Game of Thrones fans are waiting for the season 3 finale to air, and are still in shock from the horrific events of the third season’s penultimate episode, “The Rains of Castamere” (read our review).

With some fans literally pledging to abandon the show due to the twists and turns of the storyline – and just as many others confused about what is actually happening – we decided this was as good a time as any to offer some helpful tips on how to watch this show with maximum comprehension and enjoyment.

Check out our Tips for watching Game of Thrones from the end of season 3 until the proposed season 7 series finale. NOTE: This article is SPOILER-FREE, so read at your leisure, lords and ladies.

One of the most surprising things about Game of Thrones is how people interpret the story. After “Rains of Castamere” it’s become clear that there is a division amongst fans: those who still expected a traditional heroes vs. villains fantasy tale, and those who embrace the show as a deviation away from traditional fantasy.

Having read all five completed volumes of George R.R. Martin’s seven-part saga, let me tell you in SPOILER-FREE terms: Game of Thrones is a fantasy world reflection of modern times and concerns (from politics to gender roles to religion, etc…). It is also a story whose focus is clearly set on misfit characters rising to greater heights.

TIP: Forget about traditional happy endings; the real world is messy and complicated  and so is this story. If you’re flailing right now because you can’t identify a “main character,” maybe you need to keep your eyes on those “misfits” I mentioned. (Say, the bastards, the cripples, the loners, pariahs and imps…)

Image Credit: Sarah Connors Society

When re-watching this show, one the greatest enjoyments is picking up on all the little matters you now realize yielded major developments for the larger storyline. That is because Game of Thrones is the type of story where seemingly “boring” or “pointless” scenes and/or moments often foreshadow great (or horrible) things to come.

Every big “twist” in the show was foretold and foreshadowed by prior events  – and many seemingly “throwaway” conversations have actually been the biggest clues as to who is who, and what is what. After “Rains of Castamere,” Roose Bolton’s diplomacy towards Jaime Lannister takes on a whole new meaning – and I’ll bet you’ll never watch Robb Stark’s season 1 trip to the House of Frey the same way again.

TIP: Make note of all the small things and have a patient ear for dialogue – for in the game of thrones, the devil is truly in the details. Example:  If you are still confused about who is torturing poor Theon, you literally haven’t been paying attention to the pictures in front of your face all season long.

Game of Thrones is a sprawling epic storyline with a lot of wonderful, colorful characters – which makes it damn hard to follow! Even reading the books (which offer much greater detail on the characters, history, and locations of Westeros – and the benefit of word/name repetition) can be a daunting challenge for your memory. Keeping up with it all in the condensed form of a TV show is pretty much impossible.

…However, as stated on the last page, this is a story in which the smallest things often turn out to have the most importance. In that sense, the tradition of ignoring supporting or bit characters and investing only in perceived “main” characters can often lead to frustration in the world of GoT. You need to keep your eye on the larger picture (read: list of characters) at all times.

TIP: Don’t be too proud – find a helpful GoT Guide online and bookmark that sucker. Two of the best are the GoT Wiki for complete insight or the more SPOILER-CONTROLLED guide over at HBO.com; for the visually-inclined, check out infographics like this. Bottom line: Study your notes. It’ll end up being much more worthwhile than those years you spent researching Lost theories…

Some Game of Thrones fans are beginning to feel a sense of nihilism towards the show – or at the very least, they are interpreting author George R.R. Martin’s (and subsequently the showrunners’) view as nihilistic in nature. However, this is not at all the case.

Faith, love, destiny, courage, triumph – these classic nourishments of fantasy adventure are still present in the 7-course meal that is Game of Thrones – they’re just not served in the exact way that you might expect, or at the exact moments you anticipate them. Even fans of the books have encountered this “test of faith”: After a jarring detour in book 4, many felt themselves losing touch with the story and had to wait until they were deep into book 5 to watch things finally tie together again.

TIP: Stick with it, kids. Could be that some of the payoff you’ve been waiting for is just around the next turn in this long road…

I’m not here to promote George R.R. Martin as being the best writer ever, or his “Song of Ice and Fire” book saga as being the best thing ever written: those critiques could fill an entire article on their own. Lord knows I’m also one to enjoy a good movie or TV show without going back and pawing my way through the source material – so no judgements there.

However, I do recognize the need for exception – and Game of Thrones is that. People who watch the show in anticipation of that ‘next big event’ to happen are understandably frustrated by having to wait for every ninth (and penultimate) episode each season to get their payoff. For them, it’s hard to delight in the journey toward that payoff – but inevitably that’s a lot of what GoT is about.

TIP: If you’re invested in this show’s characters and storyline (not just the big events or twists) then read the books. Sure, you’ll be covering ground the TV show already has, but the details and depth offered by the novels – and differences between books and TV show – will enrich the experience of both in ways you probably didn’t expect. Plus, it’s a great way to fill the gap between seasons of the show…

 

Though Game of Thrones is nearing the end of another season, there are more questions than ever as to where the fanbase stands in regards to the series – and wether they’re still invested in the future chapters of the saga. Perhaps we’ll have a better sense of things when “Rains of Castamere” is behind us, and the season 3 finale offers new developments and perspective on where season 4 will lead us.

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Game of Thrones season 3 finale “Mhysa” airs Sunday, June 9th @9pm on HBO.