How To Watch Game Of Thrones Season 8 Anywhere

When Matthew Clayfield finally got a chance to watch Game of Thrones legally from his Vietnamese hotel room, he found it was suspiciously lacking in its usual violence and nudity. (Warning: this article contains season five spoilers.)

This time last year, I wrote a short piece about the hoops through which expats on the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena were forced to jump in order to watch Game of Thrones' fourth season. There, where cable television was all but unheard of and download speeds dragged interminably, piracy seemed somehow less piratic than it did necessary, not only to assuage the expats' fandom, but also their desire to feel some connection to home and to the rest of the world.

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These hoops seemed not to exist in Vietnam, where I found myself living on the eve of the fifth season's premiere. Here, in my hotel room of Ho Chi Minh City's Bùi Viện backpacker strip, HBO was readily available and had been advertising the series ad nauseam in the lead-up to its much-anticipated return.

For the first time, it rather seemed to my fiancée and me that we would not only get to avoid being thieves, but that we could avoid being thieves in real-time, too: the episode was scheduled to screen at the same time as it would in the US. That Game of Thrones was to be followed by new episodes of Silicon Valley and Veep had us all the more excited.

Watching Game of Thrones at the same time as it was actually airing proved to be a real pleasure, and not only because we were finally returning to George R R Martin's Westeros. After years of stealing the show after the fact from the good people at HBO, we were finally doing the so-called right thing.

But there was something slightly off about the experience as well: the episode seemed shorter than it should have been, with slightly less violence and nudity than we'd come to expect. There was something off about the episodes of Silicon Valley and Veep, too, in that neither were quite as laden with curse words as they should have been and usually are.

What is the relationship between a lived-culture that can be brutal, sexually violent and dark, and the entertainment that reflects and suffuses it? Jonathan Green writes.

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I should have seen this coming. Every movie I'd ever watched on Vietnamese television had been sanitised considerably and, in some cases, even cut to within an inch of its life. The kiss between Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen at the conclusion of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby - "Sir, you taste of America" - was excised by means of a rhythmically weird edit that saw two glare at each for a moment and then wave at the crowd together as though nothing had happened. The self-consciously B-grade three-way in Wild Things was removed entirely.

Indeed, any time I thought the television was malfunctioning, because the footage was speeding up for some reason, or otherwise suddenly screening in slow-motion, it was almost invariably because violence, language or, most often, sex (particularly of the homosexual variety) was being cut from the proceedings. I met some girls who went to see Fifty Shades of Grey at the cinema and complained about the fact that it seemed tame and rather short. According to some long-time expats, the Three Stooges were banned here for decades - the originals rather than the Farrelly brothers' more recent pretenders - because their brand of slapstick was considered too violent. ( censorship here also being what it is, I have been unable confirm this.)

The contentious matter of Game of Thrones' leaked episodes might have complicated matters had the censorship issue not come up first. We would have had to have weigh up what was more important: our desire to know what happened next or the counter-intuitive thrill of not breaking the law for once in our small and pathetic television-viewing lives. (This latter thrill was heightened, the morning of the premiere, by the ritual we hoped might see us through the ensuing weeks: a quick jaunt out to get Vietnamese coffee, in all its condensed-milky goodness, and croissants, France's greatest contribution to everyday life in the city, colonial-era architecture aside.) In the end, we chose to steal the episodes after all, but only because those episodes were the full, unedited ones.

The country's censorship of the show became obvious a few weeks later, after we'd already watched the leaked episodes, when we stumbled across the third one on television. In Vietnam, Jon Snow's beheading of Janos Slynt had apparently suffered the same fate as Slynt's head: it had been, so to speak, somewhat severed. While it was certainly hinted at - we saw Jon's sword begin its descent - it wasn't shown in its entirety. Did the episode suffer for this elision? Perhaps not. But it wasn't what the show-runners intended, and for a purist, at least, that's what mattered. What mattered even more was the indignity one felt at being infantilised by the country's censors, the sense that one was having one's moral compass calibrated on one's behalf. The determination to rid sex and death from the country's popular consciousness when both are everywhere visible everyday on the streets - sex in the form of the prostitutes and ladyboys who populate the backpacker district, and death in the form of the country's absurd road toll, the heads crushed beneath truck tyres, the children getting hit by unthinking motorcyclists - seemed in any case doomed to failure.

We ultimately found ourselves in the same situation we had found ourselves in a year earlier. If we weren't waiting a lifetime for an episode to download in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, we nevertheless found ourselves waiting a month for HBO's schedule to catch up with the leak. We were once again snookered by location and circumstance, not to mention, perhaps even more so, by our fandom, and what increasingly feels like the thievery that inevitably and always attends it.

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Matthew Clayfield is a freelance foreign correspondent who recently covered the war against Islamic State from Iraqi Kurdistan.