Call for Comments: Great Expectations for Disappointing Endings to the Game of Thrones

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.

12 Replies to “Call for Comments: Great Expectations for Disappointing Endings to the Game of Thrones”

  1. For the shows that we connected with, either personally or socially, seeing it end means that connection is ending, too. it’ll always be there, but there’s no more to graft onto. Some use shows to get through hard times, using it as an escape, so when it’s gone, there’s one less avenue to decompress. For water cooler shows, it means there’s one less thing to talk about, or one less reason to meet up with friends at cons or whatnot. In the end, it’s just TV, but depending on the level of the viewer’s involvement, it signifies a return to life before that show. Now, when the ending is less than what we individually expected, then it feels like the time invested was wasted, almost like ‘my life is a lie!’ This is an extension of viewer entitlement, fan ownership, whatever you want to label it. “I’ve spent money this, I pay your salary, how dare you?!” For me, I always look at the whole picture and judge a show by the story it told, or tried to tell, rather than did you give me what i want every week. With GoT specifically, I’m judging it by the narrative and not the execution. Like Revenge of the Sith, it’s a beautifully tragic story, but it needed more time to breathe than it was allowed. I still enjoy it because, looking at the series as a whole, it’s a rich tapestry of political chaos, epic fantasy and a brutal coming of age. But if only they broke up that fourth episode into two and filmed three additional scenes, what a difference it could have made, taking it from something cool to masterpiece.

  2. First off, Mav, you leave Constantine alone! (That said, I think merging him into the CW-verse was a better outcome than a continued series at this point.)

    In a perfect world, endings would occur in a way that feels natural to the characters and faithful to their actions up to this point. It also either wraps everything in a bow full of fanservice and good feels (Parks & Recreation) or leaves the world open to continue in the minds of the readers (Person of Interest.) They would also give you enough time to see characters make pivots as opposed to Anakin Skywalker levels of “Guess I’ll just go murder some children now.” I think a bad ending can certainly ruin something, or at the very least make you, God damn, I need to go read the Manga now… as is the case with a LOT of anime that get adapted before their source material finishes.

    I think far too often shows don’t know when they’re going to end, or have a planned ending Season in mind, and so when the low ratings grim reaper of cancellation comes knocking, everything gets thrust into this “crunch” mode which is sort of what it feels like Game of Thrones is experiencing right now.

    I even think this applies to cancelled shows like Santa Clarita Diet or Luke Cage or prior to being renewed/given bonus movie epilogues, shows like Longmire, Timeless, Lucifer, or Sense8. Sometimes these things bite off more than they can chew and you’re left with a frustrating lack of closure.

    I certainly don’t think audiences are owed anything except maybe a conclusion to the story you have them invested in, anything else is a slippery slope. There’s a reason fanfiction exists too. Read somebody’s retcon of the events you don’t like. It’s better than being angry.

    If I had to think of “REALLY GOOD” recentish finales off the top of my head… Breaking Bad, Psych, Devilman Crybaby (Anime), and Parks & Recreation. I’m sure there are plenty of others, but I’m blanking.

    1. Oh, and speaking of bad endings and fan response. I’m reminded of Hideaki Anno and Evangelion. To make a long post short (and I may be misremembering or just parroting some pre-Internet urban legends) Evangelion was THE anime during the ’90s. They were having budgetary cuts on the art side of things, and so they made due with what they could and ended the series in a perhaps… sub-optimal way according to the fans. It became less about the giant robots and more about introspective philosophy and theology stuff. Fans were pissed, sent angry death threats, etc. etc.

      So, Hideaki Anno comes along with the “End of Evangelion” film (spoilers ahead) as a “Ok, here’s the real ending, I promise. This is for the fans.” and it’s basically an hour and a half middle finger (that even, iirc, flashes up 1-frame photographic stills of some of the death threats he received during the climactic finale) as he spends the entire time shitting all over the main character (who was the audiences self-insert) graphically murdering the entire cast, having a ton of forced romance and blatantly creepy sex acts (the self-insert masturbating over the body of the comatose love interest is one of the opening scenes of the film as he mutters about how fucked up he is.) The ending of the film has the love interest basically tell the MC “He’s disgusting.” It’s probably one of my most favorite things ever if only because the director basically took all that fan entitlement and told them to get fucked. It’s an ultimate power move.

  3. Worse than cliffhangers that never get a conclusion? Worse than “It was all just a dream?” Worse than shows that overstay their purpose by a year or more and just fizzle out?

    I just can’t see this being even close tot he worst season finale.

  4. Hannah I’m still pretty new to the podcast and I was happy to hear how much you loved serenity, but recently I found out there were two serenity movies. The firefly one and some other one. You love the firefly one, right

  5. Of course people aren’t going to be happy with the ending. Remember, this is an audience that complained about the Red Wedding and the demise of Rob Stark. Ironically, this was the first episode I saw since it was on in the hotel I was staying at. I didn’t really start watching until it became clear the show was going to get to the finish line before the books. Now, that is what I find to be most annoying.

  6. The ending (which I assume came directly from GRMM) was fine. It was thematically appropriate and fit what came before, more or less. Like Endgame, which I’ve been comparing it to, it was bittersweet, shockingly sentimental, and almost all of it falls apart if you think about it for more than a couple of minutes.

    Spoiler
    What’s to keep the various lords from assassinating Bran and putting their own guy in charge? The North just gets to walk away? Can Dorne do that? The Ironborn? Where’s the money to rebuild coming from, if the crown is bankrupt? What about all those Dothraki? They’re just going to acclimate to Westerosi life? What about Meereen, Astapor, etc? What will happen when word reaches their shores? Bronn didn’t know what a LOAN was in S2 and now he’s in charge of the economy? C’mon.

    (similarly: what about all the people who were brought back in Endgame only to find out their jobs are gone, their homes have been sold or condemned, their spouses have moved on, etc. etc. etc.? What about the endangered animals where Thanos took half of the remaining breeding pairs? What about people who were like, in airplanes or on boats when the Snap happened? Do they reappear at 30,000 feet or the middle of the ocean?)

    1. Spoiler
      Beyond that, the road to that conclusion was disastrously mismanaged – I never really bought the Jon/Dany relationship, Dany’s heel turn, while telegraphed over the run of the show, didn’t get enough of a buildup to warrant what happened, Tyrion caught the Idiot Ball around S5 and has been a dipshit ever since, etc. etc. etc.

      As someone else put it – the show went from being about these characters trying to survive in a complex world to the world revolving around these characters. I was invested enough to see it through to the bitter end, but wrapping it up with YOUR FAVORITES SITTING AROUND CRACKING JOKES was some extremely MCU shit.

    2. Also, a LOT of stuff got left on the floor to streamline the home stretch – what happened to the blue-lipped wizards that wanted to kill Dany? What the fuck is R’hllor? Was the Faith of the Seven ENTIRELY bogus? Where were the crannogmen during all of this? Who the hell was Quaithe? How did Sweetrobin grow up to become such a snack? Who the fuck was the Prince that was Promised/The Stallion Who Mounts the World? How did Dorne react to Cersei’s power grab (what the fuck was the POINT of Dorne)? What was the Night King’s deal? What IS the Three Eyed Crow? What happened to Ser Pounce?

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