Spoilers for the fifth season "Game of Thrones" finale in the headline to this piece, and also in the piece, mostly relating to the death of Jon Snow. That's a spoiler, too.
I don't want to discuss when something is, or is not, a spoiler. That particular topic has been talked to death on the Internet, and has even been explored extensively in pieces on MTV News. No, I want to talk about when it's okay to put a news-focused spoiler front and center in a headline.
But first I want to talk about how we discuss spoilers, because the rain of anger that it probably going to pour down in the comments section is mostly going to focus on revealing the closing scene death (unless he isn't dead!) of Kit Harington's "Game of Thrones" character, Jon Snow.
A large part of the problem with discussing spoilers, and how to handle them, is that the landscape both in entertainment, and the Internet's (both fan and media) coverage of entertainment is changing drastically, on a near daily basis. Back in the day, you could keep something secret like how Darth Vader is Luke's father in "Empire Strikes Back," or the gender identity of the "female" lead in "The Crying Game" until you got to the theater.
Now, the last scenes of movies -- and sometimes the whole movie -- and TV shows will leak online before release, with fans and entertainment writers alike furiously picking up every scrap to discuss and analyze, sight unseen.
In response, literally everything has become a "spoiler." When news broke that Batman and the Batmobile were on the set of "Suicide Squad," through a publicly filmed scene where multiple bystanders took instagram footage, fans cried "spoiler!" pretty much any time we put something in a headline.
I'm not here to argue whether that was a spoiler or not -- it's not, because A) you don't know how that'll play into the movie, and B) Ben Affleck is going to be in the credits, so calm down -- but instead to talk about how we talk about spoilers.
Because for a half a week now, MTV News and other outlets have danced around Jon Snow's death, using half-veiled words in headlines to talk with you, the readers, about something we also can't stop thinking about.
Here's a few examples:
This is almost the opposite of click-bait, right? Not to get too inside baseball, but at least here at MTV we were bending over backwards trying not to give away the big reveal, while still continuing to talk about it -- and around it -- in different ways.
And we're not the only ones: plenty of outlets have used phrases like "departed cast member" and "that big death," instead of "death of Jon Snow."
The reason for that is we're not just in a spoiler-filled culture, we're in a culture that is also hyper-sensitive to spoilers. We realize that not everyone, in our time-shifted, second-screen experience filled entertainment world will watch a TV show at the exact same time you do.
So when is it okay to start actually talking about the subject out in the open?
Everyone is always going to disagree, but for something like the finale of "Game of Thrones," and particularly when it comes to a main character death like this, there's a few simple rules for putting the spoiler front and center, that I'll break down as a timeline.
Sunday, 10:00pm ET - This is the end of the episode on the East Coast. The West Coast hasn't seen it. Be cool.
Monday, 1:00am ET - End of the episode of the West Coast. Given the massive spoiler, you can suss out whether friends have seen the episode, and discuss if so in person; otherwise, use code-words. Definitely leave out of your headline.
Monday Morning - Everyone gets back to school/work, and it's entirely possible someone was just too busy to watch the previous night, so still, play it cool.
Tuesday Morning - If you missed the finale of "Game of Thrones," and have been regularly watching the show, let's be honest: you should have watched it Monday night. Things come up, but understanding that you're on a ticking clock before you accidentally click on the wrong thing, it's on you -- not the entirety of the Internet -- to make all due effort to watch the finale.
That said, not everyone has the same schedule, and extenuating circumstances come up. It's fair to write about the big spoilers openly at this point, but also understandable to use some discretion.
Wednesday Morning - Fair game. By this point, viewers have had three nights and two days to watch the finale episode, so the topic is now open for discussion.
I'd also argue that the larger the spoiler, the less time between it happening, and when you can be upset to see it pop up in a headline. Entertainment News is, by definition, news. Just like you wouldn't expect the New York Times to leave Hillary Clinton's name out of an article about her candidacy for President, you have to expect that a news organization will put the information in their headline as a way of explaining what the story is about.
Otherwise, you're not servicing the audience the way they need to be serviced, not giving them the information they need to get right up front.
And by the way, if you are someone who waits to watch a season for DVD/Blu-Ray, or is just getting to it late, that's absolutely fine and great. Just realize that you may get spoiled for that show while you wait -- and understand that with a good show, the spoilers are only secondary to the plot and characters.
I'll give you a specific example: I watched the first season of "Game of Thrones" after it had aired, and somehow completely missed that Ned Stark died -- other than knowing something shocking went down in episode nine. I was, understandably, shocked.
So then I went and read the books... And even knowing what happened, was completely caught up in George R.R. Martin's prose. I hoped, ridiculously, that somehow Ned would survive in the novel, knowing full well he wouldn't. I knew nearly every plot beat and character arc, but it was the writing and craft that drew me in.
And conversely, watching seasons two through five after having read the rest of the books was a richer experience: the Red Wedding was as awesomely excruciating to watch, because I knew what was going to happen, and couldn't stop it.
The entire time though was with the understanding that because I'm a person who spends a lot of time online, I may be spoiled for way more than I expected (like, say, The Night's King). It's par for the course, and we can't spend all our time dancing around headlines and stories that truly delve into an idea for fear that a minority hasn't yet consumed the piece of entertainment we're discussing.
In essence: there are many, varied rules for spoiler culture, and we should realize that they're always going to be as individual as our own experience in watching/reading. But when it comes to a major event like a TV finale? You've got 48 hours.