After four episodes of “Game of Thrones'” fifth season leaked in advance of the season premiere, HBO switched from sending out DVDs to a secure website that makes it virtually impossible to bootleg their shows. (No significant leak has occurred since.) But even that level of increased security isn’t enough for Season 6. For the first time, HBO President of Programming Michael Lombardo told Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd, the network will not be sending a single episode to critics in advance, meaning that they’ll be watching right along with viewers when the show hits TV screens on April 24.
“It’s painful” for showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss when episodes leak, Lombardo told Hibberd. “When you have press copies, inevitably friends ask, ‘Can I see your copy?’ There are things that happen. We talked about the upsides and downsides. Some of the press are fans who might be disappointed, but they’ll understand.”
There’s no proof that the leak came from the press, and some compelling arguments that it didn’t, so it’s frustrating that Hibberd doesn’t challenge Lombardo’s scapegoating. (The consequences for getting caught sharing screeners, especially when every watermarked frame links back to your name, far outweigh whatever cool points a critic might rack up by sharing their copies.) But given that Season 6 will be the first time that “Game of Thrones'” plot gets ahead of George R.R. Martin’s books, it’s not surprising that HBO doesn’t want critics finding out whether or not Jon Snow is really dead — spoiler: he is almost certainly not — any sooner than ordinary viewers.
Although Hibberd points out that HBO’s lockdown “could be a first for a major series,” it’s not dramatically different from the spoiler-averse Matthew Weiner’s policy with regard to “Mad Men,” where the first episode — and only the first — of a new season was sent to critics with a polite note asking them not to reveal even minor details like the year in which the season was set. The upshot, unfortunately, will be a lot of sites competing to see who can be the first to post their hasty, sloppily written recap on Sunday nights, and others doing without that initial hit of brisk web traffic as critics take time to do the show justice. When critics worried that Disney might not show them “The Force Awakens” before it opened, I argued that having to process the movie along with everyone else might not be such a bad thing, and waiting for “Game of Thrones” isn’t the end of the world, either. But it’s a complicated show, one that often raises issues — some intentional, some not — that take time to consider, and now critics will be facing a ticking clock.