The burning question for millions of “Game of Thrones” fans in China on Monday: Is the US-China trade war now being fought in the battlefields of Westeros?
Tencent, the Chinese internet juggernaut whose video platform owns the streaming rights to the HBO series in the country, shocked viewers Monday morning when it announced a delay in posting the American show’s eagerly anticipated finale “due to a media transmission problem.”
The brief statement didn’t give a new air date, and the company declined to provide further detail. HBO, which like CNN is owned by WarnerMedia, said in a statement that it “had no issue with content delivery.”
“You would have to get further clarification from Tencent,” HBO added.
Like “Thrones” enthusiasts elsewhere, Chinese fans religiously follow each episode and discuss plot twists in real time on social media. On Monday, their frustration and dismay abounded online, with many wondering aloud the connection between the escalating trade war and the missing last episode.
“What’s next — cutting off internet connections between China and the US?” wrote one user on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.
Many users also slammed Tencent (TCEHY) for the delay, demanding the company refund their subscription fees.
“Shame, shame, shame,” some users posted a famous line from the show — along with bell emojis — on Weibo.
The yearlong trade war between China and the United States has escalated in recent weeks, with President Donald Trump raising tariffs on Chinese goods worth $200 billion earlier this month. China has retaliated with plans for higher tariffs on about $60 billion worth of US products.
The sudden rise in tensions has led to an apparent rise in anti-US propaganda in Chinese state media.
One harshly worded editorial in the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece last week called for a “people’s war” against the United States, prompting analysts to predict the trade war’s fallout spilling over into other areas — including entertainment.
On Sunday, a new Chinese TV drama series largely shot in the United States with American cast members appeared to become the first high-profile victim of new battle lines drawn by Beijing authorities.
State media reported that TV stations and streaming platforms in China abruptly canceled the premiere of “Over the Sea I Come to You,” which centers on a Chinese father sending his only child to study in America. Other Chinese productions with US links are said to be facing similar issues.
The movie channel of state-run broadcaster CCTV has recently scrapped scheduled programming in favor of so-called “red classics” set during the Korean War, featuring the resounding defeat of American invaders at the hands of heroic Chinese soldiers.
“We are using the art form of film to echo the current time,” the channel wrote on its official Weibo page.
The Chinese government has targeted the entertainment industry in the past when relations with another country deteriorated. A little over two years ago, China imposed an unofficial ban on wildly popular South Korean shows and artists when Beijing was infuriated by Seoul’s decision to deploy an advanced US missile defense system, which the Chinese government insisted was a threat to its national security.