The Emotional Toll of Binge Watching ‘Game of Thrones’ in Three Weeks

The whole series takes two days, 23 hours and 17 minutes to complete.

Game of Thrones Series Finale
Packing eight years of television into three weeks feels like a relationship where two people break up and get back together an endless amount of times. HBO

*Warning: Spoiler Alert for Game of Thrones Season 8*

Binge watching TV really is like binge drinking. You only remember bits and pieces, there is a lot of regret involved, and it’s best to just avoid the ordeal altogether by not even picking up that first episode—but sometimes we do stupid things.

I pureed my soul in the emotional blender that is binging Game of Thrones in three weeks for one reason, and one reason alone: I wanted to be a part of the zeitgeist. I had heard on The Bill Simmons Podcast that this might be the last show everybody watches together at the same time, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to respect myself as a lover of television if I missed out on such an exciting cultural phenomenon. I never had a good reason to not watch, but now I had a great one to catch up.

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The journey actually got off to a false start almost two years ago, when I mistakenly thought the show was going to end in 2017. After getting through the first season, and realizing my mistake, I put the dream on hold (for some unknown reason), instead of continuing to enjoy the program at a humane pace. Maybe I don’t want to fit in after all.

According to the website Bingeclock, the whole series takes two days, 23 hours and 17 minutes to complete. I figured my chances would improve, though honestly not by much, if I skipped the roughly 10 hours of season one that I had completed so long ago. That’s how I picked up in King’s Landing on April 20—I think. Everything is a blur. The North may remember, but I only sort of did.

I was more obsessed with my pacing during this whole ordeal than actually enjoying what was on the screen. Before bed, I would obsessively calculate how much time I had left, and how long it would take to finish the season I was on. “I am just gonna watch one more” turned into “I have to watch one more or else I will never get through it.”

I watched most of the series on my phone, since HBO GO kept spazzing on my slow computer and slow WiFi. Plus, the phone is more portable, and I needed to be watching as much as possible if there was any hope of catching up. Shout out to T-Mobile’s unlimited data plan.

I watched in the doctor’s office, waiting for the train, on the treadmill one time, and walking to and from the bathroom. I never watched while I was using the bathroom though because that’s a sacred space. I did rework my schedule to take the bus more often so I could watch. I hate the bus, but some things just need to be done. I consumed the show in bits and pieces—the way someone would do a crossword puzzle.

Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage
Watching GoT on a smartphone is probably not the best viewing experience, but it’s a necessary evil when binge watching on a deadline. Macall B. Polay/HBO

A 5.1-inch screen might be the worst way to see Tyrion Lannister save King’s Landing, but I did it anyway. I witnessed the death of Oberyn on a train back from Philadelphia.

The biggest downside to watching such an emotional show in this way is that there is no time to take a break and process deaths. I saw the Red Wedding while I was brushing my teeth and running out the door in the morning. A normal person would pause to react to the insanity that had just taken place, but I had to keep moving.

Packing eight years of television into three weeks feels like a relationship where two people break up and get back together an endless amount of times. I started hating the show half way through season three, and started loving it again towards the end of season four, just a couple of days later. I saw Sansa, Arya and Bran age years before my eyes, like an extended cut of Boyhood. I’m glad I didn’t get to see Joffrey age because that kid was a menace and deserved to die.

Now, avoiding spoilers can be a lonely process. I wanted to give up at times, but I was in too deep. I cut myself off from any conversation that even mentioned the show, so pretty much everything. I had to leave the room while people shared theories and recounted battles, and couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing out on the very thing I was working so hard to be a part of.  

The low point came on the eve of the Battle of Winterfell. My girlfriend and I went to a baseball game, and when we heard the guy behind us say “Brienne is definitely going to die,” I actually put AirPods in and listened to music to drown him out. I was all alone in a stadium full of people, like a man in the middle of a snowstorm trying to find his way back to camp.

My girlfriend watched that episode the next night and clutched my hand with the ferocity of that Lannister soldier who got his leg sawed off by the late, great Talisa in season two (RIP). I did homework and wondered if it wouldn’t have been better just to read a Wikipedia synopsis and jump into the show during season eight to experience it with everybody else. After all, the whole point of doing this was to share the excitement with somebody.

Of course, it was impossible to avoid every spoiler. The biggest reveal was learning that Arya killed the Night King (badass) when I at the tail end of season four and had no clue who the Night King even was. Somebody basically tweeted something to the effect of “Arya killed the FUCKING NIGHT KING!!!” and I logged out in curious disgust, thinking it was some sort of Always Sunny crossover reference, which does exist by the way.  

I became paranoid. Twitter was off limits on Sunday and most of Monday. Other days, I’d blur my eyes and scan the screen to check for buzzwords, so no real difference from any other day. I wanted to give up, to rejoin society. My neck started to hurt from looking at my phone for hours at a time.

Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards
The sixth season’s penultimate episode “Battle of the Bastards” received immense critical praise—and can apparently shake you out of a GoT binge watching stupor. Helen Sloan/HBO

By the second week of May, I knew I’d make it through. I was on season six and had started loving the show again. “The Battle of the Bastards” reignited a flame that I thought had gone out. It was cathartic to see what Sansa did to Ramsay, especially since I wanted to do something similar to the writers for putting me through such an ordeal. I was watching four or five episodes a night. HBO GO stopped freezing on my computer, and I was able to see Cersei blow up the Sept of Baelor on a luxurious 13-inch screen. Life was good again.

On Saturday, May 11, 2019, I officially caught up to the world. A great weight had been lifted. Now, I just want it to be over. The Battle of Winterfell was cool, but the death of the Night King was disappointing. Did they really spend three seasons hyping up the coolest villain of all time just to have him killed in the first fight? Theon’s dumb charge doesn’t count as a fight. That, plus the three-hour long make-out session that was episodes two and three made me seriously question my decision.

It all became worth it on May 12, when I settled in to watch “The Bells” with my dad on his very real plasma screen TV. We sat in shock as King’s Landing was destroyed. Only the occasional comment of “wow” or “holy shit” broke the silence. “I don’t even want to look at the stove,” my father said when it was all over. I had spent the last three weeks dying to talk about what was going on with Game of Thrones, but now I was speechless.

That being said, I did finally get to tweet “wtf is happening” with everybody else.

The Emotional Toll of Binge Watching ‘Game of Thrones’ in Three Weeks