The Longest Night — An Introduction: This Isn’t a Good Idea and I Already Hate It, But I’m Going to Anyway.

They’re setting off on a daft adventure here, and so am I — sort of.

I’m not sure what I think I’m supposed to get out of a venture like this, to be honest. I’m going to have to watch all sixty-seven hour-long episodes (roughly) of a TV show that I’ve already seen through several times. Then I’m going to have to write roughly 400–500 words each time, sometimes even more, and all whilst sticking to a schedule which might not even allow me to finish this project before the final season of this show premieres.

And all for nothing.

I won’t get paid, the following that this blog might develop over the next seventy weeks will be roughly thirty people strong, if that, and my enthusiasm to maintain the project will ultimately wane once other responsibilities and commitments begin to disrupt the schedule I’ve set out for myself. This is probably the worst idea in the world that anyone’s ever had. And I’m choosing to put myself through it.

So why, then? Well, let me explain.

The show in question here is HBO’s Game of Thrones, and the idea is to begin my fifth re-watch, watch one episode per week, and recap it with hindsight. All whilst avoiding giving away too many spoilers. For those not in the know, Game of Thrones is where the sensual wonder of high fantasy meets the remorseless cruelty of medieval politics, and somehow finds a happy medium — actually, come to think of it, it’s not happy at all. Characters we love are dragged through the mire with relentless regularity. Protagonists we deeply invest our emotions into have their lives endangered on a regular basis, with a number of them failing to don their plot armour in time, while twisted tyrants and slave masters remain seemingly invincible. It’s a challenge. And I found all this out during the back end of the summer in 2015, which hadn’t exactly been the most enjoyable up to that point.

I was mostly cooped up in my bed on the top floor of an apartment block in central Manchester, existing as some kind of shell. Living with me in that apartment were, of course, my parents, and a strange illness which had shown up out of basically nowhere (google “myalgic encephalomyelitis”). It left me bedridden but incapable of sleeping, in pain from nothing, and unable to do much of anything at all. Except watch TV — a lot of TV. I still got outside occasionally but I was only able to absorb 50% of the everyday experience. It displayed no sign that it was worsening or improving, but it was happy to stick around all the same. With most serious illnesses, you either recover or you die — there is at least an end. It’s not that I ever considered leaping from my bedroom window, but I found myself imagining the aftermath of such a scenario quite a lot. Having so much time and so little to do with it was dangerous. At this point I opted for counselling.

Around this time, I had a surprise 21st birthday party organised for me. I saw friends I hadn’t seen in months because I hadn’t left the flat, and I saw friends I hadn’t seen in years because I’d moved away from Stockport. I had a brief anxiety episode because I wasn’t feeling so grand, but I came around and I still remember mostly everything about that night incredibly fondly. It was the night Kanye performed at Glastonbury, actually, and the night England’s women reached the World Cup semi-final.

Back then, I was aware of Game of Thrones simply because everybody I knew had already started it and finished season five while I was the last to do so. I was aware of their hysterics following ‘The Rains of Castamere’ (3x09) and ‘Mother’s Mercy’ (5x10), and I wanted to join in. My initial plan was to wait until it was over and binge-watch the entire thing. But thankfully, in hindsight, one of the gifts handed over to me on this 21st birthday of mine was the first four seasons of Game of Thrones on Blu-ray. Inside, I thank that dear friend for doing so, even if I never tell him. Another friend of mine who’d watched the show from the start was staying at my flat during this time, and I don’t even think he waited twenty-four hours before he asked me to crack the box open and watch the first episode with him.

