The 22 Rules for Not Spoiling TV Shows Like a Total Jerk

tv spoilers
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones and other shows you should have watched by now.

We live in an age of too much TV. Last year saw 455 different shows (including broadcast, cable, and streaming) air. So it's understandable if you've fallen behind on popular shows or are way ahead of everyone else you know because of your incalculable amount of free time. (Cool.)

The problem is that everyone -- including you! -- wants to talk about TV. At length. Which is how we entered the age of peak TV "spoilers," those nasty day-ruiners derived from plot twists, surprise deaths, epic battles, and cliffhanger resolutions. You'd think it would be easy to avoid hearing about the shocking climax of your favorite hour-long drama, or escape pissing someone off by mentioning that crazy turn of events on last night's Game of Thrones. You would be wrong.

Navigating a world where everyone is on a different viewing schedule, everyone is plugged into one another's business through their phones, and everyone has different definitions of spoilers is impossible. Or was. Until now.

After watching tons of TV, being spoiled in every way imaginable, and probably losing a friend or two (dozen) for our own infractions, we've found the line between rightful spoiler rage and unworthy whining. Live by these rules and you'll never be the spoiled, or the spoiler, again.

game of thrones jon snow alive
Game of Thrones | HBO

1. You must plan for shows you really care about

You were having a great time at your friend’s barbecue Sunday, and your college friend who you haven’t seen in, like, forever was there, so you stayed later than expected, but your ride had to go home early, so you had to spend an hour asking people for a ride, then you wound up just getting an Uber anyway, and you didn’t get home until after midnight, which sucked because you had to be at work early on Monday since you didn’t finish the project you were supposed to wrap up before the weekend, so you missed the final episode of Game of Thrones, your favorite show!

Well, sorry, you don’t get to complain when your coworker crushes you with news that Viserion is a White Walker. If you love a show so much that you’re obsessed with not having it spoiled, you need to prepare — a failure to prepare is preparing to fail when it comes to avoiding spoilers. Buy a calendar.

2. Don't confuse the premise of a show with a spoiler

The fear of spoilers shouldn't ruin basic social interactions. When someone mentions a show that you've never heard of and you ask them what it's about, have enough respect for that person -- whether they're a co-worker, a friend, or a family member -- to let them describe the show a little bit without complaining about spoilers. If you ask, "What's Breaking Bad about?" and someone says, "It's about a high school science teacher who becomes a meth kingpin," that doesn't count as a spoiler. That's literally what the show is about. You're going to need some information about a series before you decide it's worth investing your time in. And when someone tells you they love that Season 3 scene where Walter White cooks meth, that's not a spoiler either. That would clearly happen. This might sound like an obvious point, but the pre-emptive spoiler complaint, occasionally couched as lame "Jeez, spoilers -- thanks a lot!" joke, is a real phenomenon. It's not funny.

3. Tiptoe around (or just STFU about?) twists, character deaths, and final scenes both on and offline for the first 24 hours after the episode airs

There's a spoiler troll inside all of us, waiting to be unleashed in moments of weakness where the drunken pressure of knowing is just too much to hold inside. Fight it, you a-hole! Great shows are more than their shocking moments -- the Red Wedding only works because we give a damn about the characters who wind up bleeding out on the floor -- but they're still a payoff for dedicated viewers. With spoiler-approved Reddit threads and no-holds-barred podcast discussions, there are ways to scratch the spoiler itch without ruining it for everyone.

4. Wait at least three hours before publicly discussing any unexpected moments that aren't technically twists (e.g., [Person] finally [did a thing] we saw coming!)

There's a gray area between premise-allowed talking points and flat-out spoilers that will now be known as "spoilerishes." A spoilerish is experiential, but any series devotee could spot the moment coming from a mile away; anyone surprised that Drogon got his flame on after Daenerys arrived to Westeros needs to go back to The Citadel and read a book. But heavy description and hype can still take the wind out from under these plot advancements' dragon wings. So if you're privy to a spoilerish, be a mensch and wait until, at the very least, everyone who could see it has seen it.

ozark ending
Ozark | Netflix

5. Wait a minimum of 10 days after "binge" shows drop to casually discuss spoilers

Not everyone has the stamina to watch Netflix's weekly drop (Orange Is the New Black then Friends from College then Ozark then The Defenders then... ) or the latest seasons of Amazon staples like Transparent or The Man in the High Castle in a single weekend. Your less marathon-inclined friends deserve time to sample the all-at-once series at their leisure. More specifically, they deserve two weekends: from that debut Friday to the following Sunday. Anything beyond that, you're safe to assume the show isn't a priority for them. If they overhear you talking about how Jason Bateman's Marty Byrde does X or Y, you gave them their chance.

6. Use a spoiler warning if you absolutely must unload your feelings on your social media of choice

We know the feeling: Your favorite character just died and you need a place to publicly mourn. How else will all your estranged friends from high school on Facebook know that you're especially torn up about (uh, spoiler alert for The Simpsons Season 11) Maude Flanders getting killed by a T-shirt cannon? Well, in the midst of this emotional chaos, please do your loved ones a favor and follow the lead of responsible websites: Slap a "spoiler warning" at the top of your lengthy memorial essay. It will let your fellow fans know what's coming and serve as a useful way for everyone else to skip right over your profound musings about the fragility of life for a fictional character.

