It was December 2001 and something was happening that I had been waiting my whole life for.
No, I didn’t get married or have a kid. I didn’t even graduate college (all of that would come a few years later).
No, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, a live-action film, was finally coming to theaters (don’t you look at me like that, I fully admit I’m a huge nerd). I can remember how it was on opening night, my friends and I waiting patiently in line for the midnight showing, bundled up in sweatshirts and blankets against the Santa Cruz cold. The energy of the crowd of nerds and fans was electric, everyone was excited, and we filed into the theater, sat down, and enjoyed a really, really fine film.
About half an hour after the movie was over, I received a text from my best friend, a guy named Tim who I’d grown up with and known since we were both six or seven. It was four words long and it made me shake my head in disbelief and wonder, although it did give me a few laughs at his expense.
“Dude, Gandalf dies?! WEAK!”
Recently, in case you haven’t been paying attention, another fantasy-related production caught a lot more people by surprise and, of course, I’m talking about HBO’s Game of Thrones. Sunday’s episode featured a certain Red Wedding, a term that will spoil nothing for people unfamiliar with the books who haven’t seen the show but will say everything to a person who is familiar with the AGoT story. Unsurprisingly, with television being a more widely accessed medium than fantasy literature, many of the people who watch the HBO show haven’t read the books and so Sunday’s episode came as a bit of…well, a shock to the viewers in the same way the death of Ned Stark at the end of Season I did (and, really, anyone familiar with the works of Sean Bean should’ve immediately been clued into the fate of dear dead Ned; the list of movies or shows Bean’s characters have survived are vastly outweighed by the ones where his character didn’t make it). How much of a shock?
Seeing this reaction caused a related reaction within the fans of George R.R. Martin’s books, including myself, that’s best summed up by this .gif:
Now, for me, the amusement doesn’t come from sort of sense of superiority that I “got there first” by reading the books. I’m not some sort of better fan for having experienced the Red Wedding the first time in print and my finding the reactions of the first-timer fans hilarious is not from a place of mocking.
For me, it’s a little like this: being the first person through a haunted house and having the crap scared out of you. The first time through is thrilling, exciting, but if you go through it again you know what’s coming and so the scare just isn’t the same. However, if you are then able to go through with someone else who has never been through the haunted house before, you get to share in that first-time scare again by being there to see them get frightened, a way of re-living your first time secondhand. It’s not exactly the same as that first time, I can still remember staring blankly down at the pages when I read that particular scene aghast, but it’s as close as you’re ever going to get.
Of course, there’s also the joy in seeing your friend nearly pooping themselves with fear but, hey, maybe that’s just me.