Imagine waiting years for the final episode of the biggest TV show in the world… and then an hour before it’s due to begin, it’s delayed indefinitely.

(Note: There are no spoilers for Season 8 of Game of Thrones in this story.)

That’s what happened to Chinese viewers waiting for the finale of Game of Thrones on Monday morning. Shortly before it was due to go live on streaming platform Tencent Video, the company said it was delayed because of “media transfer issues,” with no updated release date.

Fans were crushed by the announcement… but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t watch it.

Game of Thrones is, after all, the most pirated show in the world. So it should come as no surprise that people watched the show anyway in China, a country that has long had a fairly, shall we say, carefree approach to IP.

No one should be surprised that Game of Thrones is widely pirated in China. No One. Arya. Get it? (Picture: HBO)

While there were plenty of people on Weibo complaining that they couldn’t watch the episode, there were also a significant number of people posting their thoughts, reviews and memes about the episode.

The hashtag “GoT ending” got 150 million views and 39,000 posts on Weibo, while one with an explicit spoiler that I won’t repeat here had 320 million views from 70,000 posts.

Links to the episode on streaming sites or Baidu Cloud (think Google Drive) were spread widely on social media. This is nothing new. Even in previous weeks, when Tencent did make episodes available on time, it was easy to find pirated versions of the show.

One of the reasons for that is that episodes on Tencent Video are censored. Chinese authorities are, unsurprisingly, not huge fans of sex or violence… which, if you’ve ever seen Game of Thrones, is quite a large part of the show.

Whole scenes are sometimes cut out of the episodes in China, including five minutes from this season’s premiere. Unsurprisingly, it ends up confusing and upsetting viewers, who often wonder why some scenes don’t seem to make sense… because they’re missing a key part seen in the rest of the world.

Beyond Tencent’s claim of a technical issue, it’s still unknown why the finale continues to be delayed in China. Some suggest it’s part of the US-China trade war; others suggest the themes of the episode itself mean it’s unsuitable for a Chinese audience.

But one thing it has done is unite netizens in their anger towards Tencent.

“You are forcing people who are willing to pay to watch the legitimate version to look for pirate streams,” one Weibo comment says.

(If you want a spoiler-filled look at the funniest memes Chinese viewers shared about the Game of Thrones finale, click here!)