Game of Thrones, RIP

It almost goes without saying, but there will be many, many spoilers for many things (not necessarily limited to GoT), and, as with all my reviews, there’s not going to be any photos, because that would be an extra step between me and just writing. And there will be many, many nerdy tangents.

Well, the verdict is in, and, unsurprisingly, many people are upset by the series’ finale of Game of Thrones. I like Rob Bricken’s analysis that there is no way that a 10-year-long miniseries could possibly live up to expectations which were, to put it mildly, rabid at this point. For what it’s worth, I kind of liked it. Specifically, I liked the ambiguity and the bookends it ended on. I’ve learned — based on the reaction to the ending of Inception — that most people don’t like ambiguity. Most people — and I realize I’m prejudiced here — are unimaginative morons. If we, as a society, really didn’t value ambivalence and mystery, why would we have all these stupid spoilers? Why would we value anti-intellectualism to the point of making a university education — let alone grad school — nigh-unattainable? Probably because, subconsciously, we prefer ignorance and not-knowing to knowing. Or, at least we do in other people, and we’re lying to ourselves (there’s a shocker).

It basically ends with all the characters headed out on new adventures, toward new horizons — the trope TV Tropes describes as, “And the Adventure Continues.” It’s probably as good an ending as we could realistically hope for, given that there were 45 different characters and plotlines — we’ll call that “Deep Space Nine-itis.” And the sort of ambiguity of the ending is dramatically preferable to the show’s (indeed life itself’s) only certainty — death. The sheer number of named characters this show killed off over the years is overwhelming. I’d argue that the only way the series could show any consistency with its overall presentation and vision is some horrific plague killing every human character, and then the Dragons and White Walkers have it out over the mountain of human corpses. The fact that that wasn’t the ending is almost a twist in and of itself. As far as peoples’ complaints about the ending, I understand, but those are usually symptomatic of deeper problems with the series as a whole.

To paraphrase the cartoonist Scott Kurtz, if you’re a creative person, even if you’re just doing this as a hobby (or while recovering from a dangerous, chronic illness, in my case), you never know which characters/projects are going to resonate and “take off,” and, if that happens with a project you’re uninvested in, you have to be prepared to reinvest in it, rather than just cynically continue to exploit it. Exhibit A on that is George Lucas’s run on Star Wars, which, it’s clear, he didn’t really have any particular interest or designs on, apart from a weird, experimental film. And then it took off, and the money was so good, G. Lucas found it hard to walk away from; and we got Jar Jar Binks. In this case, GRRRR Martin didn’t really have anything invested in A Song of Ice and Fire — this is true, according to Wikipedia — and wrote the first few books after various screenplays, film pitches, and pilots were rejected in Hollywood. I know he’s not interested in this series, because he’s effectively stopped writing after he had enough money to walk away from it all. So, as I understand it, after the first few seasons, this series was, effectively, abandoned by its original creative team. I could describe later seasons as “choppy,” but there are Transformers films that aren’t this clunky.

Another issue behind the scenes is, as Neil Gaiman describes it, once you do have a creative endeavor that really takes off, you get known as “that guy/gal,” and executives don’t publish anything that can’t be neatly categorized next to your prior work (Has Stephen King ever gotten anything published that wasn’t a form of horror?). After the first few seasons, this was the series that got known for unexpectedly killing off beloved characters and disappointing fans. And nudity. Don’t get me wrong, I usually see that warning of “sex, violence, and adult language” as markers of quality, but those were the pillars upon which this show was built. And I don’t know how that leads to a dramatic conclusion, unless the characters all bone each other to death whilst cursing. But, I think that made it impossible for the producers to get money unless the finale fit into that unfortunately narrow category of “murder and fan disappointment.” If you accept that those are the central themes of the show (and I don’t see how you could argue otherwise, after the Red Wedding), then ending it with all the characters rushing off-screen to unexpected new adventures. Of course, I could be a bit biased, because they made the disabled kid the king, and, as a fellow cripple, I’m all for that.

Another issue I had with the series was the disjointed realism. Yes, women were treated horribly in medieval times — they were actually, legally property — but I’m very sure dragons and ice zombies didn’t exist, either, so it’s kind of hard to reconcile the casual misogyny of reality with the CGI. The best attempt at reconciling those two goes to Richard Morgan’s A Land Fit for Heroes series which makes the point that living in a fantasy series would be horrible, because you’d have all the problems of a medieval society, combined with the possibility of being unexpectedly devoured by supernatural creatures.

And there was never any coherent characterization on the part of the characters throughout the series. It suffered from severe Harry Potter-itis, where characters suffered very selective incompetence and/or absences as the plot powered on, regardless of the human cost (to steal from Rifftrax).

Basically, I liked the ending, but I’ll admit it had the same problems as the rest of the series. And, to all the haters, even though our society has a problem with victim-blaming, you probably should’ve expected nothing but disappointment after the Red Wedding. Another interesting creative cognitive bias worth discussing; the earlier seasons aren’t really any better or worse than the later seasons — I know, I binged them in preparation. We have a nasty tendency to view the past through rose-colored glasses; Dave Barry says that he started getting the “You used to be funnier” complaint when he only had a dozen columns published. The first series was the only one that didn’t seem disjointed and characterized by poor characterization; everything after Ned Stark’s beheading was less-than-stellar.

Which isn’t to say that this series — or any other mentioned here — is bad, just that there are a lot of things to complain about if you’re intent on even casual fault-finding. Speaking of casual, another question I’ve been seeing is, “Is this going to be the last water-cooler show where even casual audiences know what’s going on,” (usually in conjunction with the MCU going into the next, radically-different phase, as Star Wars will, too). Which is what we were all asking at the end of “How I Met Your Mother,” and “Cheers.” Yes, there will always be some sort of readily-accessible, pop-cultural phenomenon that unites us, even if that unity is a common hatred for Jared Kushner and Ivanka. My money’s on the next mega-series, Shogun, which has the benefit of being based on one of the best-selling novels ever (it is also, incidentally, the best novel ever written), which is based on historical events. Or there’s always Good Omens, which is out next week. Or the next Godzilla movie, which is also coming out shortly. So, if you’re disappointed in the Game of Thrones finale, boo hoo, but your pain is only going to last 15 minutes before some cool, new sprawling franchise is unveiled.


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Patrick Koske-McBride

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”