After eight seasons, we come not to bury “Game of Thrones” nor to praise it.
Rather, we would examine it as one of the latest, and possibly last, television shows with a following so huge it became a cultural phenomenon.
Every television series, except “The Simpsons,” eventually comes to an end. Sometimes, it is merely the fact that it is ending — as was the case for “M*A*S*H” and “Seinfeld” — that is noteworthy. Sometimes, it is the ending itself that is remembered, such as “St. Elsewhere” turning out to be the musings of a child looking at a snow globe, or “Newhart” ending when Bob Newhart wakes up in the bedroom of his previous sitcom and tells his previous sitcom wife about the crazy dream he had of being an innkeeper in Vermont.
In recent years, long-running shows have had more pressure on them to stick the landing when it comes to a series finale. Ask a room full of people what they think of how “The Sopranos” ended and then stuff cotton in your ears to cancel the noise of the groans.
More recent shows have had to deal with the internet culture that has grown around them. The series “Lost” had such a fanatical following of fans and theorists online that show runners and writers would actually change a story arc or write characters out if fan backlash grew too strong. The series “Westworld” had to change a major plot twist of its second season because an online theorist accurately predicted it way before the season even started.
“Game of Thrones” is the “Lost” community on steroids and amphetamines. There are people who have launched actual careers from creating YouTube channels breaking down every detail of every frame to try and puzzle its significance or predict what would happen next. Of course, there also are people who have built YouTube careers by simply being loudly angry at everything the show did, which is an unfortunate indicator of where the world is, culturally. That, and the fact that there simply are so many shows playing to so many different interests, make it unlikely that another series will rally so many devoted viewers as “Thrones” did.
The trouble with shows like “Lost” and “Game of Thrones” is that they are so universally beloved out of the gate for all of the “world building” and character development they do. Both offered something audiences hadn’t seen before. However, eventually, all of those setups have to be paid off. Mysteries have to be answered. And, usually, that has to be done at a quicker pace than the setup. When the fun part was the speculation, the conclusion can be a letdown when the answers aren’t what viewers wanted.
More than anything, though, it’s a bit sad when something so loved has to come to an end. In a world where people dare not talk about politics or global crises because of the vast schism between viewpoints and knee-jerk bellicose responses, it’s nice to have something that attracts people from all walks of life that they can talk about.
As for the next big show in West Virginia, the special legislative session is underway, which will have some groaning, maybe some chanting and, perhaps, some cheering. The palace intrigue won’t be nearly as entertaining as “Thrones,” but at least just about everyone in the Mountain State will be watching.