'Game of Thrones' is just a TV show, so why do people make it personal?

Fans watch the final episode of Game of Thrones at a watch party in the Manhattan borough of New York. Picture: Reuters

Fans watch the final episode of Game of Thrones at a watch party in the Manhattan borough of New York. Picture: Reuters

Published May 23, 2019


To say some fans were displeased with the ending of HBO's fantasy series "Game of Thrones" would be an understatement.

More than 1.4 million people have signed a petition on Change.org asking for HBO to "remake Game of Thrones Season 8 with competent writers." The creator of the page, Dylan D., wrote that "fans invested a wealth of passion and time into this series. I've been watching religiously since Season 2, myself. I've read all the books and eagerly await the next two. I love this story, and I, like most of you, was crushed to see how the last season (and Season 7, let's be real) has been handled."

Social media, meanwhile, has been aflame with criticism of the show's finale

Disappointment is one thing, but many fans' reactions were brimming with far stronger emotions, ranging from sadness to anger.  And some viewers claimed that the ending tainted their memories of the previous seven seasons, ruining the show in its entirety.

There's no question that endings matter," said novelist Fiona Maazel, who teaches creative writing at Princeton University.

"I think a lot of people would argue that for 'Game of Thrones,' it wasn't inevitable at all. There was very little packed into the prior eight years that might have prepared for you the outcome (that actually occurred)," Maazel said. "An ending that's unexpected without feeling inevitable just feels unaccounted for, strains credulity, and I think a lot of people are struggling with that."

The predictability of some aspects of this season didn't help, she added.

"The queen goes mad. The man kills his love for duty. I mean, for God's sake, it's just trope after trope being rehashed by a show that prided itself by exploding exceptions," Maazel said. "The ending certainly wasn't inevitable. And it was, on the one hand, unexpected because ... the characters hadn't developed in a way to sufficiently warrant that ending. But yet it was completely predictable because they mobilized all these tropes that they had shunned from the beginning."

By those standards, the finale did not provide a good ending. But why do fans care so much?

Over time, "you develop relationships with the characters, and they're deep. It's as if they're your friends, your enemies, your neighbours or even your loved ones," said Amanda D'Annucci-Kean, who has studied the psychology of storytelling."There's a connection deeper than empathy. It's personal. And once that story ends, your relationship ends. All your friendships are over, and all your lovers are gone. It just ends, and it's devastating."

In other words, emotions are already running high when a show is ending. And when it ends poorly, those emotions can be anger and betrayal.

This can particularly be the case when characters don't act the way they have been presented, such as, say, Grey Worm letting Jon Snow live or Daenerys breaking bad in a split-second, rather than slowly descending into madness.

"When these characters are not true to themselves in a way you've experienced, you know it," D'Annucci-Kean said. "You lose that connectedness. 

"Writers need to give justice to their characters and have respect for the character development that they've made," she added. "And when they don't, it puts a bad taste in people's mouths who trust them as well as the characters that they've developed."

Maazel feels similarly, pointing out that part of it is a viewer wanting a return on investment.

"The kind of endings people really want is to learn something, to grow, to feel like their investment over the past eight years or 500 pages or two hours has borne fruit, (created) a revelation, the kind that might dawn on you six months later," she said.

That, though, isn't what happened. Instead, the show "went for the easy resolution. ... You'll notice that all of our heroes survived. The core people all survived, and they went off and got their just due."

She compared the feeling to when she was an alternate on a jury. For months, she listed to testimony and became invested in the trial. But when it came time to deliberate, she wasn't allowed to participate. Instead, she was cut free. She literally didn't even get to see the ending, and she essentially felt as if her time was wasted.

"A terrible ending can really undo a lot of the pleasure of the experience we've had," she said. "You can feel like you wasted your engagement."

Washington Post

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