After a nearly two-year hiatus, winter has finally come and fans around the world are hyped — including in China. The first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones aired on April 14 and drew a whopping 17.4 million viewers to HBO, and that was just on Sunday night.
Chinese fans were equally excited about the show’s return, as evidenced by the hashtag “Game of Thrones Season 8” (#权力的游戏第八季) trending on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, days prior to the premiere. However, when they tuned in to Tencent Video on Monday morning, many were dismayed to find that instead of the 54 minutes of content promised, they got a mere 48.
“It feels like a century has been cut,” one Weibo user wrote about the deleted six minutes.
Of course, censorship in mass media is nothing new to Chinese viewers. We’ve seen rappers removed from reality shows, costume dramas banned, and even earrings on male pop stars blurred. And if earlobes got the chop, it’s not surprising that some of GOT’s raunchier bed and battle scenes did too.
All your faves are dead in the latest Game of Thrones poster.
But many netizens argue it’s not the 黄暴 huangbao (or sex and violence) they want — it’s artistic integrity.
On Weibo, one user incited heated discussion when he posted that Tencent was his “first choice” platform and that “deleting scenes wasn’t very important.” Numerous netizens begged to differ.
“It’s not a matter of whether we can watch explicit scenes. Those are part of the plot. It’s like how good and bad experiences are all a part of life. The censored version feels strange.”
“As long as there is censoring, it will change the expression of the original clip. My OCD can’t bear it.”
“I could directly give HBO my money, why would I want to watch a censored, defective product? It doesn’t affect the plot? Just watching for explicit scenes? Sorry, I can only watch the complete version. Not because there’s explicit content — this is just my basic respect for the work and the creator.”
“Trash Tencent! You cut a very important part! I’m mad as hell, this part was a character’s death. I think it’s very important, and I really don’t understand why it was cut! Watching Tencent still saves you worry and is high definition, otherwise I have to download it myself, and online drives are not high definition enough. If all the explicit scenes are cut, what will be left of Game of Thrones! It seems like I’ll have to find the resources myself.”
(SPOILER ALERT: If you’re wondering which scenes were axed from the season premiere, it’s the fiery message from the White Walkers — which fans noted was a defining plot point — and the sex scene with Bronn.)
Unfortunately for Chinese fans, Tencent is the only platform that legally streams George RR Martin’s popular fantasy series. After John Oliver made jabs at Xi Jinping on his show last June, calling him a “creepy uncle who imprisons 800,000 people in his basement” and cracking one too many Winnie the Pooh jokes, China added HBO to its list of banned sites.
But the Great Firewall is no match for Chinese netizens. In addition to sharing clips of the redacted scenes on Weibo, social media users have been forthcoming about sharing links to full episode torrents and file storage sites where fans can get the complete Game of Thrones experience — sex and gore included. Despite the show airing on Sunday evenings in the US, by Monday afternoon Chinese time numerous sites such as人人美剧, 美剧天堂, and 91美剧网 had the full episode online, complete with English and Chinese subtitles.
There have also been numerous screening parties this week in cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, a trend that looks set to run for the remainder of the final season — and many of those are unlikely to be showing the censored versions.
The Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts to stamp out such file sharing in recent years as part of attempts to tighten both content controls and IP protection. But the game of cat and mouse between wily internet users and the powers that be is not just limited to Game of Thrones — it’s one that regularly plays out for an array of high profile overseas TV shows and movies that have little chance of making it to Chinese platforms in their original form.
And while you wait for the next dispatch from Westeros and Essos, you can enjoy Tencent’s latest Game of Thrones game (or not):
We Played Tencent’s Shitty New “Game of Thrones” Game and Lost Brain Cells
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