'What's with grown men getting so emotional about Game of Thrones? It's just a made-up story and you act like it's so important."
That was the question/statement/accusation put to me by a friend the other day. "Shut your stupid face," I yelled politely. "I do not get overly emotional about Game of Thrones."
Today is a big day for GoT fans. There will be grown men blubbing like babies all over the country. We're about to witness a massive fictional tragedy the likes of which the world has never seen. I refer, of course, to the battle of the white walkers and the living folk at Winterfell. Signs point toward a fiery bloodbath at near zero temperatures. We could lose a dozen beloved characters today. I'm freaking out.
But what is it with Game of Thrones and grown men? Why do we care so much? You can throw Avengers Endgame in there as well. We care about the MCU a lot, too.
Far from unimportant, caring about the unreal is why we exist in the real world at all.
According to historian Yuval Noah Harari, it was our ability to share made-up stuff that gave homo sapiens the edge over other human species. About 70,000 years ago we went through a cognitive revolution and began banding together behind ideas. Until then, we couldn't hold together tribes of more than 150 members.
In Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind he puts it this way: "How did Homo sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold, eventually founding cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions? The secret was probably the appearance of fiction."
Essentially, our ancestors made up some stories, cared about them, rallied around them, then turned up in big numbers and completely smashed the Neanderthals and their small family groups. They were bigger physically than us but didn't have our love of stories so we beat the crap out of them and now they don't exist. Homo sapiens! Homo sapiens! Homo sapiens!
That's probably what's with grown men getting so emotionally involved with Game of Thrones. Evolving to care about fiction is a big part of why we won the Game of Humans. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, friend (you know who you are).
We all know people who celebrate having never watched Game of Thrones. They act like having not watched is some kind of achievement. Something we should be impressed by.
In reality, they have missed out on a great life experience. Potentially the last truly shared televisual experience. Luckily there's still hope for you. You have less than a month to enjoy the entire seven previous series. Then and only then can you join together with the rest of us sapiens for the final episode on May 19.
While catching up, don't sit there flicking through your vacuous social-media feeds while it plays in the corner. There is nothing more annoying than people watching their Instagram instead of a show, then complaining the show made no sense (you know who you are). You don't get it because you were looking at your half-friends' boring holiday pictures.
To get the most out of GoT you've got to give it your undivided attention. Learn the houses, the characters, the backstories, their multiple names. The basic family histories and allegiances. Not just the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryen. Learn about the Tullys, Freys and Arryns. You don't have time to read the books (you can do that after the final) but read something even if it's just the place names on the opening credits map. In the fictional world, just like the real world, you get more out if you put more in.
Today, across New Zealand, grown men and woman will weep in front of our TVs, phones and tablets. We will feel real emotions for unreal people. I wish I could send a raven to Winterfell to say goodbye before they die, but thankfully they operate in a different reality plane from us. So all I can do is watch with fists clenched. If you're lucky, you will be doing the same. If not, get on your arse and catch up. See you at the finale with the rest of our great story-loving species.