HBO’s Game of Thrones ends tonight after an epic eight season run. The show, which is based off the novels collectively known as A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin, has been a runaway hit for the premium cable network, and the fans of the show number in the millions. Those same fans will be tuning in tonight — or soon — to watch the Game of Thrones finale, and no matter what happens on the show and no matter who sits on the Iron Throne at the end, the final episode, and season, will both go down as a disappointment.
But it’s not the show’s fault.
Famed 20th century writer E.M. Forster argued that novels, and all stories by proxy, fail because they come to an end. A story, whether written or televised, is a way for the reader/viewer to live in a different world for a set amount of time, and if they enjoy that world and its inherent rules, when the story ends, they are left disappointed. It leaves a hole in the reader’s/viewer’s life. The invested time comes to an end, and while real life goes on, the story is over. And love it or hate it, it leaves a mark on us all.
It’s human nature, above all else, that causes this effect. In the terms of Game of Thrones, fans are dreading the ending, not because Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) went insane in the last episode and murdered thousands, but because there is only a little more than an hour left to escape into this world.
There will be no more recap stories, memes, or Monday morning chats about what happened the night before. There’s no more Red Weddings, Battles of Somewhere, or names checked off Arya’s list. This epic series that has taken the entire world for one long, wild journey for the last eight years will be gone for good, and that makes us all sad.
Many viewers conflate sadness and disappointment. They are saddened that Game of Thrones is ending, and, by nature, they begin to turn on it. Episode 5, “The Bells,” was one of most divisive in the show’s history, as fans complained that Dany would not do what she did, even though she’s been doing things like it all series long. These same complainers argue that the show is underwritten, and have even started a petition to have the entire last season remade with “better writers.”
These same people blame the show’s creators for that feeling of sadness and loss that they are feeling, and they mask it with a form of hate. Misplaced hate. This study from Psychology Today explains why we feel this way.
Disappointment is a profound way in which sadness is experienced. People seem to do whatever they can to avoid recognizing that they are disappointed and will twist their thinking every which way to not recognize a true disappointment.”
Season 8 of Game of Thrones has been an emotional ride for fans. There have been two episodes that were super intense, the aforementioned “The Bells” and Episode 3, “The Long Night.” Surrounding those episodes were reflective chapters where the characters that we have all grown to know and love, either through the show or the books, or both, have had chances to reflect and reveal emotions to each other. We’ve gotten to know these people. They are like old friends at this point. This is all part of the reason why tonight’s Game of Thrones finale will sting us in our hearts.
We’ve seen Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) become best friends across all eight seasons, so when they said goodbye for good in Episode 4, viewers were left with a hollowness in themselves. We know that these friends that we’ve lived with since 1996, when George R.R. Martin’s novel Game of Thrones was first published, will never see each other ever again, and it makes us sad.
It’s the sign of a good book, movie, or TV show that viewers can get this invested in the characters and their situations, and feel these emotions when it all ends. That’s not a sign of a weak season, or bad writing; it’s the mark of a story doing its job and making fans feel something.
Game of Thrones Season 8 has not been a failure. Far from it. If it had been, you wouldn’t care as much as you do. The very fact that you are feeling these feelings about the Game of Thrones finale is because this season — and the series itself — has done its job and has made you invested in the characters, the situations, and the emotions, and now that they are all going away, you will be left disappointed.
It’s not the show’s fault; it’s just science.
The Game of Thrones final episode airs on May 19 on HBO.