Illustration by Jeff Versoi

LIFE IS MEANINGLESS, death is random, and neither title nor wealth nor family can shield you from the arbitrary crapshoot of existence. King or peasant, we all die alone.

Oh, shoot—you've only read through A Clash of Kings? Oh my god, I am so, so sorry. I really didn't mean to spoil Game of Thrones for you.

Those of us who have read George R.R. Martin's book series know that he puts his characters through some shit. Conversations with friends who are newer to the series—whether they're reading the books or watching the show—tend to go something like this: "You're reading book three? Did it happen yet? IT. It must not have happened. You'd know."

Martin's tale of the Seven Kingdoms is unfolding in uneven parallel in two mediums: Some people are up to speed with the show, some have read all the books, and some of us subsumed our inner lives to George R.R. Martin for long enough to catch up with both (hello!). Everywhere, there be spoilers—and for the most part, fans of the franchise have proven surprisingly willing to tiptoe around the series' hot-button plot points.

There's a persuasive case to be made that a strong story can't be "spoiled." If prior knowledge of a key plot point is enough to spoil someone's enjoyment of a book or TV show, the argument goes, then it probably wasn't that good to begin with.

And in some cases, that holds water. In 2007, just days before the release of the final book in the Harry Potter series, the Mercury published an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that purported to spoil the ending ["Snape Kills Hermione!" New Column! July 19, 2007]. The excerpt was fake; nonetheless, we were flooded with angry emails, phone calls, and death threats. It still makes me laugh when I think about it; we were able to write a semi-convincing fake spoiler because we, too, were feeling pretty anxious about Severus Snape's ultimate motives.

The world didn't turn on whether or not Harry was a Horcrux—but pretending it did, for a little while, made being a Harry Potter fan a ton of fun. It's a stretch to say that collectively investing in a story gives life meaning (if I believed that, I'd be writing for Christianity Today instead of the Mercury), but it certainly gives us meaningful distraction. If the ending of the book really had been spoiled, though, I don't think it would've been that big a deal: Harry Potter lives happily ever after. Surprise. The books were still a blast to read.

To spoil Game of Thrones, however, is to fundamentally alter the experience of watching the show or reading the books. YouTube's Red Wedding reaction videos are brilliant because some of Martin's plot points are genuinely shocking to our expectations about how fiction works: We've come to expect our protagonists will be accorded a certain degree of protection. Harry was never going to die. You are never going to die. The main character always survives.

But Martin turns that expectation on its head, revealing it for the self-delusional fantasy it is. You could die at any second. It happens all the time, to people who believe they're the hero of their lives just as strongly as you believe you're the hero of yours.

That's why I'm careful to tiptoe around Game of Thrones' major plot points. To deprive a reader or a viewer of the visceral slap that comes when the plot takes an unexpected turn is to undermine one of the great points Martin is making with this series: The stories you tell about yourself won't protect you. It doesn't matter how smart you are, or how hard you try, or how much your family loves you. It doesn't matter whether Daenerys learns to be a better dragon-mom, or whether Arya completes her revenge punch-card and gets a free 16-ounce coffee, or whether Sansa ever stops being such a horrible human being. Winter is coming. Spoiler.