While Game of Thrones fans in China felt cheated when they found that the season premiere of the HBO show’s last season was heavily censored, their Indian counterparts were quiet.
The runtime of the first episode of the eighth and final season was 54 minutes long, but the version Chinese fans watched was just 48 minutes – six minutes of the epic fantasy series, streamed exclusively on tech giant Tencent’s video platform, were cut out, including some key scenes.
HBO has been blocked in China since June 2018 after John Oliver criticised Chinese President Xi Jinping in one of the segments of his eponymous show.
Indian fans of the series, based on books by George RR Martin, got a better deal as streaming service Hotstar managed to get a simulcast with the US real time and uncensored.
In US, the show aired on HBO on April 14 at 9pm ET, while in India, it premiered on April 15, 6.30 am IST on Hotstar.
But the TV premiere of the show on Star World channel on Tuesday at 9 pm had PG-13 rating. Same has been the fate of all the preceding seven seasons of the series, known for its explicit and violent scenes and strong language, on the channel.
This time too, things weren’t different. In the first episode of GOT eighth season, there were four instances where the channel went PG-13.
The introductory shots to the scene, where the viewer sees Bronn in a brothel annoyed with three nude sex workers as they are more interested in Daenerys Targeryen’s three dragons than him, were chopped off. The censor created an abrupt beginning to an important scene.
Next, the viewer watched Theon Greyjoy free his sister Yara from their uncle Euron’s grip as he kills the guard, driving an axe through his face. The channel, however, cut the gory close-up when Theon dips to take the weapon off the guard’s face.
Also, all the kissing shots between Daenerys and Jon Snow went missing, leaving the bits which show an intimidating Drogon, one of Daenerys’ three dragon children, scaring Jon to back off from their mother. The nuance wouldn’t have been lost had the making out shots made it to the channel.
The scene where young Lord Ned Umber’s dismembered body is discovered at his home by Edd Tollett, Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion was also partially censored.
In the scene, Umber is pinned to a wall with hacked off limbs fashioned around him in a spiral, which Beric terms as a message from The Night King.
It is, later, revealed that Umber is now a wight when he wakes up and tries attacking Tormund who has his back towards the wall. But Beric moves quickly to burn it. The successive close-up of the burning spiral and deafening screams of the child wight were cut off from the footage.
The Chinese censors also used the scissors on the brothel scene and the Ned Umber death sequence.
While Chinese viewers fumed on their Twitter equivalent, Weibo, interestingly, there weren’t any Indian Twitter users complaining about the censored version of the show.
On digging into the microblogging site, some reactions were found, dated prior to the airing date of the show.
That watching a “cleaner” version of the HBO series will be a tasteless affair, a tweeple wrote on March 28: “Watching ‘Game of Thrones’ on Star World is equivalent to eating pav bhaji without butter.”
On April 9, a user asked Hotstar Premium, the streaming platform that airs GOT in all its explicit glory, whether the show will be “uncensored without beeps”.
The tweet read, “Hey, I want to buy Hotstar Premium specially just for Game of Thrones’ wanted to know whether it will be uncensored without any beeps or like the one you show on star world with beep and edited scenes.”
He received a reply: “Hi! Like any other season of Game of Thrones’ on @hotstar_premium, even season 8 will be uncensored.”
On March 28, a Bhutanese TV viewer had complained on the social media platform about missing nuances of the show as their digital/cable TV services are from prude India”.
Will not be watching Game of Thrones on Star World as I would miss out (on) important plot lines because some prude uncles and aunties in India can’t handle it, he wrote.
This was his response to a tweet calling Chinese culture infantalising when the Chinese film industry put a black dress on Sally Hawkin’s nude body in the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water, which hit the country’s theatres last year.
The debate between traditional theatres and streaming platforms may have become somewhat an old talk of the town, but the Indian TV is certainly losing both the plot and viewers to Hotstar when it comes to shows with explicit content like GOT.
Star World channel was already a day behind due to the Hotstar uncensored simulcast.
Being world’s most pirated show also doesn’t help, at least at this stage. HBO has been overcautious after series of leaks over the last eight years.
Some of the fans who are looking to catch the series for free, as they have done earlier, would tend to turn to third-party streaming and torrenting sites. But, security analysts and piracy experts have already warned people that the formerly “fool-proof” exercise would expose them to serious risk of malware and other online criminal activity.
What is to be seen is how the viewership of the channel and streaming service fair as the viewers tune in to see who survives the Game of Thrones.