It’s been a year and I’m still upset.
When I think about the way I feel about the end of Game of Thrones, versus the way I’ve felt about others of my favorite series coming to an end, immense disappointment fills my crushed, crushed soul. I’ve had to say goodbye to beloved characters before, but never in such an offensive way.
The only series I was ever more invested in was the Harry Potter series. I remember vibrating with excitement while waiting in line for the last book. I read it slowly, over four days, enjoying approaching the end. And while I’d never say it was the height of literary achievement, I felt appropriate emotions along the way to saying goodbye to the characters I had grown to love over the years. I grieved those who died. I cheered on those who found love. The villain was clearly identifiable and vanquished by the last page. Overall it was an emotionally satisfying ending, though I was, of course, sad to let it go.
Even sadder was the knowledge that it was a once in a lifetime experience coming to an end. The fandom, the speculation, the hours devoted to discussing, creating, waiting for the next book was all over as well. I’d never feel it again.
Except…I did. A decade later, in 2017 I was probably just about the last person in the world to get on the Game of Thrones bus. Despite having studied A Game of Thrones in undergrad a few years previously, I didn’t get into the story until the 11th hour. I binged the first seven series and then settled into the year+ wait for the final season to return in 2019. And I found myself launched into a fan community older, wiser, and perhaps even more fervid than the Harry Potter fans.
It felt like the perfect fill for the vacuum Harry had left in my life. The stakes in Game of Thrones were higher. The characters were more mature and handling sometimes more adult problems. The landscape was wider, more detailed, and certainly more cynically depressing. It was a balm to a grown-up Harry Potter fan such as myself. I began to love Jon, Dany, Arya, the Hound, and all the rest in the same way I had once loved Harry.
Then it all came crashing down. Industry influences of money, time, and creative deficits led to the steep decline in quality in that final season. In other words, creators wanted to move on to bigger and better-paying projects so they wrapped things up as quickly as possible and turned in their final drafts. The intrusion of finances into art is painfully visible, and makes those final episodes unwatchable, particularly when it comes to gaffs such as the infamous coffee cup. As an adult viewer, this abrupt departure from the spectacle brings to mind only money-grabbing. You shouldn’t be able to see the seams on a story, but you can see them here and they are all green.
Worse, perhaps, was the “subversive” final twist that turned a hero to a villain in an episode with little buildup. But I suppose this also fits with being a fan in adulthood, a time full of other abrupt reversals in all you know to be true. This is particularly accurate for those who have come of age in the information age, when the internet can be counted on to “well, actually….” any truth you hold dear. The hero isn’t really a hero. Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America. Bill Cosby’s legacy isn’t funny. Danaerys really did just roast all those people.
It seems a general consensus across the fandom that Dany’s reversal could be accepted if the form, the way of the storytelling, was adequate. However, the way the story is set up here, including the abandonment of logical storylines in favor of a quick exit, seems to lead the viewer to the only conclusion available: none of this ever meant anything.
For those who grew up with satisfying ends to previous series like Harry Potter, Game of Thrones is the worst sort of story. Harry ended with hope, empowerment, and a call to resist and defend against the dark arts wherever they may arise. To have found such a satisfying ending years ago in childhood reading a simple novel, but not in adulthood in one of the most expensive, modern HBO productions of all times, seems wrong. Game of Thrones, rather, has all the bleakness of the “real world.” Its ending seems to say everything is about money and nothing really matters.
In trying to recapture the joy of a childhood favorite, I, and many others, stumbled into Game of Thrones, a tale that could not sustain itself or the expectations of its fans. The sheer lack of effort to tell the story well or in a way the maintained meaning is a serious eff you to fans like me who had experienced better, more satisfying stories in much simpler forms.