It was the fans who made this a memorable viewing experience.
HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is ending after 8 seasons, and Sunday nights won’t be the same.
Still, I won’t miss the dragons or the incest or the geysers of bloody CGI gore that flowed each week. And no, I won’t miss the show’s signature storytelling technique, commonly known as “sexposition,” that involved naked chatty characters moving the plot along while grinding away on a costar.
No, here’s what I will miss the most: The creative work of some of the world’s most inventive minds, who each week spun stories that expanded your imagination and boggled the mind. (And yes, that means there are spoilers.)
I’m, of course, referring to the show’s fans on social media, specifically Twitter. (Sure, George R.R. Martin’s fantasy book series deserves all the kudos it gets — he’s a wonderful writer and storyteller, if a little tardy on the production side — and showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss turned those massive books into an iconic TV experience.)
But it was the fans who really enhanced this as a viewing experience. Each week in the lead-up to a new episode, there would be an outpouring of social media speculation about what was going to happen — or, to hear some experts tell it, what absolutely had to happen — with loads of telling clues plucked from the last episode that they’d annotated and enumerated to prove their theory of how the story would unfold. It was often compelling and occasionally conclusive.
Until the next episode aired, often obliterating even the most well-articulated theories.
That disconnect between expectation and the actual episode is why there’s such widespread frustration with this final season. In fact, there’s a petition currently circulating to remake the current season in order to get it right, and as I write this it’s passed half a million signatures. By the time you read this in print, it’ll surely be far beyond that number.
So is this season terrible? No. Is it as good as every one of us Twitter experts imagined? Not even close, and that’s what’s stirred the passions of this most passionate audience. They love the show and want it to deliver on its dozens of plot lines and provide the kind of satisfaction only available in Tyrion Lannister’s wildest dreams.
This season, however, offered lots of missed opportunities and mangled plot points to howl about. Here are just a few: Why was the long-feared Night Army so easy to defeat, and why was the long-awaited episode so darkly lit? Why were there multiple scenes of people sitting around talking with all the drama of a city council meeting, but almost zero scenes where the important information we cared about was actually discussed, whether it was Jon Snow telling his siblings about his true heritage or his half-sister blabbing it to Tyrion who then blabbed it some more? Why didn’t we see more of the characters we love, but we did see that Starbucks cup?
That’s why the fan reactions were so rewarding: They passionately spoke the truth. Once the episode ended — or even before it ended sometimes — viewers would have posted detailed notes about how they would have rewritten or reshot the episode. Whether it was turning on the lights during the blurry Battle of Winterfell or providing more buildup to the breakdown of Daenerys, the fans had plenty to say about how they would have done it differently.
Like the chatter generated during the run of the ABC series “Lost,” these fan-generated “Game of Thrones” ideas were often intelligent and well-informed. Some “GoT” viewers pointed out that the often-problematic depiction of women on the show was not helped by events this season, such as turning the mighty female knight Brienne of Tarth into a blubbering mess when Jaime Lannister, having taken her virginity, rides off to be with the only woman he truly loves, his twin sister.
Other conversations involved how the mother of dragons Daenerys turned into a fire-breathing genocidal maniac almost overnight — an especially painful blindside when it’s been reported that in 2018 alone more than 600 people named their children after the character, either as Khaleesi (queen) or Daenerys. (We feel for them after the character’s moral flameout, but did they not take any warning from parents who’d named their kids Anakin?)
Other fans rightly took issue with the show’s decision to take one of the best, most fully fleshed out and awful villains ever, Cersei Lannister, and just drop a bunch of bricks on her head rather than let any of the dozens of characters with a legitimate beef face off with her. Or have her go face to face with the mother of dragons. Or have a dragon just, you know, eat her face.
What the heck, said fans as they railed against the show’s disappointing moments. The fans were, after watching 70 episodes (with just this last one left), justified to complain.
Moreover, they were right to say, “Here’s how I woulda done it.”
There are plenty more theories out there. Go on Twitter and look around, you’ll see. There are alternate endings, more satisfying acts of revenge and all manner of really fabulous stuff.
That’s what I’ll miss. In a time when our politics are divided and our sense of community has been battered by our addiction to our smartphones, “Game of Thrones” is one of the rare shows we all watch together on the same night, and it’s one of the rare times where we all gather on social media to hash out the ins and outs of each episode. It’s something we all feel like we have a stake in (even the haters, who get to announce how much they loathe the show as often as they like).
Soon, though, all that will be going away.
Or will it?
George R.R. Martin has several more books left to deliver, so there’s that, even if we won’t all be reading them together at the same time (or at all, to be honest). There will also be the other Martin-inspired HBO series that are in production. Will they be as good? Who knows, they may be even better. Or not.
But here’s the important question: Will they spark weekly frenzies of anguished theorizing and super-picky critiques, which, as negative as they can sound, are really the work of people who are passionate and dedicated fans?
Oh my Khaleesi, I hope so.