In the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, a fairly significant supporting character dies. Even if you hadn’t seen it, simply watching the stream of tweets that flowed on Sunday night could easily have revealed this fact, like it or not.

This is the reality in which we now live. When just about any popular television show airs, there's a social media-fueled conversation to go along with it in real-time. In some cases, the chatter can include spoilers. Either way, this is the new water cooler.

To observe the social activity that unfolds during a new episode of a show is to watch a phenomenon that is still in its early stages, even if it is growing fast.

From Check-ins to Social TV, Second-Screen Apps Catch On Slowly

We hear a lot about second-screen apps these days - that is, smartphone and tablet applications designed to supplement the TV-watching experience with some kind of related content or viewer interaction. 

One category of these second-screen apps is the check-in service. Much as one checks in to the local coffee shop on Foursquare, one can now use Miso or GetGlue check in to Community or, in this case, Game of Thrones.

This past Sunday night, about 13,000 GetGlue users checked in to Game of Thrones. It's a far cry from the season's debut episode, which succeeded in crashing the service. It's also a small fraction of the show's overall viewership, but this type of service is still mostly dominated by early adopters, as GetGlue COO Fraser Kelton told us in a recent interview. Similarly, Miso saw a constant flow of new check-ins during Sunday's episode.

In both apps, we found that the amount of user engagement after checking in was minimal. In GetGlue's iPad app, the opportunity exists to comment on other users' check-ins. We tried, but didn’t get a response. This is a somewhat disjointed way to have a conversation, anyway. 

Likewise, the opportunity to engage with others after check-in is limited on Miso's app, unless you push updates out to Facebook or Twitter. However, the experience offered by Miso's iPhone app is much more engaging, thanks to the inclusion of SideShows, a feature that lets users build out a crowdsourced collection of quotes, facts and commentary about a given episode.

Twitter Is Still Where All the Action Is

As hot as these second-screen apps are becoming, it's hard to compete with good old-fashioned Twitter. Of all the services and apps we observed Sunday night, that's where most of the discussion was happening, by far. Halfway through the episode, the flow of tweets containing the phrase "Game of Thrones" was practically bottomless. A good number of those tweets were simply updates pushed out from apps like GetGlue, but the vast majority were genuine commentary, ranging from thoughtful observations to bitter complaints about forgetting to DVR the new episode. 

Among the second-screen apps with a social bent, the best of them are the ones that effectively integrate with services like Twitter and Facebook. The ones with their own native live-chat features have a tendency to be relatively quiet. One solid example of how an app can do social TV right is Yap.tv, which we previously reviewed in detail

The second-screen category of apps is young and evolving. That much is obvious when one takes a high-level glance at the activity happening across a number of them during a popular show. 

What's also apparent is that social TV and related trends aren't going anywhere. Studies have shown a correlation between social media chatter and TV ratings, and Twitter is already a breeding ground for television-related discussion. As smartphones and tablets continue to proliferate, it's hard to imagine this type of TV-augmenting behavior won't grow as well.