As is my wont, being both ahead of my time in that I haven’t owned a TV for years (decades?) and rely completely on on-demand streaming services, and simultaneously (apparently) an insufferable luddite in my refusal to illegally obtain content, I finished watching Game of Thrones about a century behind the rest of the world. Then I ventured online to see whether everyone else thought the ending was as good as I did. Full disclosure: that’s not quite true, I’d heard rumours people were disappointed but didn’t want to spoil it for myself so didn’t look too hard. After finishing the series, speaking with people offline and looking online, I was at first surprised at the vehemence of people’s dislike. But after reading and hearing the same complaints repeated a few times, somewhat overgrown neural psychotherapist pathways sparked off their dust and yielded the diagnosis of, well, basically, separation anxiety.
There was a lot of disappointment about Jon Snow. He was all built up, people complained, then the character just turned into nothing and went nowhere (I beg to differ, actually, he was all over the place…). Danaerys Targaryen, they complained, went completely off-piste and behaved inconsistently with her personality.
How? I asked them. Nobody could really say. They just screwed up their faces and said they were done with the series and wouldn’t be reading the last books when they were eventually released and that was that. Again, I was struck by the intensity of their anger and found myself thinking, Jeeze, peeps, it’s just a TV show! Well all right, and a book. But still, really?
‘You know what happened?’ One person said, in a conspiratorial voice. ‘All the actors were offered jobs on another show and they just said the filming was taking too long and demanded it was wrapped up fast. That’s why it was so crap. They had to do a rush job.’ Maybe true, I said, but what do you think was so crap about it? No answer other than that it was crap and that [the rush job] was why. Still… What other characters disappointed you? I asked. Like the rest of them, that person also could only confabulate on the topic.
It mostly came back to Dany and Jon Snow and screwed up, disappointed, angry faces with no concrete explanations offered. A half-hearted google also throws up disappointment about the end of House Stark, Tyrion not getting a girlfriend and Arya not being the one to cap Cersei. These all in my view, support my opinion about why people really didn’t like the ending. Incidentally, I gather there was even an online petition to have the last series re-shot! Offline, one person gave me the desultory offering that there were just so many characters that had been built up to ‘be something’ and just not turned out to be anything but in my view this is yet more evidence of the real reason and where my suspicion began to dawn. Behind the confusing intensity of passion, It was all just starting to sound like standard disappointment, which many psychology texts offer is a much refined descendant of its more primal squalling ancestor: infant abandonment.
I thought both plot and characters came to reasonable conclusions and met fates befitting their personalities.
Leaving aside the characters for a minute, I thought that without getting preachy, the plot was an excellent comment on present day humanity. Cersei made her calculations with the distance and unreliability of information travelling across it – not too much Internet in Westeros – in mind. The North, from whence the common existential threat came, was far away and set apart from the warmer more hospitable and populous regions in Southern Western (sounding like anything familiar yet?). The story of what went on up north was, as far as Cersei was concerned, mutable to her purposes, much as real life narrative about climate-change – where the north, funnily enough, is also a key location – is mutable to corporate and political agendas.
Similarly, gaps in privilege in general and even actual north-south cultural and socio-economic divisions exist in many countries, not least the United Kingdom where rumblings about Scottish independence refuse to abate. I think these (or maybe some equivalent somewhere else in George Martin’s mind, I’m always numb to cultural references) were represented in the differing views and nature of Winterfell and Kings Landing. As in the series, so it is in real life where the underprivileged bear the brunt of the first assaults of climate change and the privileged can literally and figuratively afford to ignore it and remain self-absorbed in power and wealth squabbles for a little longer. That’s without even getting started on the far more obvious parallel of serfs and feudal rulers represented nowadays by corporations and wealthy individuals versus the less powerful and poorer workers who slave away to keep the rich wealthy and the powerful in power. Who knows, in future, maybe it will also be the descendants of the currently ‘well connected’, rich and powerful who live in the coveted paradise areas of the globe still warm enough and dry enough to produce abundant food and crops while the rest of humanity dies back from cold-driven starvation and disease through rising sea levels and encroaching swamplands. I’ve always been shit at interpreting poetry and the deeper themes of stories but I don’t think I’m miles away in this case.
Drilling down on the characters that have so disappointed people, again, nobody has been able to supply me with a coherent explanation for their disappointment. Anyone who, like me, has worked in investment banking could not argue that Eddard Stark’s death was the most plausible outcome. Honesty and truth don’t prevail in the face of greed, insecurity and paranoia. It was a shame for poor old Ed; believe me, I had to mourn him twice, first in the book then on film! But, set in his unsophisticated northern ways and determined not to accept the new reality in which he was thrust, he, well, got eaten alive by the lions he refused to believe existed. It’s what happens when you can’t adapt to any situation.
