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Entertainment, entitlement, and empathy

  • Published at 12:06 am June 9th, 2019
Game of Thrones

How a show brought together millions of people across the world

For the past decade, 20 million people around the world participated in a pop-culture furore fuelled by HBO’s fantasy, political drama Game of Thrones that came to an end on May 17, 2019. Unlike its critically acclaimed predecessors, the final season nosedived into the show’s historical negative critical reviews, and also elicited fiery, disquieting reactions from fans, with 1.5 million of them signing a petition and demanding a remake with “competent writers.” To many, the sensation of Game of Thrones will now be remembered as a fable on power that died in shock and awe, that butchered its female heroine, and its legacy.  

The Stark actors Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran) and Sophie Turner (Sansa) have lambasted the goofy petition as a disrespectful entitlement from fans. As a Thrones zealot myself, I was also disappointed to have waited two long years dissecting widespread fan theories, only to receive a truncated season that rushed through fire and ice to close with a hilarious staff meeting kind of political resolution led by a pseudo-intelligent prisoner, Tyrion Lannister, who hasn’t spearheaded even one smart decision in the last two seasons. 

What I cannot relate to, however, is the need to shame the entire show and delusively, or even jokingly, pressurize a remake, but it’s not only that -- a new horde of jilted Game of Thrones fans who also happen to watch Star Wars have started another petition on change.org -- commonly used for poverty alleviation fundraising -- to rally that assigning writers David Benioff and DB Weiss for Star Wars was a “mistake, plain and simple.” There’s no denying that the writing for Season 8 could’ve been better, but disliking someone’s painting doesn’t mean you get to ask them to repaint it, or push the art world to sack them indefinitely. 

Over the past two weeks, as the wildfire of debates died down, I pragmatically made my peace with the final season, diverting my thwarted attention from the callous “coffee cup and water bottle” editing blunders to the unreal shots of Danaerys’s silver plaids overlooking the sombre King’s Landing in ashfire. But after watching HBO’s two-hour long documentary, essentially a love-letter to the cast and the crew -- “The Last Watch,” released on Sunday, May 26 -- I have come to appreciate the effort from Game of Thrones, no matter how flawed it has been. 

Watching the actors react to the demise of the mother of dragons gave me enough goosebumps to comprehend that I’ve been living in Westeros, vicariously through real human beings. At that moment, I found myself empathizing with the massive impact of this show on non-fictional beings who actually lived in it. 

The documentary spotlights the cameras and the carpenters, the extras, the make-up artists, and even a man whose sole job is to convincingly sprinkle fake snow on set. You hear musical flashes from Leonard Cohen’s song, “You want it darker” that makes you forget that episode 3 was too dark, you realize that Arya Stark vaulted off a pile of dead wights when she stabbed the Night King, you see Sophie Turner cannot stop crying when Sansa says goodbye to the departed Theon Greyjoy, you can’t help but feel that Vladimir Furdik’s existential crisis is almost the same as the Night King’s role in the show. We hear their perspective of the world they’ve given us, and somewhere along those lines, we realize that we’ve shared a relationship not only with Westeros, but also with those who brought it to our home every week. 

Now, I’m not saying that we should force ourselves to love the ending and overlook its huge shortcomings only because people toiled passionately to make it. I’m saying the frills of entertainment don’t come as easily as we imagine it to be. 

It is always easy to be critical of the show, claim and offer alternate endings -- my friends and I have come up with plenty, but decided that this one could’ve still worked had the series been given a few more episodes (not seasons, that’s just absurd). But production designer Deborah Riley debunks the reality: “The schedule is impossible … I think this season we’ve certainly found the limit of what’s able to be achieved.” 

Most of us, behind our screens, have invested our passion and time to consume the television experience that HBO has given us for the past ten years, which is why we didn’t deserve a rogue coffee cup in the faux-medieval world. But for those on the other side of the screen, they have dedicated their lives to assemble this story -- as Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow tearfully puts it in his speech after his shooting his final scene: “I love this show more than, I think, anything. It has never been a job for me. It has been my life.” 

Now that it’s all over, we can appreciate that the legacy of this Game of Thrones spectacle is not in its insipid ending, but rather in the hyper-reality that brought together millions of people from different nationalities and cultures and tied them with magical characters -- a reckoning that whenever we watch such miracles come to life, we become involved with countless non-fictional beings who open the door for us to dive into the parallel universe basked in a dragon-fire, zombies, good, evil, and everything else in between. 

Ramisa Rob is a graduate from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.