Beware: Spoilers ahead through Game of Thrones' May 12 episode.
There is a scene in the first season of Game of Thrones that I think about quite a lot. It's just two people talking in a room: King Robert Baratheon, and his wife Queen Cersei. It's the culmination of nearly two decades of history between the characters—history we haven't seen, but feel the weight of, because we can see it pressing down on these two. They are so relieved to finally be talking about it with each other. Cersei talks about how hard she tried to love her drunk whoremonger of a husband. Robert admits he never could love her, and, worse, he can't even remember the face of the dead girl he loved instead—the girl he started a war over: "I only know she was the one thing I ever wanted. Someone took her away from me, and seven kingdoms couldn't fill the hole she left behind."
It's beautiful and sad and true to life—and, notably, was not taken from the A Song of Ice and Fire book series.
That scene remains in my memory, from a period in my life that I, frankly, have a hard time remembering. If you asked me to tell you what happened in the seventh season of the show, which aired a mere two years ago, I absolutely would not be able to. Cersei decided to keep a pixie cut? People made some really dumb decisions, despite supposedly being the smartest characters on the show? Chuck the sixth season in there as well, if we’re being frank.
This final season I do remember, though. Not just because it's still happening, but because it is indelible in its awfulness. It has been so awful that I, in a manic fury, have spent the last two weeks rewriting the entire last four episodes. Whole. Just fully recrafted them so that they made even just a tiny bit more sense. So they weren't quite so full of inorganic conflict. So that set-up was appropriately paid off. So I could have a version of the show that didn't... suck.
I remember the first I heard of Game of Thrones. High school is another period of my life I honestly have difficulty remembering, but I do remember that morning—a free period, senior year, I'm pretty sure. A morning that wasn't, for whatever blessed reason, unbearably hot. (Central Florida, y'know.) A guy in my grade I'd always liked, named Charlie, reading a thick little book with a purple cover. A Clash of Kings. "It's amazing," he gushed. Like if you mashed together The Lord of the Rings and some really juicy medieval history, but with more fucking and killing and swears. It was part of a series, he added: A Song of Ice and Fire. A Game of Thrones was the first one.
As your typical 17-year-old weirdo with unbearably strict parents, I had read a lot of fantasy. I was at the time neck-deep in The Wheel of Time series, finding it increasingly stultifying as 800-page book after 800-page book passed without anything happening. It didn't help that I saw the most obvious solution to ridding that particular world of one of its biggest problems—magic men can't use magic without going crazy, because the Dark Lord tainted their magic stream—and the author apparently didn't.* David Eddings? I knew the story of that world's creation better than my Bible stories, at that point. While Charlie tried to convince some of the less-nerdy among our free period fellows that it wasn't Fantasy, I planned a trip to the fantasy/sci-fi section of the Borders down the road.
It was quite revelatory for a 17-year-old, and yet I can only remember reading the first book in high school. At some point post-college, I returned to the series, and promptly threw A Storm of Swords across the room when I got to the Red Wedding, sheepishly crossing to pick it up and continuing to read through the night.
ASOIAF even formed the foundation of a friendship, I learned while recently searching my Gmail. Nearly an entire decade of messages about Game of Thrones, from the announcement of the show all the way through rumors about the final season, with one person: a friend I'd made in college, a couple years my senior.
Days, weeks, even a month or two would pass, sometimes, without my friend and I talking, and yet inevitably, one of us would send the other a link, a gif, a casting rumor, a months-delayed reaction to a dropped plot thread. Our friendship had only deepened through the years, through relationships and job troubles and every other kind of life event, but Thrones was what always brought us back to each other.
There are a lot of things in this world to worry about. Georgia and Alabama are trying to criminalize abortion. Asylum-seekers are still being separated from their children.
Here I seethe, though, over a TV show. It's a mental vacation, I think, to be so angry over something so trivial. In the end, this doesn't really matter. It just feels like such a waste; a waste of money, a waste of such talented craftsmen and actors. A waste of a perfectly good story.
One of the things I liked most about Thrones—the show, in particular—was its steadfast refusal to be a "Save the World from Inhuman Monsters" story. It created such a rich tapestry of characters and lives that, even when you wondered why on earth we were spending time in this place, with these people, you could appreciate the sheer scale of humanity.**
That was one of the reasons the latter couple seasons of the show have been disappointing, ultimately; and why I think George RR Martin can't seem to bear finishing his sprawling story—it became a "Save the World from Inhuman Monsters" story, one that required its focus to narrow to a couple pinpoints, eschewing scale and the fascination of exploring new worlds.
That's a hard row to hoe for even a skilled writer. But the Thrones showrunners, the ones who wrote that Season 1 episode, have revealed themselves as indifferent plot engineers at best, and misogynists at worst. They lean on ASOIAF's established pattern of subverting shopworn fantasy tropes as an answer for shoving eight seasons' worth of character development out the window, while actively upholding perhaps the dullest trope of them all: the Strong, Noble Chosen Man. One Inhuman Monster (the Night King) was destroyed; better create another (Daenerys) posthaste.
Sure, Daenerys gave up every tactical advantage she had against Cersei to go fight the greatest enemy the world of men has ever seen, but secretly she's just that crazy bitch of an ex who'll set fire to a million people after being rejected by a man and having her dragon-child killed. Sure, Jaime was already a subversion of a trope (pretty-boy knight is actually a sociopathic twin-sister-fucker!), and the show has spent eight entire seasons getting him to a place where he could genuinely care for another person he wasn’t related to, but Real Grown-Ups know that no one can ever really change so why even fucking bother.
"Why bother?" That's the final message of the art that I have spent a not-small chunk of my life reading and watching. Game of Thrones ends tonight, the culmination of 10 years of storytelling, and all I feel is relief. I can forget now.
*All they had to do was get a big group of the magic people together and do this magic thing that retroactively removes its target from existence. No one ever thought of this, the entire 10 or however many goddamn books it was I read.
**Minus the Ramsay Snow and Iron Islands storylines, which in hindsight should have told us exactly how badly the writers would botch the "Dany the Mad Queen" storyline.