writing this on the day of the premiere) to watch the action resume with the rest of the world. And even though I’ve contacted my service provider to check the latency on my wi-fi connection (and he has confirmed that the “pings are stable”), I have no intention of doing the same. I will watch the first episode at a humane hour, possibly while the sun is still out.
Game of Thrones is storytelling on a grand scale. In his book, Aspects of the Novel, EM Forster writes that “[storytelling] is immensely old — goes back to Neolithic times, perhaps to Palaeolithic … The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping round the campfire fatigued with contending against the mammoth or the woolly rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The [storyteller] droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him.”
Running multiple storylines on a smorgasbord of made-up continents is one way the writers of Game of Thrones are keeping themselves alive. A total of seven kingdoms are vying for one throne, with fully grown — and loosely trained — dragons now also in the mix. Trouble is pushing in from the north, winter having finally arrived, the wall of ice scaled and partially melted by the walking dead (or is it the undead?) and a dragon gone rogue. There is simply no way of knowing what’s going to happen next.
I am extremely tired by nightfall, even more so after 9pm or, perhaps, in the medieval parlance, compline. After compline my fatigue contending with the mammoth task of getting through the day is all-consuming. By the time Game of Thrones is scheduled to air on Showmax (10pm), I’m asleep. That’s just the way I roll (or toss and turn) and no amount of suspense is going to change it.
It’s taken me a long time to get to this point — to reset my internal clock closer to that of the natural world. I’m not planning on staying up tonight or any Monday night to come. Do your worst, David Benioff and Dan Weiss. My evening routine is unsullied. Not for soccer or love or money did I stay up after 9.30pm in the past five years. It’s going to take more than an arrow here or a white walker there to keep me, a man fatigued by traffic and wi-fi pings, awake past my bedtime.
So, spoiler alert, most people predict the last season to be a “wild ride”. Meet you at the couch at about 10?