In a move that will most assuredly annoy spoiler-hunters, torrent-downloaders and television critics alike, Entertainment Weekly is reporting that HBO is stopping Game of Thrones Season 7 screeners (advance copies of episodes) in advance of the episodes’ airings. Acknowledging that Games of Thrones is both their most popular (and expensive) series of all time and the most illegally downloaded series internationally, HBO and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss are doing everything possible to avoid leaks and preserve storylines.
It’s usually standard practice for a network to give critics early access to episodes of their shows, sometimes on a weekly basis and other times several weeks in advance. Perfect example: the write-ups I do for the first season of American Gods are made a helluva’ lot easier because Starz was kind enough to give me access to the entire first season from the very beginning. Even HBO is no stranger to the practice: critics were given early screening access to six of the seven episodes in The Leftovers final season well in advance of the season’s debut.
But for HBO and Benioff/Weiss, that all changed two years ago as Game of Thrones headed into its fifth season. Weeks before the show’s season premiere, they found themselves facing a leak of the first four episodes onto BitTorrent. Uploads of the episodes came from DVD screeners that were sent to media and industry representatives several weeks in advance of the season premiere. Heading into the sixth season, HBO made the decision to stop offering screeners for the first time…a decision that continues into the seventh season and most likely Game of Thrones‘ eighth and all-important final season. When discussing the matter in 2016, ex-HBO head Mike Lombardo noted that it was a difficult but necessary decision to help preserve the artistic integrity of the viewing experience:
“It’s painful for Dan and David [when leaks happen]. 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 a small sliver of hope, Game of Thrones info fans: critics should at least have access to the first episode at HBO’s formal premiere of the seventh season so there should be some information coming from that. Until then, a little reminder of what HBO’s teased you with so far going-into the penultimate season: