It’s Monday, which means for most of us, it’s time to waste our workdays by reading professional hot takes and social media comments about the latest Game of Thrones episode.
Like most of the chapters in this shortened final season, this last episode sure was a doozy. It brought Dany’s army to King’s Landing, and concluded the conflict the show had been building since the very first episode.
I’m not going to give any plot spoilers beyond that brief summary.
What I do want to talk about is just one thing:
David and Dan
Venture into any Game of Thrones comment section on the web, and you’ll very quickly see a faction of people claiming the show has fallen off. Often, these folks will be quick to point the finger at “D&D”, aka David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the show’s executive producers. You will recognize these men as the talking heads who pop up on the “Thrones Explained” featurettes after every episode.
Yes, as executive producers and co-creators of the show, much of the authorship of the show lies with these two. They certainly don’t help their case by featuring so heavily in the explanatory featurettes.
But here’s where Thrones fans get unfair about things. They start comparing a real thing that exists to an imaginary, theoretical version which will supposedly fix all the flaws.
I’m talking, of course, about “the books”
As many of the aspiring writers on Medium will know all-too-well, a book is always is perfect inside your head. Lots of people say “oh yeah, I’ve got a great idea for a book/movie/blog/podcast/etc.” The idea is easy. How many people actually make their thing?
As everyone knows by now, the Game of Thrones show is based on an incomplete series of fantasy books by author George R. R. Martin, titled A Song of Ice and Fire (“A Game of Thrones” is the title of the first book in the series). Martin has written five books, which coincide with (roughly) the first six seasons of the show.
Martin, then, is the one who created this wonderful world and set the brutal tone which attracted so many viewers to Thrones in the first place.
The last book was released in 2011, in between the first and second seasons of the TV show. To the disappointment of many, Martin has failed to produce a continuation of the story, even as he saw the TV series gaining popularity and threatening to finish his story for him.
His direct involvement in the TV series has been limited for the past few seasons. He gave D&D plot notes, but has not written an episode or served as an executive producer for several seasons.
Each book in the Thrones saga has taken Martin longer to write than the last (probably due to a five-year timeskip he originally planned and then erased, as mentioned in the note at the end of A Feast For Crows). Martin used to blog about his writing process, but as the show’s popularity grew and more people started harassing him online about the next book, Martin clammed up about Thrones.
He has stated a couple times that he is unhappy with some of the plot decisions made in the TV adaptation, and says the forthcoming books (at least two are expected), will be significantly different. He has said the endings will likely be the same in principle, but will be reached via different paths.
Still, in the eight years since A Dance With Dragons was published, we have not seen a new book.
Possibility is Intoxicating. Resolution Isn’t.
From the opening credits sequence, panning across that now-iconic map of Westeros, Game of Thrones was a widening world. It had more machinations, twists, and possibilities than all but the most dedicated viewers could keep up with.
Characters were spread out in half a dozen locations across the geographic breadth of two continents, often working at cross-purposes without ever knowing it, or even having met.
It’s interesting to note that A Dance With Dragons ends with many characters set on the path to meet each other. But the actual work of resolving those plotlines is never done.
In the last few seasons of the show, showrunners Weiss and Benioff have been left with the unenviable job of wrapping up a story that people love for its breadth. A story they love just as much as you do — more, actually. Remember, they read these books and pitched HBO on a series before you even knew how to pronounce Khaleesi.
A series that began with an exiled queen and a supernatural threat beyond the Wall was always going to end with that queen returning to battle for the lost throne, and that supernatural force invading the lands of the living.
As much as Thrones likes to subvert viewer’s expectations, it is still beholden to the basic rules of storytelling.
Character arcs, which in middle seasons seemed so rich and full of potential, eventually have to winnow down, to come to some sort of end. This is unenviable work.
It is easier to open than to close.
People are more attracted to possibilities than to periods.
I’ve seen many, many people comment “They threw out the character development of x y and z characters”, or “I would have been fine if it went this way.”
Every episode brings with it more and more people complaining that their expectations weren’t met, a great injustice was done, the ending wasn’t earned, or whatever. That diamond is narrowing.
A story needs to end.
One as popular as Game of Thrones was never going to end in a way that satisfies every viewer. And indeed, Thrones has made its name by NOT giving viewers what they want.
George R. R. Martin declined to finish this story. I suspect the pressure of the fame and the demands of the fans took its toll on him, and simply drained the joy from the endeavour. One needs only to look at the way people online talk about D & D to see why Martin might not have been enthused to finish his books.
Benioff and Weiss and every single other person on the writing team set out to deliver a beginning, a middle, and an end to a story which has kept all of us entertained for a great many years.
“Perfect is the enemy of good”, as the saying goes.
Sure, some aspects of the ending might be disappointing to you. Very few shows go out on a perfect note.
But don’t criticise the only people who had the courage to deliver you an ending. One, it’s lazy. (See: The Death of the Author). Two, it’s ungrateful.
While Martin toils away in darkness, polishing his manuscripts until he believes they are perfect as they must be, the Thrones crew followed through on their commitment. They made a piece of art and put it out for the joy of the public.
That’s a brave act, and I say: thank you.