In Westeros where illegitimacy was taboo, Jon Snow couldn’t fail to have low expectations for himself; if people keep telling you you’re a bastard, you’ll start acting like one. But watch out. It’s dangerous to afford a bastard with no prospects a privileged upbringing. It means they’ve got the education and the skills to question everything and since the world is flawed, they will inevitably find everything wanting in seeing it for what it is and this will lead to a healthy disrespect for pomp and ceremony. With the lack of prospects their illegitimate status affords, they also tend to pose little political threat and if they’re smart, they’ll learn how to work it and quietly start to pose exactly the kinds of political threat nobody expects them to offer. In the end, they’ll have little conscience about standing on ceremony and that’s why Jon Snow was able to break his Night’s Watch vows with Ygritte and cross and double-cross the wildlings and the Night’s Watch for the greater good as he saw fit. Form and tradition and oaths and promises don’t mean much to you when you grow up a product and outside-observer of their mutability. Being a forced observer of the hegemony rather than a part of it Jon Snow would also be crippled by his inability to feel the tide of public opinion like those truly invested in it. Hence his difficulty understanding why, if he just said he didn’t want the throne, it would hardly matter what he wanted if the tide of public opinion weighed in for or against Danaerys. She on the other hand could see it all too clearly so when Jon’s true heritage was revealed the tension between them was right on the money.
Danaerys herself was brought up with a vengeful sense of entitlement to reclaim her stolen birthright. Rightly or wrongly, that was the reality handed down to her since before she could talk. But she also suffered abuse heaped with trauma stacked on further abuse. And on top of that she got some big breaks in life, being unburned by real actual flames and, figuratively, the mother of dragons where there had previously been none. It’s no surprise a very young human mind would fortify itself with an uncompromising sense of entitlement sublimated from the hurt and rage at the abuses and trauma she had endured. I think her eventual breakdown into rageful destructiveness and tyrannical ambition was a very plausible developmental arc as was Jon Snow’s killing her when he realised what she had become. Something has to give when a child is abused and hurt repeatedly. Put someone as scarred as she was in a position of such power as she had and it’s bound to go to their head and unhinge them even more. Power corrupts everyone. It’s doesn’t end well in the hands of the most sane people and Dany was crazy (sorry if you liked her) so it was double-bound to not end well.
Coming from a somewhat numbed emotional perspective, I was baffled throughout the earlier decades of my life, by people’s waxing lyrical about East-enders, Friends, Seinfeld, Neighbours and Shortland Street (look it up – I still call it ‘Shitland Street’ in my mind and have to consciously adjust speech and typing when in company), all of which I still find tedious to the point of unwatchability. Possibly assisted in understanding by years of having, studying and practising psychotherapy, definitely nudged in the direction of comprehension by a few stints living alone and turning to binge-watching for company during the long nights between weekends (when I could binge-watch even more), my confusion has grudgingly evolved into desultory and unreliable empathy for people who like soaps. I now understand at a felt level that it’s possible for even the most balanced individuals to become emotionally invested in plots and characters and the relationships between them as if they were real, or in the least worst case, more real than they are.
Actually what kind of crappy show would it be that you couldn’t feel at least a little about? A bit sad that Eddard died, a bit disappointed that Dany went crazy, a bit downcast that Jamie stayed on the wrong side in the end or a bit sorry for Tyrion that he didn’t get a girlfriend and grew such a conscience that even the pay-as-you-go option closed to him behind a door of his own making. It’s also well-known, that some less-balanced people form personal relationships with fictional characters, which they struggle – and sometimes fail – to distinguish from reality. That’s how you get hate-mail and death threats sent to actors in said shows. And I think it’s also how you get a lot of angry GOT fans when the pretty young things they’ve fallen in love with go and act all human and not the way they wanted them to.
Whether I’ve got the makers’ intentions for character development or sub-themes right or not, I don’t think the quality of the story is the source of viewers’ disappointment. I think it’s the fact that the best-dressed couple on set didn’t get their multi-orgasmic Disney honeymoon and the keys to the kingdom like in the olden days’ stories. Instead, there’s some weird guy with questionable social skills running the joint (rather than the populist vote winning out). Dany’s dead, Drogon’s MIA and Jon’s sitting around a campfire getting old in obscurity somewhere in the frozen wastes north of the broken-down wall; he doesn’t even have Ygritte to cuddle up to. What’s worse, there’s no hope it might all come right again because we were bereft of the show altogether when it had the indecency to come to an end and take all our favourite friends and secret lovers with it. There was nothing wrong with the story or the characters, other than that they went away.