In the prestigious world of premium cable, there is currently one show who stands above the rest, reigning from on high atop a mountain of viewers: HBO's Game of Thrones. The premiere of each new season has become a worldwide event, bringing it with torrents of hype and anticipation of where the inhabitants of Westeros' tumultuous lives will take them next, along with paralyzing dread about just which fan favorite characters will meet their maker.
In fact, now is about the time when HBO would normally start sending out screeners to various industry pundits for review, in the hopes of garnering further critical acclaim for the upcoming Game of Thrones season 6. Unfortunately for the entertainment media, the network has reportedly decided not to send any out this year.
A statement given to EW by HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo made the cable giant's stance on the matter unequivocally clear:
"We’re not sending out press copies this year, anywhere in the world. There will be no copies for review.”
As one might imagine, the decision to withhold screeners for Game of Thrones is primarily based on fears of preview episodes getting leaked online, thus likely hurting the show's broadcast ratings and risking fans getting spoiled as to various plot points that wouldn't normally be known publicly for multiple weeks down the road. Not sending out Thrones screeners was initially the idea of showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who then convinced HBO that their point of view was the correct one. It probably wasn't a hard sell though, as there is recent glaring evidence to suggest that anything the network puts out there will find its way online (and we're not just talking about spoilers either).
Case in point, last year HBO supplied the media with DVD preview copies of the first four episodes of Thrones season 5, as per usual industry standard. Sure enough, all four installments leaked online prior to the season premiere. To their credit, HBO has since started an online screening system that bypasses physical media transfer altogether, but anyone with an internet connection knows that if video content exists there is someone out there with the capability to break its encryption, make a copy of it, and then distribute that copy via some type of legally murky file sharing service.
Secrecy around Game of Thrones season 6 is paramount as well, considering that this will be the first season where the series' storylines advance past George R.R. Martin's written narrative. With no books to look to for clues as to where things are going, Game of Thrones season 6 is set to perhaps be the most shocking round of episodes in the series' history. Plus, HBO probably really, really doesn't want screeners spoiling the fate of Jon Snow before the world at large finds out. The character's fate has been a hot topic from almost the moment he appeared (?) to die in the season 5 finale, and the speculation about his future (or lack thereof) still runs rampant. In the end, while not screening TV shows for critics is a largely unheard of practice, HBO really has nothing to lose. Reviews or no reviews, the fans will show up.
Game of Thrones season 6 will premiere on Sunday, April 24, 2016 on HBO.