A ‘Game of Thrones’ Newbie Braves the Show’s Barclays Center “Epic Fan Experience”

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Here is what I know about Game of Thrones: Peter Dinklage is in it, there is some incest (a lot of incest?), and there is a throne. At first I thought this was a metaphorical throne, but a Parks and Recreation episode taught me that it’s an actual, tangible throne that you can conveniently buy online. I have never seen an episode of the show, though it’s possible the number of GIFs I’ve seen on Tumblr add up to a full hour of the program, but I still went to HBO’s Game of Thrones “Epic Fan Experience” at the Barclays Center last night because, why not? I love watching television with other people, and I love watching new shows. I’m not sure the event would qualify as “epic” despite how many posters reiterated this description but it was something of an experience.

I’m well aware that Game of Thrones is a popular show that inspires rabid and obsessive dedication from its fans, but I wasn’t prepared for how crazy it would be. The 7,000 tickets all sold out in advance and the place was packed with fans, most decked out in Game of Thrones-related merch (I don’t know what “House of Daenerys” is, but based on the bro in the tight tee with the sleeves cut off, I don’t think I’m a fan). There weren’t as many costumes as I’d assumed there would be, but there were a few: a trio of girls in beautiful homemade dresses, a guy with a crown of antlers on his head (the friend I was with yelled, “I love True Detective!”), and someone who may have been cosplaying as the author, George R.R. Martin, or may have just been from Brooklyn.

The “fan experience” of the event was mostly standing in the various lines throughout the venue. Everyone had to check their phones (and any other electronic devices) at the door, where they were placed in brown paper lunch bags and held until you waited on an even longer line to retrieve it at the exit. Inside, there were lines to get a free gray T-shirt and lines to fill out a form in order to get a free Game of Thrones smartphone wallet (this was pretty harsh because it reminded us that we were currently spending hours without our phones). There were lines to get a $10.25 cup of Budweiser — the only one we waited in, only to learn they were actually two bucks more. There were also lines to look at a display of costumes from the show (even from afar, I have to admit they looked gorgeous), lines to listen to the Game of Thrones mixtape Catch the Throne (even though it is currently available on Soundcloud, no waiting necessary), and, most popular, very long lines to get your picture taken while sitting in one of the four or five Iron Thrones spread throughout the arena. Behind one throne was a giant Honda advertisement; I wasn’t allowed to have my picture taken behind the wheel of the car.

The biggest draw of the event was the sneak peek at the Season 4 premiere. Because I’d never seen the show, I asked a handful of fans if they could explain the last three seasons to me in one sentence. Here’s what they came up with:

“Political subterfuge and death.” “Dragons.” “Controlled chaos brought forth by a want to get a throne.” “Cold bastard in the snow.” “Death.” “Brilliantly brutal.” “Sex, death, violence, dragons, crowns, and thrones.” “A lot of sex.” “Medieval power hierarchy.” “Everyone dies.”

At least four people had that same last answer, and I still had no idea what to expect when the premiere began.

Before the episode, though, we were treated to a drumline rendition of the show’s theme song and a performance by Common, one of the artists on Catch the Throne, who attempted to hype the crowd by ordering us to chant “Game of Thrones!” Then came the surprise guests of the night: actors Kristian Nairn, Maisie Williams, Sibel Kekilli, John Bradley, and creator George R. R. Martin. They did a short Q&A (all I really gathered from it is that everyone wants someone named Joffrey to die) and a surprise raffle of the giant Iron Thone — Martin joked that it was perfect for a NYC apartment.

I couldn’t spoil the Season 4 premiere if I tried — the only notes I took during it read “the GOT title screen looks like a WWE belt” and “Chris from Skins???” — but it’s fair to say that everyone around me loved it. It was a weird experience, this rapt attention of people watching a fantasy drama about dragons in a giant venue usually used for basketball games and Beyoncé concerts. (It was a little jarring to see Game of Thrones merch being sold under Nets logos.) It was also the darkest venue I’ve ever been to, thanks to the complete absence of phones/cameras (it wasn’t that hard to sneak one in, but it was clearly grounds for immediate removal so no one wanted to take a chance).

The premiere was surprisingly enjoyable considering I had no idea what was going on (though the spontaneous cheers helped me figure out who I should be rooting for), and I did find myself getting wrapped up in everything that was happening on screen, though I doubt I’ll rush to watch the series anytime soon. But the event clearly delivered what it promised to its fans: a few hours of immersing themselves in this Game of Thrones world with like-minded people — and one impostor.