Winter Coming to Russia as 'Game of Thrones' Deal Takes on Piracy

Photographer: Keith Bernstein/HBO via Everett Collection
Game of Thrones, starring Emilia Clarke in "Mhysa" Season 3, Episode 10.

To the delight of "Game of Thrones" fans in Russia, winter is coming to the country next year at the same time the TV fantasy series debuts in the U.S.

Previously, Russian fans of the HBO program could wait up to five months before the episodes aired there. Unwilling to wait, many viewers have turned to Russian torrent sites where they would download pirated copies and take care of the translation themselves.

Now a deal HBO signed with billionaire Len Blavatnik's Amedia pay-TV group will ensure the fourth season's Russian release date coincides with the U.S. premiere. The pact comes as a new law took effect in August that cracks down on websites hosting illegal film and TV content. Pay-TV channels have lagged in Russia in part because free pirated content has been so widely available.

The deal could help in the battle against piracy -- "Game of Thrones" is one of the most popular programs on Russian torrent sites. The series is known for its intricate storylines, gory violence, sex and dialogue ("winter is coming" is an oft-repeated warning of harsh times to come). On VKontakte, the country's leading social network site, there are a quarter million users belonging to the show's fan group.

Adding to fans' frothiness, news came last week that a Russian actor is joining the show as the Magnar of Thenn. Yuri Kolokolnikov is known for his roles in historical drama "Pechorin" and in theater productions, and had a role in Gerard Depardieu's "Rasputin."

Kolokolnikov will play Styr, and the Thenn are described by Entertainment Weekly as "the most warlike tribe from beyond the Wall."

Sounds a bit like the show's Russian fan-base.

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