Do we even know what we want anymore?
!Spoiler Warning but come on!
I’ve written a piece about Game of Thrones every week for the last five weeks. They’ve ranged from a think piece on Daenerys, to our understanding of love through the lens of the show, and even nature of madness. You as a reader have plenty of episode breakdowns and recaps to peruse across almost every website, regardless of its normal content, so I didn’t feel a need to add to that noise.
I wanted to examine this show through different critical avenues because it had become such a cultural touchstone that it seemed to transcended traditional TV, if only for a short while.
This is easy to argue, and there are plenty of culturally important TV shows that came before it, a list as long as it is important, but I think attempting to paint GoT in a different, if not superior, light is equally valid. The later season drop off in quality notwithstanding, GoT has never not been important enough to talk about.
Now we’re here, with the series complete, wrapped up about as nicely as could be expected of a narrative built on incest, patricide, crucifixion and immolation. Maybe the last rug that GoT decided to pull out from under us was this idea that the finale needed to be as dour as possible, serving up a bowl of sadness filled with the floating pieces of our favorite characters a la the Frey Stew Arya cooked up for Walder in the season six. In comparison, this ending was positively cheerful, giving a bright and happy future to nearly all the people we would consider to be good and honorable.
And people are pissed.
Which is incredible because this could be the title of this article, or a recap prompt from almost every single episode this season. But it’s not; the title of this article is Do we even know what we want anymore?, and this isn’t a facetious or even rhetorical prompt. It’s a question for every fan of everything, particularly media that you, at one point or another, felt was solely yours. Something that you felt a close connection with before it became too big for you to hold on to anymore.
Many of you reading this are your friends’ Game of Thrones friend or… in all likelihood I am yours. There’s a reason for that, the same reason that you might be someone’s Star Wars friend or their Basketball friend (Blazers in seven). When you talk about the thing you’re known for, there’s a resonant frequency that draws in the likeminded, and holds onto the likehearted. And there’s a vicious cycle, or maybe an armoring, that comes from being a source of requested opinions for people. It folds back upon it self, strengthens resolve and belief that the thing you care so much about is indeed yours, and that it should bend and respond to your whim at an almost molecular level.
Never mind that you didn’t write the books, never mind that you don’t work on the show, and definitely never mind that you don’t even pay for your own HBO subscription. Sensibility be damned, if things don’t work out the way you want them to, the royal WE riot.
So what are we left with when what we want from our favorite shows, books and movies doesn’t quite work out the way we’d hoped? Usually, and dramatically, a sense of existential dread that pervades our daily existence. I’m not going to attempt to sit on high and act like the destruction of King’s Landing last episode didn’t put me into a emotional state that was incredibly difficult to understand. I think it’s fair to congratulate a piece of media for making us feel anything at all these days but we do generally want to feel good or at least entertained.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s an entire cottage industry that sprung up to remind everyone on Beyoncé’s internet that we should have seen this all coming, but to this fastidious group of historians, I’d ask a bit of grace be granted to people having a valid reaction to genocide.
This brings up an entirely eternal concept, but one that has never had the ability to spread itself as far and as quickly as it can now: the policing of people’s opinions. In the same way that we feel ownership over the art we consume, we also feel compelled to control the critical discourse around it and, if necessary, chastise those who disagree with our take. There’s not as much room for opinion to exist as objective personal experience. Opinion has become, to a vocal few, right or wrong.
We have to have something to say, we have to have opinions so that we may be judged as correct or incorrect about the things we consume. There’s a reason we feel compelled to rate and review almost everything we experience, from food to hotels to sock. Having something to say is what I’m doing right now, in critique of our almost addictive pull to be heard, to leave some kind of impression, reflecting my own analysis as these letters jump to the screen.
