Now that season 8 has wrapped up on HBO's Game of Thrones, everyone is wondering: What’s next? But more important than that question is what kind of impact will Game of Thrones have on television going forward?
A true cultural phenomenon in the purest sense of the word, the fandom for Game of Thrones spanned all classes, backgrounds, and age groups. Unlike Mad Men, which skewed heavily towards the more affluent members of society, or Breaking Bad which appeal to the opposite end of the spectrum, nearly everyone watched Game of Thrones.
And maybe that is why it was nearly impossible for the show runners to finish the story off in any kind of pleasing way.
Given their varied fanbase who both bring and cultivate different expectations for the show, how could the writers know which direction to take with George RR Martin’s material?
Indeed, as the seasons progressed things became increasingly simplistic - much to the detriment of the strong, earlier seasons.
Nonetheless, Game of Thrones now serves as an example of how hype can work wonders for your IP but also destroy it in the process.
A popular fantasy book series before being transformed into an HBO show, A Song of Ice and Fire aimed to eschew traditional notions of what an epic fantasy could be in favor of a gritty, “realistic” tale that upturned conventions and did it with glee.
Knowing that, the direction the show took in its last few episodes seemed to take for granted the epic part of the story and offered us, instead, a quick revue of major plot points almost to the extent that it seemed like the writers were checking off a list of things to get done before wrapping up.
The last season in particular seems more given to fan service than perhaps anything else.
Whereas previous seasons wouldn’t hesitate to kill off a character everyone liked, the writers avoided that entirely in the last season and, instead, eliminated characters that were minor and inconsequential or offed major characters in less than satisfying ways.
Initially billed as the “tragic” tale of the Stark family, one cannot help but notice that, in the sum, the Starks suffered less than most of the major houses in the story. In fact, their “plot armor” was so substantial that one of them was brought back to life and another escaped a horde of the undead while being unable to walk.
Add to this the Battle of Winterfell which, epic as it was, conveyed more firmly than anything else that the Starks, by some dint of fate, are never to suffer again. Moving even further ahead, the epic clash of undead hordes and barely overcoming certain loss is then cast aside, almost immediately, for a Sweet Valley High type of interlude wherein Sansa is worried about Daenerys being queen and is playing gossip monger to separate Jon Snow and Daenerys (thus perhaps leading to the genocide in King’s Landing? No on is quite sure because, again, the writers aren’t quite sure).
Perhaps the reason that all of this is beyond forgivable is that, because of the serialized format of television, the writers could have gone on - and into greater depth - than they ever attempted in the last two seasons.
Add to this the fact that HBO offered 10 seasons to the writers and they turned it down so that they could go work on Star Wars, and you have an absolute recipe for disaster.
That brings us to the question we asked earlier: How will all of this change television in the future?
You can expect that future shows like Game of Thrones will not be helmed by one or two men but rather teams of writers, none of which you are aware of at any particular moment.
The lesson that HBO learned with Game of Thrones is not to give two people so much power. In addition to that, the fandom’s response should also incentivize studios to seek the author’s consultation - especially if the story isn’t finished in print.
Anyone that thinks George RR Martin would have signed off on what went down in season 8 has not read his books. Further, the best seasons of the show, those that are the most critically acclaimed and highly rated, were born largely out of George RR Martin’s talent and not the two writers for HBO Game of Thrones (which sort of makes you wonder why Disney isn’t asking George to write the next Star Wars movies since he’s the actual proven talent behind the show).
Aside from employing teams of writers and consulting with the original author, we also expect that Game of Thrones will spawn a new tradition in serialized television that is open-ended, rather than closed and fixed.
There’s little doubt that the arbitrary timeline placed on all of this by writers to end it had a deleterious effect on the show as a whole. Petitions to rework the final season with “competent writers” have gained over 1 million signatures as of press.
The warning from Game of Thrones is about how you can take something epic, magical, and generation spanning and turn it into your below-average daytime soap opera - all within two seasons.
Relying upon personalities like the writers that helmed the show will have to be the way of the past. In fact, any writer that opposes the studio’s attempt at making more money should be summarily dismissed. After all, George RR Martin wrote the story, the show’s writers simply put it on the big screen.
Why should their preferences dictate anything? Studios won’t hesitate to replace an actor, and they shouldn’t hesitate to get rid of “showrunners.”
Time will tell whether or not the last season of Game of Thrones will have a permanent impact on their careers but, given the current state of the Star Wars fandom, all we will say is: Good luck with that. If you think 1 million signatures on a Game of Thrones petition is a lot, watch what happens if you make some hackneyed, ignorant-of-canon Star Wars film.