Let’s say you’re watching Star Wars Episode VIII next year, and 15 minutes into the movie, the theater manager rushes in. “Sorry, but a small animal has gotten trapped in the projector and ruined our only copy of the film. To make it up to you, let me tell you what happens at the end: Luke confronts Snoke, gets his other hand chopped off, and yet another Death Star gets destroyed. No refunds! Have a safe drive home!”
“We’ll have ushers humming the end credits theme in the lobby for the next five minutes.”
You’d probably be at least mildly annoyed by that, since simply finding out what happens is not the point of a story. It’s about the journey!
Fans seem to have forgotten this.
Everyone can remember the first time a big story twist in a movie or show almost made them shit their pants. Depending on your age, it might be finding out Bruce Willis was dead the whole time in The Sixth Sense, or that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, or that Dorothy’s trip to Oz was nothing but the result of a mescaline trip she was having. Those moments hit you like a barbed wire bat to the face precisely because of how carefully they were set up — all the red herrings, the performances, the suspense, the music cues at the key moment.
Now imagine you’d learned about Luke’s parentage by reading a snippet of leaked script on a movie blog. That’s how it happens these days. We’ve perfected the art of obsessive analysis to the point where no twist can remain a secret for long. The sad irony is that those who claim to be the victims of excessive spoiling — the megafans — are more often than not the ones doing the spoiling.
There’s too much artistic work involved here to treat it like a damn Maury reveal.
For example, there’s the fans’ obsessive, frame-by-frame spoilage of Game Of Thrones.
In preparation for Season Six, HBO released a trailer for Game Of Thrones full of brief, out-of-context moments meant to get you hyped without truly delivering any relevant information. Near the end, there is a flash of everyone’s favorite sex-wizard/squire Podrick Payne getting grabbed in a chokehold. Holy shit! This fan-favorite character who never wronged anyone is gonna die!
Or that’s what fans thought, until someone noticed that you could see the assailant’s ear for a about three frames. For fans on Reddit, it was as easy as matching that ear to the ears of every single cast member until they determined it was Podrick’s pal Bronn.
Million-dollar facial recognition software ain’t got nothing on bored Redditors and celebrity orifices.
Sure enough, when the scene happened in the show, it turned out to be a fake-out played for a joke — Pod gets snatched off-screen, only for it to be revealed it’s just Bronn horsing around. It’s an amusing moment. Or, you know, it would have been.
Then the penultimate episode of the season comes. It’s an epic battle with a big, dramatic twist at the end (yes, this is a spoiler if you’re behind on the show): Jon “Lone Morally Pure Character” Snow is leading an army against Ramsay “Skins Children Alive During His Rape Breaks” Bolton. The evil Bolton army is about to win, when in ride the knights of the Vale to the rescue. Who could have seen that coming?
Well, other than those who obsessively went frame-by-frame scouring earlier episodes for clues. At one point, we see Jon’s sister Sansa writing a mysterious letter, which is barely seen and held at an impossible-to-read angle. For some strange reason, instead of drawing a series of dickbutts, the show’s prop department wrote out the actual letter, in which she pleads to the Vale to come to her aid. A few hours of zooming and contrast adjustment later, fans had successfully sucked all suspense out of the finale:
Next season, the prop department is just writing “Eat shit, internet” on all letters and books.
But you know what’s even less fun than that? Getting your story twists delivered via blurry on-set photos of the actors.
Right now, The Walking Dead fans are in the process of trying to solve what was supposed to be the big cliffhanger of the Season Six: Whose head got bashed in by evil villain “Twice As Dangerous As the Governor Because He Has Both Eyes” Negan? Since the show itself didn’t offer enough contextual clues, fans decided to find out who got killed by keeping track of which actors had signed contracts to work elsewhere. Once Season Seven started filming, their theories were seemingly confirmed by monitoring which actors were seen hanging around on set. (There is an entire Facebook group dedicated to the task. Or you can go to the Walking Dead subreddit if you want to spoil yourself. Or simply hang around Tumblr for a while if you want someone else to spoil you.)
Not that Walking Dead fans invented the technique. At the end of Season Five, the big cliffhanger in the Game Of Thrones universe was whether the super-stabbed Jon Snow was in fact dead or only mostly dead. Fans who merely watched the show know that he was resurrected early the next season, in a tense moment involving a magic spell cast in an act of desperation. True fans, however, didn’t wait — months earlier, they had carefully kept track of the length of actor Kit Harington’s hair during the off-season (he keeps it long and curly for the show), figuring he’d have cut it if his character had been killed off. When filming started, spies quickly leaked the fact that either Jon Snow was alive or Harington was there playing his evil identical twin. Congratulations! You obtained plot information that was completely stripped of the context that would have made it enjoyable!
This behind-the-scenes detective work has put cast and crew in an awkward situation. They’re now forced to either spoil their films, lie to the fans, or attempt a coy ambiguous answer that will undoubtedly be dissected and deciphered within the hour (Harington was forced to publicly lie to fans over and over again, saying he was returning only to play a corpse). For Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams wanted to keep it a secret what character Benedict Cumberbatch would be playing. Fans were positive that Cumberbatch was playing Khan, aka the only memorable villain in the franchise, then got strangely angry at Abrams for lying to them (that is, for not spoiling his own damned film). The exact same thing played out when the makers of The Dark Knight Rises tried in vain to hide the big villain twist (that Marion Cotillard was Talia al Ghul in disguise), forcing Cotillard to flatly insist she wasn’t playing al Ghul, only for sites to energetically rebut her like a politician. (“She’s been photographed wearing a very non-businesswoman costume … in the midst of what seems to be a massive action scene.”)
“Talia smiles the exact same way in Batman #243, you filthy liar!”
But why? You can argue about whether or not spoilers “ruin” a story, but you can’t argue that they help. “Ah, here’s where Darth tells Luke he’s his father, which we knew was coming from that scrap of screenplay we found in the dumpster at Lucas’s ranch!”
Sometimes, fans write their own story — then get pissed when the real one is different.
The first season of True Detective was a bonanza for obsessive spoiler sleuths. There were lots of weird little hints, background details, and symbols to sift through. It was, after all, a show about detectives. How could they not know that fans would want to play along?
So fans pored over every still frame, every line of dialogue, and every piece of background imagery to craft incredibly elaborate theories about where the plot was going. Big Twist speculation suggested the heroes were in fact the killers, or that the whole thing was about to descend into Lovecraftian horror, with Rust and Marty having to slap cuffs on some slithery thing with tentacles. One thing fans knew for sure: The show was surely leading up to something weird as shit.
“There’s gotta be some supernatural explanation for how Woody Harrelson’s character keeps getting laid.”
This house of cards collapsed in a predictable way when it turned out that the show didn’t really have a big twist. The whole thing was a case of sex predator hillbillies living out in the woods. Fans seemed to get really angry about this.
It always seems to be the same cycle — an attempt to guess the twist, followed by annoyance at how the story plays out (bored if we guessed right, annoyed if we guessed wrong, since our version was so clearly better). It creates this weird adversarial relationship, as if we think the creators are cruelly withholding information we’re entitled to, angry that they’re not giving us the punchline before the joke.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, aside from the fact that it doesn’t seem to make the fans happier at all. Call us crazy, but it seems like these days we’re kind of bad at enjoying things.
For more times fans maybe need to cut this shit out, check out 9 Disney Fan Drawings That Will Murder Your Childhood Joy and 3 Fan Communities That Hate Their Own Members.
Also, follow us on Facebook. But don’t you dare ruin Stranger Things for us or we will ban your ass.