Depending on the metric, it’s the most popular television series in the world.
It’s also the most difficult to write about.
Ever since some idjit let his or her “Game of Thrones” press DVD containing the first four episodes of Season 5 be uploaded to the internet weeks before they aired, HBO has been on virtual lockdown when it comes to the series.
HBO never sent out another DVD, for any of its shows, and created a secure streaming site. Yet that still wasn’t enough. Last year, “Game of Thrones” became the first scripted series in memory — even going back to the days of VHS screeners — that didn’t make any of its episodes available to critics in advance.
The trend continues with “Game of Thrones’ ” seventh season, debuting at 9 p.m. Sunday.
When last we saw them, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) seized the Iron Throne by incinerating the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and his followers in the Sept of Baelor; Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was declared King in the North after defeating Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) in the Battle of the Bastards and taking Winterfell for House Stark; a bloodied Bolton was then fed to one of his own hounds by Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner); and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), her dragons and her new Hand of the Queen, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), set sail for Westeros.
So what do we know about Season 7? Winter is here, and it’s brought Ed Sheeran with it.
The “Shape of You” singer is one of four new cast members — along with Jim Broadbent, Tom Hopper (“Black Sails”) and Megan Parkinson — confirmed by HBO. That may not seem like much, but Gemma Whelan, who portrays Yara Greyjoy, recently told London’s The Times that she was nearly fired from the series simply for revealing that she’d been cast in the role — and that was all the way back in Season 2.
According to HBO, here’s the plot of Sunday’s premiere: Jon organizes the defense of the North. Cersei tries to even the odds. Daenerys comes home.
If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, just wait till you hear what happens in Episode 2: Daenerys receives an unexpected visitor. Jon faces a revolt. Tyrion plans the conquest of Westeros. An “unexpected visitor”? The possibilities are endless!
Episode 3, though, sounds like the stuff of legend: Daenerys holds court. Cersei returns a gift. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) learns from his mistakes. Court holding, gift returning and mistake learning? In the same episode? Be still, my heart!
Obviously, more is going to happen than that. Any one of those episodes could contain another Red Wedding, Hodor reveal or Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) removing her necklace. (Please don’t let it be another Melisandre removing her necklace.) But “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are secretive enough as to make Matthew Weiner seem like a regular chatterbox.
You remember Weiner. The “Mad Men” creator famously mailed letters to critics asking them not to reveal certain “spoilers” from season premieres, including which year the episode took place. Silly? Sure. But at least he begrudgingly allowed AMC to send the DVDs.
“Mad Men” even had a sense of fun with its lack of information, turning each episode’s preview into a comical jazz poem of random images and sounds that meant nothing, aside from the fact that Jon Hamm’s Don Draper and whichever other characters were shown would be appearing.
“The Walking Dead,” the only series on television that rivals “Game of Thrones” for sheer fandemonium, also keeps things close to the vest but routinely makes episodes available to the press. And, of course, anyone looking for insight into where the series may be headed can turn to the comic books on which the series is based.
For a while, fans and members of the media could do that with “Game of Thrones,” but author George R.R. Martin, whose novels inspired the drama, hasn’t produced a new one since 2011, and the series exhausted the source material heading into Season 6.
It’s not that hard to sympathize with HBO, Benioff and Weiss. There are only 13 “Game of Thrones” episodes remaining — seven this season, six in the next — and each one is precious. They also, based on last season’s budget, average a staggering $10 million a piece to produce.
Also, there are times when receiving episodes in advance simply isn’t worth it.
In order to see Netflix’s new incarnation of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” before it aired, members of the press had to sign a document agreeing to reimburse the production company for “all claims, liabilities, obligations, demands, causes of action, losses, damages, costs (including attorneys’ fees), judgments and/or expenses” should they prematurely reveal “confidential information.”
And what did the makers of “MST3K” consider confidential information? Any mention of “scripts, synopsis, songs, jokes, quotes, guest appearances, characters, storylines, plot twists, settings, props, release plans, episode and motion picture titles, and any information identifying the motion pictures riffed on in the series.”
Basically, you could watch it, but you legitimately could have spent the next few years tied up in court for quoting a joke from a comedy series.
The bottom line is, I have zero idea what will happen this season on “Game of Thrones,” and HBO and everyone involved in the series are doing everything in their power to make sure you don’t, either.
But keeping episodes away from the media because they were uploaded to the internet once isn’t having the intended effect.
In 2016, “Game of Thrones” was the most pirated TV show through BitTorrent for the fifth year in a row.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.