From Hannah: Game of Thrones ends Sunday and, based solely on audience opinion of the last two-to-three seasons (particularly the penultimate episode ever), it’s going to be bad. Depending on who you ask, it may be the worst finale of a television show ever (except maybe Dexter). There are a lot of reasons people are unhappy — the show isn’t doing what they want, the show is rushing storylines which previous seasons would have taken multiple episodes to setup, the writing is undermining character development, the battles make no tactical sense, the showrunners have run out of material from George R.R. Martin, etc. On the brightside, at least on Sunday everyone will be glad — rather than sad — that it’s finally being put out of its misery.
Saying everyone hates the final season of Game of Thrones is hyperbolic, of course. That’s like saying everyone hated the final season of Lost (I maintain the finale was one of the most satisfying in television history). But there have been plenty of disappointing endings throughout television history: Dexter, Heroes, How I Met Your Mother, The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica. Some season of The Bachelor, for sure. Jane the Virgin‘s final season is upsetting a lot of fans as well.
These endings vary in quality from the surprising and controversial (Sopranos) to something that goes against years of character development (How I Met Your Mother). It isn’t just relatively recent television history where endings have disappointed some or all fans. Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations‘s ending was revised before publication. Not everyone loves Return of the Jedi or Avengers: Endgame. I have argued that Revenge of the Sith is actually the most disappointing of the Star Wars prequel trilogy because it can’t coherently bring all of the stories setup in the first two movies together.
In this episode, we’re going to talk about Game of Thrones (everyone has feels), but we’re also going to more broadly talk about endings and audience reaction. What makes a good conclusion? Do “bad” endings ruin the rest of the story or its legacy — is it about the journey or destination? And really, without giving spoilers, were we really expecting something else from Game of Thrones?
From Mav: I’m both more optimistic and more pessimistic than Hannah. I for one am looking forward to the Game of Thrones finale this weekend. I haven’t hated this season anywhere near as much as the internet at large seems to be. On the other hand, I can’t see this weekend’s finale as a “bright side” because I don’t for a second believe that it is going to be “over.” On the contrary, I say buckle down because the the worst is just beginning… and you don’t have to look any further than the reaction to her favorite TV show (which she even referenced) to see why. Just walk into a room of Lost fans and say “how about that finale?” and see if anyone shuts up for the next six hours.
But I am as excited as her to talk about this concept. Obviously, as we write this, none of us have yet seen the finale of GoT; but I’m sure I’ll have lots to say once I do. For one thing I already have lots of thoughts about how this season has gone so far and it appears that I already differ in opinion with a lot of the internet. Like I said, I don’t hate this. Is it the best TV show on television right now? Of course not, we all know that’s Riverdale. But I am mostly liking it, and I don’t feel like people are as out of character as other people think (rushed yes, but not out of character). And I certainly am not on the same page as the 200,000+ idiots who have signed a Change.org petition asking for the whole season to be redone. Note: my good friend, and former roommate, Erik, works for Change.org. I love the dude… but sometimes I think his continued employment will eventually mean the death of popular culture in this country. Hmmm… we should maybe do a show on that someday (#LetConstantineDie, #LetChrisMaverickDie).
But, in the meantime, I have conflicting thoughts on lots finales. I loved the end of Battlestar Galactica and I kinda thought the end of Sopranos was brilliant. I hated the end of How I Met Your Mother. Lost, I didn’t much care about. Heroes I gave up on. And with Dexter… I was … just… confused. So… very… very… confused.
But I think the comparison to Great Expectations and the change in final chapter is particularly apropos. Essentially Dickens changed the ending out of fear that people who had followed the novel through it’s original serialization wouldn’t like how it ended because it didn’t match up with the fanfic that they’d created in their heads. They’d be pissy because they had been shipping Pip and Estella and it wouldn’t work out. So he fixed it so it did. But in Dicken’s case he was relying on fanmail… with a nice timely delay. If he’d written it today, he’d have to deal with Twitter and Reddit. It’s enough to drive a man to opium.
The power of literature, is in our ability to relate to the story and characters. This is strong enough when you spend two hours watching a movie or a weekend reading a novel. But with serialized literature, I’d argue it’s even stronger. If you follow a TV show for eight years… or a comic book or soap opera for decades… those character become a part of your life. That world becomes your world. I think the time allows you to be invested in it. In a way, you start to feel a sense of ownership over it, equal to — or maybe even greater than — the authors. And at the same time, the technology of our current cultural moment allows for mass publication of our opinions as we engage with the story in progress. Publication for the masses in a way that was previous only available to the cultural elite.
But in a world where we are all critics, with constant access to the creators, how much should they even listen to us? What does the author owe us? What is the tension between experiencing the fictional world we want, and the world that they creators want to give us? Do our voices matter? Should they? After all, “Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.“