Updated: 23rd April 2018

Calm down, Game of Thrones fans, spoilers arent the end of the world | Gareth McLean

Fans were apoplectic when Ian McShane let slip some forthcoming plot details but surely spoilers just whet the appetite

Loose lips used to sink ships. Of course, this was back when most things mattered, in the 20th century when we had world wars and threats of nuclear armageddon. But even living with the ever-present danger of ending up like the characters off Threads, it at least felt as if people were worrying about the right things. Scarier, but somehow simpler times.

Today, it seems that our collective emotional barometer is so out of whack that while most people seem to be entirely sanguine about the coming catastrophe of climate change, they fret, fear, rage and worry about the most banal, insignificant things. With no ships to scupper, it would seem that careless whispers still harm, but they do more damage to peoples enjoyment of their favourite TV programmes than anything else. Sometimes youd think that spoilers were a short leap from hate speech.

Actor Ian McShane is the latest to feel his audiences wrath specifically, fans of Game of Thrones. For, in the course of doing interviews to publicise the new series (job done there, Ian, well done!) McShane let slip some major details of the upcoming stories that infuriated some. This advance knowledge would have been hard enough for most Game of Thrones fans can be a po-faced bunch. That McShane then added insult to injury by dismissing the series as nonsense about tits and dragons did nothing to soothe fans furrowed brows.

At this stage, Im not entirely sure what their wrath will consist of. Itll either be the vengeful slaughter of his entire family on what should have been a happy day for them, or itll be some grumbling on Twitter and some very detailed line drawings of him in character. Either way, its a lesson that he wont forget in a hurry.

You may, quite rightly, be able to attribute the incommensurate irritation about spoilers to the irate individuals wonky internal barometer because in my experience, it is always incommensurate anger that greets the clumsy clang of a dropped spoiler. Attributing this (over)reaction to the other persons dodgy mental wiring would be a great way to avoid accepting any blame: this person who I thought was my friend and is now very upset because I blabbed who Kylo Ren really is in Star Wars is clearly an irritable and prickly nightmare and I must henceforth avoid them.

But such thinking doesnt help when its not just their disproportionate reactions you have to deal with. There are your own too. The guilt you feel if, just for example, you accidentally gave a friend whos a big fan of The Good Wife far too much notice that Will Gardner was going to be killed off? Its icky and sticky and, every so often, it pops back into your head to remind you that you ruined a friends enjoyment of something they liked. Then, maybe because you have a tendency to catastrophise, it isnt long before you decide that youre a socially clumsy nitwit that no one really likes anyway. Every avalanche starts with one snowflake.

But I cant help but think that this peculiar prickliness about spoilers is irrational and old-fashioned. True, no one wants every twist and turn of a new drama or novel telegraphed to them but most people want to be intrigued, to be tantalised, to be teased. Theres a pleasure to be had in a certain kind of informed anticipation, of knowing the story already a dramatic irony.

The last performance of the last Shakespeare play would have been hundreds of years ago if people were wired not to want to hear the same stories, or versions of them, over and over again. We take more comfort in familiar stories than their familiarity breeds contempt in us. Theres something about being accustomed to a narrative that can be reassuring, even if the narrative itself is dark, distressing or difficult.

And thats as true of real life as it is of fiction. Its one of the reasons that so many released prisoners reoffend to get sent back to jail its the only narrative they know, and theres comfort in it. And its why the end of the cold war was bewildering there was a perverse comfort to be had living in the shadow of mutually assured destruction, a comfort that many Americans evidently still miss if the popularity of Donald Trumps sabre-rattling is anything to go by.

And Id argue that spoilers have a part to play in whetting appetites, creating anticipation, setting scenes. After all, most of us are grown-ups now and, as sure as we know that happy-ever-afters dont exist, we should also know that having advance knowledge of plot twists does not invalidate further viewing of the programme in question. Because plot what happens isnt the same as story why what happens happens. The real grist of a story its heart and soul and bones isnt the events that unfold or the incidents that occur: its how the characters deal with whats happening to them.

Stories arent great or compelling or timeless because dramatic things happen in them. Theyre great and dramatic and compelling because of how the characters cope with their lives. And in characters lives and struggles, we see our own. If a few spoilers threaten a storys vitality, it really wasnt much of a story to begin with. Also, surprises are overrated. A surprise is just a shock that you have to look pleased about.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us