Ian Harris: Can Thrones endgame satisfy?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - 5:12pm

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With last week’s release of the much anticipated trailer for Season 8 of the HBO megahit “Game of Thrones,” one thing is clear: The end is near. After eight seasons, almost 10 years, and more than two decades of waiting for George R.R. Martin to pull his story together, the Westerosi Saga will finally reach it’s end. Or at least, it will reach an end.

As anyone who has become wrapped up in this tale of zombies and dragons knows, author George R.R. Martin is nowhere close to completing his “Song of Ice and Fire” novels upon which the show is based. The most recent book, “A Dance With Dragons” was published the same summer the HBO show first premiered, back in 2011. Since then, the showrunners have adapted and then expanded upon Martin’s work, going beyond the narrative established in the novels and crafting their own material beyond the source. Many believe that the show has dipped in quality since passing the material in Martins original books.

However, the truth is that the show has simply shifted in structure and in subject matter. Where the early seasons and novels focused on the intricate political intrigue between the various forces of Stark, Lannister, Tyrell, Bolton and other houses vying for control of the Iron Throne, later seasons have slowly pruned the narrative excess, eventually bringing the battle against the White Walkers into sharp focus as the central conflict of the series. What began as “House of Cards” with dragons has become “Lord of the Rings” with nudity. Whether or not that bothers you is up to the individual viewer. Whether or not that was always going to be the case, and whether or not Martin intended to make the same kind of pivot in his novels, is unclear.

Six episodes. A little more or less than an hour each. That’s all that the “Game of Thrones” creators and writers have to wrap up one of the most sprawling fantasy epics of all time. Despite the work done in the past few years to prune away the fat from the show’s cast, dozens of characters still exist whose storylines need to be brought to something resembling resolution. But what kind of resolution can possibly satisfy the legions of fans that have spent in some cases their entire lives speculating about how this is all going to end? Just ask the people behind the “LOST” finale — it’s not easy to end a mythology-heavy show. If Daenerys or Jon Snow take the crown and sit the Iron Throne, will that feel earned or will it feel cheap? If both die and another takes the seat, will it come off to audiences as a cop out? Is there any way to still shock an audience that expects to be shocked at every turn? Is it a little bit lame that the ultimate “no good guys, no bad guys” show is going to end with an army of good guys against an army of faceless CGI zombies? I don’t know the answers. But, the questions are real.

It seems inevitable that “Game of Thrones” season 8 will disappoint. How could it not? Nothing can ever live up to the individual expectations and desires that each viewer has in their own head. Not everyone’s favorite character will have enough screen time, not everyone will get a happy ending. Many book readers have all but given up on the show, and are just watching now to see how it all ends up. With such a contracted season coming almost 18 months after the a sixth season that was also shorter than usual, the days of getting 10 straight weeks of “Game of Thrones” seem as far away as Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon.

Many have referred to “Game of Thrones” over the years as “The Last Water Cooler Show.” In the current age of diversified content and splintered viewership, it is becoming more and more difficult for shows to garner huge followings and break out of their niche. “Thrones” is one of the only shows that people still feel the need to watch in the moment, week to week, like a live sporting event. It came of age during “the golden age of TV” but it will leave as “the last of its kind.” Undoubtedly, imitators will come and go (Amazon is already planning the most expensive series of all time with their “Lord of the Rings” streaming show), but it seems highly unlikely that any show will shock the world as constantly and as consistently as “Game of Thrones” did. If it is the journey that is important, and not the destination, then “Game of Thrones” has already done more than enough to make its mark on the history of television. It’s one of those pieces of media, like “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” before it, that ingrains itself so fully in your memories that you will never forget where you were when certain scenes hit you, nor will you forget the people you were with. As the next two months unfold, the death toll mounts and the nostalgic wave that comes with all endings sets in, it’s worth it to take a moment and remember how far we’ve come. Just like the Stark children, many of us have grown up with this show. Winter has at last come and will soon be gone. From George R.R. Martin, to the cast and crew of “Game of Thrones,” to the powerful spirit of imagination that has allowed this show to enchant audiences all over the world, may we all continue to dream for spring.