7. Anything that happens on a reality TV or game show is not a spoiler

This is an important caveat: Pretty much none of these rules apply to reality TV or game shows. (It should go without saying that, unless you live with Jerry Seinfeld, these rules don't apply to live sporting events either -- with the Olympics being the only exception.) As Vulture noted during the mid-aughts reality boom, watching competition shows like Survivor, The Bachelor, or The Voice is pretty much a commitment to keeping current on what's going on. Part of the fun is following the reactions on social media, so don't expect the world to pause and wait for you to binge eight episodes of Top Chef in one weekend. Similarly, the "real" personal lives of the characters on reality soaps like the Real Housewives or Keeping Up with the Kardashians are already standard tabloid fodder. There's no such thing as a reality TV spoiler.

8. Discussing the historical event on which a show is based does not count as a spoiler

Let's call this the O.J. rule. We understand that there might be younger viewers who relished all the twists and turns of last year's FX miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson -- or maybe you were just really, really busy in the '90s -- but your own relative ignorance about recent history isn't an excuse to be a jerk to people who might drop a "spoiler" by saying something as innocuous as, "Wait, you know O.J. was acquitted, right?" That's not a spoiler. You just need to watch the news or read a Wikipedia article. This rule applies more to recent history -- for example, you can't "spoil" The Crown by noting that Queen Elizabeth II is still alive -- but I'm going to say that anything you could learn in a Schoolhouse Rock song is also fair game.

the handmaid's tale finale
The Handmaiden's Tale | Hulu

9. "But it's in the book!" is not an excuse to spoil adaptations

Look, it’s understandable that you have very few opportunities to show off your English lit degree, but no one in your social circles wants to hear about what happens in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. TV was obviously invented to help achieve the utopian dream of eliminating books forever; you don’t get to ruin someone’s leisure time because you’re "well read."

10. Ask your friends/co-workers if they've seen the episode before talking about last night's "big episode"

Ah, the old water cooler: the place where all the best buzz and gossip happens. While chatting about a popular TV show is often a useful social currency in most offices, it's worth checking in with the co-workers in your general vicinity before launching into your lengthy, prepared monologue about why Fitz and Olivia totally shouldn't have hooked up on Scandal. Just be polite and kick off the conversation with a gentle, "So, you catch Scandal last night?" Also, be mindful of that quiet guy who just wants to refill his "Best Dad" mug and get back to work. He might watch Scandal too, but just fell behind after Season 4 jumped off a cliff.

11. In public spaces, conduct all spoiler talk at a "library whisper"

You're a grown-ass adult who should be doing this anyway, but it needs to be said: Do not turn the latest episode of American Horror Story into your version of The Moth. The same reason you wouldn't scream about the fate of Han Solo while standing in line for your second viewing of The Force Awakens is why you should be especially aware of the volume levels on your oral recaps. Overheard in New York: a TV-spoiling jerk.

12. Use headphones while watching spoilable TV in the wild

Do you watch TV shows on the subway? At the gym? While you're in the waiting room at the doctor's office? In, God forbid, restaurants? Don't be brave like those idiots who turn their phones into boomboxes and bump music sans headphones in public. Because if you do that with TV, you're likely ruining someone's day in more ways than one. Use headphones.

game of thrones ned stark death
Game of Thrones | HBO

13. Don't lord your spoiler knowledge over others by hinting at what's to come

If you've successfully turned a friend onto a show, and they're still catching up to you, remain neutral and avoid exclamations like "OH MY GOD IT'S SO GOOD WAIT UNTIL THE THIRD EPISODE OF SEASON 2 IT'S GOING TO BLOW YOUR MIND I DID NOT SEE THE TWIST COMING THAT CHARACTER WAS SO NICE UNTIL THAT THING WITH THE TRUCK OH MY GOD NO NO NO YOU'RE GOING TO LOVE IT DEFINITELY BINGE IT THIS WEEKEND AND GRAB SOME TISSUES FOR SEASON 3." It's not hard. Even if your Game of Thrones newbie friend says, "Wow! I love Ned Stark!" and you say, "Awwwwwwwwww, yeah," you're revealing more than you think.

14. Don't quote jokes from the current season of your favorite comedy

If you were the person who walked around campus yelling, "I. Declare. Bankruptcy!" before other people had a chance to watch that great episode of The Office, you, I'm sorry to say, were the worst. Don't be that person who feels the need to rehash all the best jokes before everyone else. Better yet, don't quote jokes from comedies in general. What are you, 15? They pay the professionals to read those lines for a reason.

15. Don't gasp in advance like an idiot if you're rewatching with a first-timer

"Oh, this episode? Oh man. Ohhhhhh... yeah... Oh, right, I forgot this happened first. Oh shit, I can’t look. [Dramatically covering eyes] Did they behead Ned yet?" If this is how you rewatch a show with a friend or loved one who’s never seen it before, consider the possibility that you are a selfish jerk. Act like you’ve been there before, because you actually have.

