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Are You Still Watching?

There’s only one place I wanted to be at 9 p.m. last Sunday night: on my couch in front of the television.

I, along with an estimated 17.4 million others around the world, rejoined our favorite cast of double-crossing, Night Army-fighting, family-fucking barbarians for the Season 8 premiere of the epic fantasy HBO series Game Of Thrones.

I’m an old school Throner, having started George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice book series about three months before the show debuted. I know that makes me sound as pretentious as a 40-year-old hipster bragging about seeing Jawbreaker in a Brooklyn dive bar, but, well, here we are. I did, however, bail out of the books after the 973-page third volume, when I bored of Martin blathering on for 700 pages without making anything cool happen. It’s no wonder he hasn’t released a book in eight years; writing the rising action of his novels must be like taking a road trip through Wyoming.

At any rate, having already drunk the Westerosian Kool-Aid, I was all in when the series premiered in 2011. From the outset, I was impressed with the sets, the story adaptation, the casting, and the way the actors brought Martin’s characters to life.

Plus, you know, boobs.

My GOT fandom has continued over the entire life of the series. In that time, I’ve lived four different places, worked three different jobs, abandoned two novels, gotten married, and bought a house. I’ve never missed an episode, always there on the couch Sunday night, watching the way all 30-somethings with a steady job and a mortgage do: via my parents’ HBO login.

After all this time, I’m not going to lie. I’m genuinely sad about the show ending.

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s time the saga wraps things up. There’s nothing worse than forcing viewers to sit through season after season of mushy plot lines (*cough* Walking Dead *cough*) as writers try to figure out how the hell to keep the gravy train rolling. GOT critics have already blasted the show enough about sagging, expository episodes with nary a beheading or nipple to be found. We all know it’s time.

No, the reason I’m bummed about the final season is because to me, GOT’s conclusion also signals the end of my active interest in television.

I know my watching streak makes me sound like some sort of compulsive TV consumer, like I plan my life around the evening lineups, but the reality is that Thrones is the only show I continue to make a priority. To me, Thrones ending marks the conclusion of the so-called “Golden Age” of television, the dash-thirty-dash at the bottom of the page.

Not so long ago, the TV landscape teemed with actual “must see” behemoths. At one point, Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and Dexter (which isn’t as acclaimed, but I loved anyway) were all on at the same time. I waited for each of these shows every week, going as far as inputting their air times into my calendar. I threw a party for the series finale of Breaking Bad, my friends and I alternating between clawing at each other’s arms and taking drinks every time Jessie Pinkman struggled to make a decision.

But that was six years ago, and now GOT is the only pretty girl left at the dance, standing out amongst a sea of drunk divorcees and sorostitutes wobbling around on too-tall heels.

I’ve tried to get into other shows, really I have. But none of them held my interest like Jon Snow or Don Draper.

I’m not sure who’s at fault for this content vacuum. Is it subscription services like Netflix, who has clearly taken the “quantity over quality” approach and begun shoving unwatchable bullshit like My Husband Won’t Fit into my recommendation feed? Is it the networks, who have just thrown up their hands and resorted to glutting their lineups with yet another show about cops? Or is it me, who hasn’t paid for cable in almost a decade?

I decided to cancel my cable seven years ago, not because I’m some book-reading hippie afraid TV was poisoning my mind (though my reading jumped significantly once I cut the cord), but because I got tired of spending four hours flipping through channels and trying to find something to watch. The noise just got to be too much.

Granted, there are still a few cable shows I enjoy. Anything featuring the cast of Jersey Shore is a guaranteed home run. But even the antics of Pauly D and Snooki don’t hook me the way they once did. Most weeks, I’ll consciously skip watching the shows live, waiting for two or three episodes to queue so I can mini-binge later.

TV is no longer something I take daily in little sips, the way I have my entire life. Most nights, I don’t turn the TV on at all until it’s time for bed, when my wife and I set the sleep timer and put on a well-trod show like The Office or How I Met Your Mother as background noise while we drift into the black abyss.

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Through these changes to my viewing habits, Thrones has remained like the only old man at the factory whose job hasn’t been replaced by a computer. It’s my last reminder of a time in my life when my brother and I would climb into my parents’ bed on Tuesday nights to watch Home Improvement as a family; or dropping everything Sunday nights to watch The Simpsons, knowing full well I’d be frozen out of lunchroom conversation for at least three days if I missed it.

Actually, the conversation part of watching GOT is already as dead as Ned Stark. What was once fodder for next day water cooler conversation now results in colleagues plugging their ears and issuing death threats against spoilers. TiVo and On Demand programming is great; it lets you watch the things you care about whenever you can squeeze it into your important, busy life. But the unspoken rules against spoilers now dictate you shouldn’t bring up relevant plot points until it’s convenient for your friend to pull his head out of his ass long enough to catch up on his DVR queue.

Why is this a thing? Could you imagine doing this with sports? Going to work on Monday after the Super Bowl and not discussing the score because Phil didn’t get around to checking it out yet?

I’m over spoiler culture. If you care that much, take the time to watch the show when it runs.

I’m not saying the end of Thrones is the death of social television, which is like drawing a line between school shootings and Marilyn Manson. But I do know when a commercial for MTV’s new show Teen Mom: Young Mom’s Club came on this weekend, my mother stared at it over the top of her glasses and grimaced like she’d just smelled a Mastodon fart.

“Oh, that looks like a good one,” she said.

“Must see TV,” I replied.

I’m hoping all is not lost and someone, somewhere, at this very moment is grinding on a pilot script for the next big thing. In the meantime, if you need to get ahold of me on Sunday nights for the next six weeks, you know where I’ll be.

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