Game of Thrones and the Impossible Task of Ending a Show Properly
Today's article will be super short. Anyone who has watched Game of Thrones (don't worry. No spoilers here. I won't even mention a single name) may be experiencing a withdrawal. Viewers that liked the finale have had to say farewell to a life they loved living vicariously for years. Fans that were disappointed may feel as though they spent so much time for a slap on the face. The topic of today's food-for-thought: does a filmmaker or show creator owe our expectations to us?
The short answer, to me, is no. You take on a risk by watching a show as it is on the air for so long. True, a show is kept on the air by viewership or subscription revenue, so that does show how important a following truly is. Yet, most shows have some sort of general idea as to how they will wrap up. This is usually not how they actually conclude. Circumstances dictate these finales more than anything. Which actor is still on the show? Who is writing for the show now? How long has a show been on the air? Do they have enough time to end their intended way? Have they been on for too long?
These are usually the main problems showrunners and writers have swirling around their heads. Do they have their audiences in mind? Absolutely. Who wants to purposefully turn out something fans won't like? What we have to remember is where shows first began: a visual artist and story teller's dream of their vision reaching the masses. It's a self fulfillment more than anything.
So, a show does well for the first season. Great! Now the audience comes into play. How does one sustain this viewership? Keep in mind, again, that this may not be a main priority, especially considering the fact that trying to put the story first does actually involve the fanbase (a good story pleases viewers). When it comes to your expectations of how something should end, that will almost never be the case. Again, this is the long gestated creation of someone that has put their everything into a story.
Let's not forget one important element: this is television. The avenues are endless when it comes to plot threads. With this amount of time, and the amount of characters a show usually houses, the possibilities are endless. It will be nearly impossible to follow your presumptions exactly. It will be virtually impossible to please everyone's specific wishes. Who even knows if showrunners and writers are on social media reading your thoughts and ideas. Chances are very slim that any post will persuade them to change their bigger picture that they have clung onto from the beginning.
However, Game of Thrones is a very special case. It's finale is as idiosyncratic as that of Lost's. Lost thrived in its metaphysical structure to the point that later episodes had plot summaries scrolling at the bottom for confused audience members. I've read the show being described as a fractal: a never ending pattern that branches off into eternity (I did not come up with this and forget who did, as I read this many years ago). For a show like Lost, where people attributed their own logics, it actually was the biggest task trying to please everybody. In the end, the Lost team didn't.
With Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin still has not completed the final two books (or so) of his acclaimed series. The writers had to start conjuring their own fates for the characters. This sped up pacing, confused motivations and created many other narrative issues. In the end, it was almost as doomed of a task as wrapping up Lost was, because it was a unique problem other screenwriters have not faced before.
Maybe you don't agree with how it ended. Or how other shows have ended. This is a shower thought meant to just enlighten the idea that these creators and writers are not out to get you. If you think about it, television shows are a fairly young medium. They only really got going sixty years ago, and their complete initial renaissance was in the '90s. Think of all of your favourite shows. How many finales have been bad? How many have been great? How many have just been competent? I can guarantee the amount of great episodes is slim. That's not your problem.
Television is always evolving. Not many shows have cracked the perfect finale. Six Feet Under. Mad Men. The Wire. You may even disagree with some of my picks. At the end of the day, watching television is a gamble. You become attached to your favourite new worlds. You never want them to end, but they must. You know how you would say goodbye, but chances are the people behind these shows don't know how you would. You may be frustrated now, but give it time, and consider the efforts that went into these best intentions. Television as a whole has hardly perfected the series finale; maybe we should stop expecting specific shows to do just that.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.