That lack of control, both of the things we consume, and in our ability to internalize our opinions is exacerbated by our need to connect via social media. I know for a fact, that even though I have to strength to put my phone down during the episode, as soon as the credits hit, I can’t open Twitter fast enough. Consuming the memes, seeing the anger and responding to generalized questioning is a part of the show! And in the following days when the measured analysis begins to pour out, freed at least a bit from reactionary fervor, I find myself devouring think pieces as if they’re the only thing that could sustain my life force.
It’s like… if we can find one other person, in life or online, that agrees with our Bran has warging Arya the whole time theory, we can finally rest.
So again, we’re here at the end of it all, possibly upset with the choices made, sitting in judgement of the opinions of others, seeking validation from our peers and internet strangers, all while holding on to the self righteous certainty that our experience is unique and just. Is this all there is? Have we lost the ability to just enjoy things or is this what enjoying things looks like now? What do we even want anymore?
Probably more Game of Thrones.
At least that’s what I want. I feel genuinely sorry for folks that now see this ride as a waste of the better part of a decade. I know this season hasn’t been perfect and I’m 100% going to use this sentence to continue my 10 seasons/100 episodes alternate universe request, but we were still treated to some truly incredibly television this season, even if the writing left much to be desired.
I can imagine that as the years go by, and production folks, and even the stars themselves, feel less burdened by their proximity to the show, that information of the how-and-why of the late series shifts will come to light. And maybe this will explain, if not assuage some of the let down fans may have experienced over the past month and a half. But more likely, for myself certainly, it won’t matter at all, and will end up as an additional interesting footnote to an incredibly series that we dearly miss.
Personally, I know what I want… right now. I want to enjoy that Arya made it through alive and with some semblance of serenity, free from the hatred and vengeance that drove her for so long. I want to be happy and relieved that Ghost finally got his good-boy-pats and that Jon is almost certainly never going back to the Night’s Watch. I also want to think that it’s understandable, telegraphed, and yet still a bit ridiculous that Bran “King Meme” Stark is now King of Westeros.
I want to have questions, and think critically, and wonder knowing full well that most if not all of my lingering GoT questions will go unanswered. As a matter of fact, I’d prefer it that way, because the idea that my Macumber headcannon or Meera Reed/Podrick Payne shipping losing narrative value is too much! Think about the deluge of confirmation/denial MCU fan theories have received from the Russo brothers and ask yourself if you really want Benioff and Weiss telling you that yes, Dany was pregnant and JON KNEW! Where my quickening womb heads at?!
I know it’s impossible for everyone to have an entirely positive reaction to something that we spent 73+ hours with. Reactions are all valid, and though some may be more pronounced and for show than others, that doesn’t mean they aren’t rooted in some individualized truth. If you’re hurting right now because you feel like the show let you down, I’m so sorry and I hope you can remember that it doesn’t keep you from still enjoying the parts you remember fondly. Hell, you can choose to act like this season didn’t even happen and protest loudly to your friends “what a shame HBO never got to finISH THEIR GAME OF THRONES SERIES, DENISE!”
And if you’re happy, yay! I am too! It wasn’t perfect but what is? Part of enjoying things is being able to view them critically and still decide that it’s worth enjoying. Believing that it’s a questionable narrative choice to have the big, world ending bad guy of the previous seven seasons removed in a single episode doesn’t mean that The Battle of the Blackwater never happened.
Try and remember that what you may see as pandering may be the type of fan service that someone else lives for. Try also to remember the your experiences and privilege might make it difficult for you to even recognize that something that reads innocuous and story driven to you might be heartbreaking and show destroying for others. Being a fan is a communal experience sure, but it’s an individual undertaking.
So as we mull over our feelings, let’s be kind to one another. You may see someone’s reaction and think: “Nope! That’s ridiculous and wrong, and not how I saw it at all.” It’s totally fine to think that. But maybe just keep it in your noggin and let it pass, because the momentary thrill you might feel from dunking on strangers on the internet is fleeting, but being a jerk is forever.
And as always and forever: The Queen in the North! Long May She Reign!