16. If you TV cheat on your significant other/viewing partner, hype counts as a spoiler

This one's a two-parter for any two partners: First, decide ahead of time whether or not Game of Thrones or Riverdale or Rick and Morty or whatever will be deemed as one of your "programs." Couples that watch together, stay together (to quote TV inventor Dr. Alfred P. Television), and breaking that commitment can be ruinous. If one of your programs is a hot-button TV series (see No. 1) and mismatched schedules prevent you and your SO from watching together, forcing you to indulge, then tread carefully before your obligatory second watch. It is on you not to avoid sales pitches, excessive teasing, and half-spoiler allusions that could undermine the experience. All previous definitions of spoilers are out the window in this scenario -- go full Daniel Day-Lewis in your performance of a clueless first-timer or you stink.

the walking dead
The Walking Dead | AMC

17. Warn your roommate when you're watching spoilable TV in their vicinity

Is your roommate's room next to the living room? Near the TV? Then if you're about to blast some crazy appointment-viewing television, give a courteous heads-up. You know, something like: "Hey, do you mind if I watch Game of Thrones with my friends in the living room tonight?" Or: "The sounds you are about to hear are the wailing death screams emanating from the latest episode of The Walking Dead." You may be given clearance. You may be begged to wait until your roommate can join you. He or she may run to grab noise/spoiler-cancelling headphones. Better to compromise than to start the passive-aggressive, TV-watching version of World War III.

18. Be considerate if you're live-tweeting

Have you heard of these things called time zones? Basically, the nature of the Earth’s rotation in space means that people living in California have to watch Designated Survivor three hours later than people in New York. Blame the cosmos! Unsurprisingly, the act of live-tweeting shows can be controversial: Some creators and showrunners aren't into it, but clearly many fans adore it and think it's an essential part of the modern TV watching experience. What's the solution? We don't want to say "never live-tweet," but if you have thoughts to share you should just be mindful and considerate about what you post, especially for less zeitgeist-y series and streaming shows. That "Wow RIP Commissioner Frank Reagan from #BlueBloods" tweet might earn you more enemies than re-tweets.

19. Stop looking at Facebook until you've watched the shows you care about

This rule could probably end with “stop looking at Facebook,” but that’s another discussion altogether. By now you should know that Facebook (and Twitter, etc.) is a breeding ground for comments and statuses that will piss you off for a variety of reasons. Since you can’t control what other people post -- but wow, wouldn’t that be great? -- practice some discipline if you can’t watch a spoiler-heavy show when it airs and stay off Facebook until you watch. You’ll feel better on several fronts.

20. Don't post spoiler freeze-frames on Instagram and/or Snapchat right after an episode

Your friends and bot followers do not need your emoji commentary slapped over fuzzy, spoiler-filled screenshots captured off your TV. Spare them by -- and this might sound crazy -- watching the show instead of watching your phone with the show on in the background. But if you must indulge in a two-screen experience, hold off on the photo- and video-sharing apps until people have had ample time to watch that Hot New Thing. There's no way for your friends to know, for example, that the Snap or Instagram story you've queued up is going to contain the death of Hot New Thing's Hot New So-and-So.

21. If you read, heard, or watched any leaked spoilers, no one wants to hear from you

We would never condone illegally downloading leaked episodes, reading scripts, or sharing secret plot points of a television show. But if you're the type of person who engages in that stuff, maybe pause for a second and realize that most people don't care. Keep it to yourself. Just because you're part of some peer-to-peer file-sharing network or have a friend who works "in the industry" and feeds you intel, that doesn't make you a cool hacker from a '90s movie or some big-shot Hollywood insider. You're just a clod spouting spoilers.

breaking bad final shot
Breaking Bad | AMC

22. These old shows are 100% officially spoilable in any context

Now that we've established all these important rules, it's time for a big, possibly controversial caveat: There are a handful of specific popular television shows that are un-spoilable. That doesn't mean you should feel emboldened to put up a billboard saying "The screen cuts to black in the diner as Journey plays during The Sopranos finale," but you should realize that if you haven't caught up with these 10 series that the internet collectively obsesses over, you've waived your rights to complaining about "spoilers" contained in any jokes on social media, message board threads, or critical essays. Sorry. But not really.

Within your personal social group, there might be additional titles to add -- maybe all your closest friends watched Grey's Anatomy, Firefly, or The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. -- but we generally think that the following canonical shows, which have been analyzed by critics and fans over the last 20 years, are safe to freely discuss in casual conversation and on social media. It's not the world's responsibility to shield you from the fact that Lost ended with Jack dying and a bunch of characters standing around a church. The image of Don Draper's dumb grin on a meditation retreat is not a "spoiler." Walt dies. Drugs do not disappear from the streets of Baltimore. Jack Bauer's wife gets murdered. It's on you to know this shit -- or tread very carefully online.

Breaking Bad
Mad Men
Pretty Little Liars
The Sopranos
The Wire
The Simpsons

Now get out there and have some fun.

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