‘Game of Thrones’ upsetting the status quo

If you haven’t heard, the first four episodes of “Game of Thrones” were leaked just hours before the season premiere. This is a real leak; we’re not talking about HBO accidentally posting them and taking them down after five minutes. They’re out there in the sketchy parts of the Internet, free to pirates, and there’s not a chance HBO could get them taken down before they’d have aired anyway. In fact, the company seems much more interested in finding the leaker than fighting piracy battles.

"Sadly, it seems the leaked four episodes of the upcoming season of ‘Game of Thrones’ originated from within a group approved by HBO to receive them,” an HBO official said. "We’re actively assessing how this breach occurred."

The leaked episodes are in standard definition and bear a small watermark in the bottom left (really just a rectangular blur). This appears to indicate that the leak was sourced from “screener” DVDs sent to critics prior to the season premiere, but HBO has yet to confirm this theory.

“Game of Thrones” is no stranger to piracy. Last season’s finale, “The Children,” was the most pirated television episode in history. Nearly 1.5 million people illegally accessed it within the first 12 hours, according to data from file sharing news site TorrentFreak, breaking a record previously held by another “GoT” episode.

Although HBO has historically taken a relaxed attitude toward piracy, this leak comes at an especially inconvenient time. It doesn’t appear to have hurt the premiere’s performance, with more than eight million people tuning in to this episode, but it occurred just as the company released their new HBO Now service. HBO Now is a premium streaming service that allows subscribers to view HBO content without a cable subscription. It was released alongside the season 5 premiere in hopes of reeling in new subscribers, but with the premiere (and the next three episodes) available online, the tech-savvy among us seem likely to go for the cheaper option.

Without further ado, let’s talk plot. If you haven’t seen episodes two through four stop here, because the rest of this article has all kinds of spoilers.

The first third of this season concerns itself with the ramifications of last season’s finale, turning the human landscape of Westeros upside down. The Lannisters are down on their luck: Tyrion has no money, Jamie can barely fight and Cersei resurrects the Church Militant (an inquisitorial religious organization) in an effort to keep her power from slipping further into the hands of Margaery Tyrell, who has finally managed to marry a king without him dying. Sansa has returned to Winterfell and faces the prospect of marrying uber-creepy Ramsay Bolton while Arya is hanging out in Braavos, hoping to become an assassin. Jon Snow is voted in as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, with Stannis offering to make him Lord of Winterfell and a true Stark in exchange for his assistance in taking the north. Daenerys’ situation as a ruler instead of a conqueror is slowly slipping out of her control, with two of her trusted advisers sustaining grievous injuries in a fight against the insurgent Sons of the Harpy (not to mention her inability to command the dragons). Finally, Oberyn Martell’s daughters (known as the Sand Snakes) are conspiring to kill Myrcella Baratheon in an attempt to instigate a war with the royal family and avenge their father; Jaime and Bronn predict their plot and travel to Braavos to thwart it.

On the whole, I like it. This season looks to be upsetting the status quo, bringing new factions into the mix and putting familiar characters in completely new situations and contexts. Long-running shows take the risk of becoming stale and played out, but at this rate, “Game of Thrones” looks to be keeping things fresh for at least one more season.