A month goes by. I’m almost caught up. I’m watching ‘Hardhome’ (5x08) and I’m holding my left index finger up at my dad who’s trying to talk to me while I stare in awe at my laptop. He needs to give me a minute to recover from the most terrifying, brutal, sudden sequence I’ve ever seen put to TV. By this point, my mouth had been previously agape when ‘Baelor’ (1x09), ‘Blackwater’ (2x09) and ‘The Lion and the Rose’ (4x02) had all cut to black. You see, for all of Game of Thrones’ mythology and “detailed storytelling” (inspired almost completely by the A Song of Ice and Fire book series by George R.R. Martin), it’s ultimately a soap opera at heart. It thrives on its episode-ending cliffhangers and its crowd-pleasing shocks. Even as each episode begins, you cast your mind’s eye ahead to the last five minutes because you’re likely to be served up edge-of-the-seat television gold. As each season premieres your focus is applied firmly on the potential events of the penultimate episode — you expect an hour of blockbuster entertainment and you get it.

It’s why Game of Thrones is the sort of show you want to involve both yourself and others with.

To return to the amount of free time I had for a moment, and to return to the mythology and “detailed storytelling” of the the show’s world, it’s worth mentioning that the events of Game of Thrones have no clear beginning or end. It simply picked a moment from the rich fictional history that G.R.R.M. designed, and told us the story. The notable events of the world’s history took on roughly the same appearance as the events in the show — high fantasy locks horns with the game of politics in every time period. The mythology is dense, and while the world-building isn’t perfect, it is remarkably rich. Despite the size of the cast, each character has a backstory you can dedicate hours to pouring through. The most dangerous thing about myalgic encephalomyelitis (I told you to google it) might be how much time it gives you to remind yourself of your bleak situation. Well, Game of Thrones, and its reliance on the A Song of Ice and Fire book series, is an ideal match. It’s perfect for people who have the time to explore it if they wish, and it somehow became one of the best coping mechanisms I had.

Trawling through the Game of Thrones wikia after each episode became a regular habit of mine. I’d invest hours trying to get in touch with almost every facet of this show that didn’t involve me reading the books. I put both of my parents through the show and gleefully watched every episode with them, waiting for their reactions to every cliffhanger— as the series went on, my mum gradually put her book down and fixed her eyes to the screen. I’ve never seen her enjoy blood, gore, swearing, sex, violence, nudity and fantasy in all their bombastic gratuity quite so much. I showed it to my girlfriend at the time, and I watched every episode with more enthusiasm than before. Then I gave that same four-season Blu-ray set to two friends who’d always wanted to watch the show but hadn’t gotten around it. They’re both hooked now, and we watched the new season together.

But crucially, I feel, throughout the last two years and the half-dozen re-watches, I’ve come to realise that each of them was ultimately for my own benefit. I know the show better than I ever thought I could, and yet I still don’t feel as though I know it enough.

You see, I never read the book series and, by all accounts, I don’t intend to. Sitting down with a book and getting through it is not my forte. But to understand and love Game of Thrones, I don’t think you need to. I’ve spent so much time with this story and with these characters, I now feel as though I’m part of something bigger — and that, more than anything, I owe something to it. It was a coincidence that my condition began to improve between the autumn of 2015 and the spring of the following year, and there were many other factors involved in the recapturing of my physical capabilities. If someone had given me a Blu-ray boxset of The Walking Dead for my 21st birthday, it’s likely I’d be typing up a personal account of how I came to fall in love with post-apocalyptic, zombie-battling survivor tribes right about now.

But that’s not to diminish what (it turns out) Game of Thrones managed to provide me with: a distraction so deep that my unconditional affection towards it has outlasted the depression I was buried under when the Starks and the Lannisters arrived in my life. I’m still working on the anxiety. It’s why I listen to two podcasts for the show and spend half my time talking about it with other huge fans. It’s why I’m probably going to be dedicated enough to carry out this ridiculous, unnecessary, time-consuming plan for more than an entire year. I owe it to this stupid, lovable show, and I owe it to my stupid, lovable myself, to carry it out. If you’ve made it this far then you’re likely to be a close friend to me, and as much as I want this to reach a wide audience, I think I would take great comfort in knowing that my friends were continuing to read my thoughts. Ultimately, my close friends are more responsible for my improved condition than Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister’s efforts combined.

So, thank you. I wish us all good fortune in the wars to come.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store