So, it’s done.
After 8 seasons, Game of Thrones is finished and over and done and well, yeah…
Since departing from the actual books because George R. R. Martin hadn’t finished them, the series has definitely gone down in terms of quality, in my opinion. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that for writers of television and films, it’s nearly impossible to render an adequate translation, as it were, of a book property onto the screen. Certainly, there are exceptions. But for the most part, the book is always better because it gives the reader more in terms of nuance, background, point-of-view, character development and more. When adapting for the screen, writers must show everything in such a way that the audience knows what is going on. Tidbits of internal monologue, for instance, are stricken because you can’t really show a character having a discussion with themselves.
From that perspective, the seasons that departed from the books have been adequate in terms of delivering storylines and plot that moved the series ahead. But they have, unfortunately, failed to deliver the same level of satisfaction that many fans craved from the series as a whole.
And when the series finale unfolds the way it did last night (and in preceding episodes), there are bound to be fans enraged by the conclusions reached by the writers to bring the series to an end.
For me, as a writer, there are obvious reasons why I was disappointed. Perhaps the most crucial being individual character arcs.
When we create characters, we set them on a journey of discovery. Along the way, they are beset by challenge after challenge forcing them to dig deep into the very core of who they are in order to overcome those challenges, or at least strive valiantly toward overcoming them. Sometimes they fail, and fail spectacularly. But if we’ve done our job properly, the reader is emotionally invested in the character or characters to a point that the journey they take leads the reader on a parallel journey of entertainment. At the end of that journey, the character is somehow transformed and the reader feels a level of satisfaction with the conclusions of that journey – even if they are not necessarily happy. Tragic endings can be just as satisfying provided the character has somehow been transformed over the course of the story.
Therein lies the problem with Game of Thrones.
Viewers have been emotionally invested in the series from the start. Everyone has their favorites and everyone has their villains. Along the way, we’ve seen characters rise to tremendous heights and truly evil villains enjoy their spectacular comeuppance. We’ve gasped, cheered, moaned, cried, and laughed as the series has unfolded. But in the end, that pattern of character story arc fulfillment deviated from the norm and as a result, we’ve been left…meh.
The real tragedy of Game of Thrones isn’t that it’s over; the real tragedy is that – at the end – the show wasn’t that much fantasy at all. In fact, it was more reality than most viewers wanted.
We read books, watch TV, listen to music, sit in theaters, and every engage in art to help us deal with reality. In some ways, to escape it. In other ways to try to make sense of it – to gain perspective through the struggles of characters or self (if we create it) that enables us to bring that insight to our own individual worlds. For those who consume it, they are engaged in much the same process, albeit as passengers rather than the conductor.
And when reality is – as it is currently – with hatred and racism and bigotry and misogyny and ethical absence and complete disregard for the rule of law all on the rise, people expect an escape that leaves them feeling as though there is some sense in the universe.
Rather than more of the same.
The reality is that most people don’t have much of a story arc to their character. Most people go through life wishing things were somehow different; wishing they’d made different decisions; wishing they’d said “fuck yeah” instead of “I’d better not;” wishing for a second chance at the one thing they know fires their soul; wishing they’d apologized instead of defending a bad decision; wishing they’d taken that chance instead of playing it safe. And at the end of their lives, most people don’t go out with an incredible fireworks display, but rather with a quiet whimper of resignation and sad acceptance.
When the characters that we love or hate go out in a similar fashion, it does little to entertain. In fact, it only underscores our own place in the world – and reminds of us whether we’re on a spectacular journey or a mediocre merry-go-round.
Granted, it’s not necessarily the job of the writer to abide by any “rules.” And for all we know, Martin may well have planned the entire series to be as the writers of GoT finished things up. That after taking us on such an exhilarating ride, Martin may have intended the series go out with much the same whimper as it did last night. With some characters enjoying a better story arc than others, because in reality, some people have better lives than others.
And often, the people who do have a satisfying conclusion to their arcs, aren’t the people you would expect. Whereas the shooting stars who seem filled with such promise and potential end up sputtering out to some sort of blah ending. We all know people who peaked in high school and have ever since relived those glory days over and over in some vain attempt to buoy themselves. We also know the people who blossomed after enduring the crucible of high school and rose to extraordinary heights.
The simple truth is that despite all manner of external events, many people simply do not change or evolve over time. They stay locked in their own prison of prejudices and assumptions, convinced of their own certitude, unwilling to consider other perspectives or facts. As a result, their arcs fail to deliver a satisfying conclusion and that’s all there is to it.
The same thing happened with certain characters on GoT. Rather than fulfill the arc we hoped would happen (even if we did not even have a firm idea of what we wanted to happen for them) they simply…faded away. Worse, some of the villains we’d been hoping would experience true satisfactory justice ended up “escaping” in a rather muted fashion. Again, much the same as reality.
Perhaps the message of Game of Thrones is simply this: not every hero receives grand rewards; not every villain receives satisfactory justice.
Which is, frankly, kind of depressing. And a bit too close to everyday life for many people.
Your mileage may vary, of course.
In the end, GoT was a great show.
It just sort of went out with a whimper.
When I really wanted a bang.