For the First Fans of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic in Westeros, tonight’s season finale will bring about an ending (of sorts) they’ve been waiting for since August 1996. Yet, the ending that we all think is coming — either from foreshadowing on the show or from the any number of series finale leaks online — seems destined to disappoint not just book fans but almost every viewer of the series.
Even if none of the leaks are true, the ending will likely disappoint a significant portion of the audience, save for the most enlightened. Now, I don’t mean that people who hate or like this current season are objectively right or wrong. Rather, when I say “enlightened,” I mean very specifically the sort of viewer/reader who accepts precisely the story they are given instead of the story they want or expect. There is a metaphorical Grand Canyon’s worth of distance between a piece of art being objectively “bad” and simply not liking it on an individual level. It’s this distinction that suggests that the era of the “television event” is over and that’s a good thing for stories.
Game of Thrones might legitimately be the last true nationwide (hell, worldwide) television event, at least where scripted series are concerned. To be fair, this has been said about many shows from The Sopranos to LOST to many others. Naturally, the melancholic missives pine for the days when there were only three networks and a significant portion of the country sat down to enjoy a story or show at the same time. Television became a communal event, whereby people would discuss what they watched the next day at work or at school. Things like “Who Shot J.R.?” or “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” could captivate everyone, even folks who normally didn’t watch much TV. Tonight, the latest chapter in this larger story, Game of Thrones, comes to a close. So popular is this series, HBO had to work with many different providers to ensure the episode premieres globally at the same time as a way to cut down on leaks and piracy.
Yet, at least for scripted series, bringing the story to the end after an extended hiatus is a kind of Faustian bargain. With fans, some who have been waiting decades, eager to find out the end, sticking the landing becomes that much more difficult. Even if tonight’s episode is perfect, the legacy in the minds of all…