(Editor’s note: Contains spoilers for the entirety of “Game of Thrones.”)
On May 19, HBO aired the final episode of “Game of Thrones,” one of the most watched shows in the channel’s history. Not since “The Sopranos” had an HBO program so captivated a national audience. But unlike “The Sopranos,” “Game of Thrones” entered people’s homes in a time when the national cultural discourse happens through memes, Twitter, Facebook, GIFs and Instagram.'Game of Thrones' finale: What happened to every major character in the show
Here are five things we learned from “Game of Thrones” and its relationship to social media.
1. Good source material is better than no source material.
The first four seasons of “Game of Thrones” drew on George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel series, “A Song of Ice and Fire.” This prompted fierce discussion of what was taken from the books and what was ignored from the books, usually in the form of detailed blog posts, Facebook discussions and Twitter threads. So far, so good (more or less).'Game of Thrones' isn't over: What to know about spinoff shows, books and other projects
Starting with much of Season 5, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, allegedly working from an outline of the next few books from Martin, started taking the show in their own direction. And ... you could feel it. The show seemed to play a little faster and looser with the characters. This didn’t make it worse, just different. By Season 7, fans complained about their favorite citizens of Westeros acting “out of character,” meaning that the characterizations they had come to expect from Martin’s vision were being altered. By Season 8, even folks who still loved the show found it hard to square certain plot points with what was happening on-screen.'Game of Thrones' fans have a new motto against HBO
2. The jokes. Oh, the jokes.
One of the best aspects of “Game of Thrones” generating a massive, diverse fanbase was how people with wildly divergent senses of humor felt compelled to make jokes about the show — like on Twitter, the watercooler of the 21st century. This, for me, was one of the most nakedly enjoyable things about the show: reading gut-bustingly funny (and smart) jokes from people of all kinds, every conceivable race, creed and sexual orientation. Dragon jokes, for a few years, were one of our great unifiers.The 'Game of Thrones' cast says goodbye to the show and their characters
3. Fans love to complain as much or more than they love to enjoy, and it is part of the same gesture.
If we could generate electricity by harnessing the power of fans complaining online about fiction they consume, we could drop our dependence on fossil fuels tomorrow. I understand why people love to complain about this program, but the reasons that people loved to complain about it is so much come from a few things. Soap opera storytelling. Just enough character identification to get people from all over heavily invested. Fantasy elements that are suddenly no longer too nerdy to admit to enjoying. Access to the internet. Combine all of that with a certain amount of fan entitlement that seems to be metastasizing by the hour, and you have all of the conditions necessary for a whole lot of complaining. Speaking of fan entitlement ...‘Game of Thrones’ finale: The [REDACTED] is dead, boys / and it’s so lonely on a limb
4. The status quo will always be with you.
The first season of “Game of Thrones” presented a fantasy world where fantastical elements appeared sparingly. (Folks forget that it wasn’t until the final episode of Season 1 that we even saw a dragon. For all we knew, Dany’s dragon eggs were actually rocks.) It presented a world that showed monarchical power pursued almost for its own sake (because the alternative was to be crushed by fellow monarchs), a critique of feudalism and an ongoing demonstration of how the lust for power resulted in a wide range of corruptions. What made it interesting was the extent to which “Thrones” subverted and futzed with these ideas — two of the leads pursuing such power were women.Viewers spotted two plastic water bottles in the ‘Game of Thrones’ finale
But even from the jump, there’s was always an element of the status quo, especially regarding sex.
Unfortunately, there isn’t anything much more mainstream in America than sexualized violence, and “Thrones” virtually led off with that. Even as that got turned down a notch in later seasons (possibly due to fans complaining, which complicates all of this even more), the palace intrigue gave way to good-versus-evil tropes, even if we could never completely agree on just how evil everyone was.
And as far as relationship arcs, there’s a lot of singleness to go around. Sansa, a character who was abused by many different men, outlived her abusers and sits on a throne looking very much like noted “virgin” Queen Elizabeth I. Tyrion mentions having not had sex, which he clearly enjoyed, in forever. Arya, who enjoyed only one night with Gendry, sails off into the sunset alone. Jon, having lost two lovers by his own hand (more or less), returns to the celibate Night’s Watch. Brienne, abandoned by Jaime, leads the celibate Kingsuard. It’s lonely in the new Westeros.‘Game of Thrones’ series finale: the best reaction memes to ‘The Iron Throne’
By the end of the show, the monarchy remains; Bran, a white man (albeit paraplegic), rules Westeros; and most of the characters of color have left the country completely or been killed. The more things change ...
5. Place not thy faith in the ability of serialized fiction to do what you want it to do.
This one seemed to land especially hard, even as serialized fiction, rather than the done-in-one procedural (like, say, “Law & Order”), is the go-to format for both “prestige” TV and blockbuster movies (see also the Marvel and “Star Wars” universes).
I have been reading comic books — both genre fiction and not — for about 40 years. Let me tell you: Writers of serialized fiction are never, ever, ever going to do exactly what you want them to do. I know this sounds insanely basic (and even “basic” in the pejorative sense), but too many fans seem to think the trade-off for investing time (and, in premium TV’s case, money) in a longform story is for the story to behave the way they want it to. Repeat after me: This is not actually how art works.