Game of Thrones season 8 may be seriously flawed; but does it deserve such unmitigated hatred?

Rohini Nair

May 19, 2019 09:17:57 IST

Looking at the furore around Game of Thrones season 8 — the latest being a petition that at last count had roughly 935,000 signatures demanding that HBO assign "competent" writers and remake these final set of episodes — has been an interesting experience.

Dylan D of Fort Worth, Texas, who launched the petition after S8 E4 ('The Last of the Starks') wrote: "I didn’t make this petition to be an entitled, whiny fan. I made it because I was immensely disappointed and needed to vent. Do I have a solution? I’ve got plenty of ideas, but no, I’m not a Hollywood writer."

He added that the petition wasn't about actually remaking Game of Thrones season 8, but "a way to send a message". (It coincided with another petition — this one from Batman fans who didn't want Robert Pattinson to play the dark knight — but which has nowhere near picked up the kind of steam that the GoT do-over has.)

Even if Dylan D's petition does reach its target of 1,000,000 signees (and it looks like it will), it bears noting that Game of Thrones season 8 has drawn in 43 million viewers across the world, on average, for each of its episodes.

It has also roused backlash of its own, with several people calling out the petition for being just what its creator says it isn't — entitled.

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What do artists or creators owe their audience?

What does their audience owe them?

Do they even 'owe' anything to each other?

These questions seem to be at the heart of the Game of Thrones season 8 row.

I don't mean here that as a consumer/viewer/reader/listener/fan, one isn't entitled to his/her opinion and to the voicing of it. It's whether or not you're entitled to believe that the artist/creator must act on it.

Game of Thrones season 8 may be seriously flawed; but does it deserve such unmitigated hatred?

Game of Thrones season 8 may have faltered, but does it deserve such hatred?

In some cases, I would say the answer is yes. For instance, when works perpetuate harmful stereotypes, or are exclusionary in nature, or ethically thorny.

But not for reasons like pacing, or because you don't agree with a character's trajectory. That's the creators' prerogative to chart — not yours. The story isn't yours to tell, it was never yours to tell. It was yours to receive and to read into it what you wanted, and to love it or hate it or be indifferent to it.

(I won't be delving into questions about an audiences' responsibility when engaging with the work of a problematic artist/creator in this article, because the scope of that discussion is far too wide and knotty.)

Game of Thrones is no stranger to criticism. Its lack of female writers and directors, diversity and representation issues, its treatment of female nudity, relationships and sexual violence — these have been roundly, and justifiably, flagged as problematic. Over its eight-season arc, 1-4 are widely considered irreproachable, 5-6 patchy but not without their moments of brilliance, and 7 so-so. Season 8 — in this writer's opinion — has been qualitatively better than 7. And although it has made several glaring missteps, the vitriolic nature of the criticism, the anger inherent in this backlash, has been surprising (and dare I say, unwarranted).

It comes back to the question then: what do artists or creators owe their audience?

I'd like to point to Neil Gaiman for an answer.

When a fan of George RR Martin wrote in to Gaiman to muse over whether or not the author had a responsibility to his fans to deliver on the final books in the ASOIAF series, Gaiman famously replied:

"George RR Martin is not your bitch."

He then went on to present an eloquent articulation of why, even if you forked over a certain sum of money for one of GRRM's books, it in no way made you entitled to expect anything further. And because Gaiman does a far better job of it, you can read his explanation of the artist-audience relation here.

And to this, I'd like to add: David Benioff and DB Weiss are not our bitches.

As fervent fans — fans who have invested our time, attention, emotion in this story (and a very small sum of money, if you're a paid subscriber of HBO or Hotstar) — disappointment at what we feel is a botched-up ending is understandable.

As viewers, we can agree to disagree on whether or not Daenerys' character arc was natural or contrived, if the Night King's fate should have been wrapped up in one episode or five, if characters are being done a disservice, how time and geography are being played around with.

That's fine — and merited.

Pop culture is such an important part of our lives, and in it and through it, perhaps we have a chance to address things we wouldn't otherwise.

But to turn that discussion into a bitter campaign targeting the very people who brought you years of stupendous television viewing seems ungrateful and mean-spirited.

In an ever-more segregated and divided world, bringing 43 million people together has got to count for something.

It's hard to get away from how rushed this season has been, and how retro-fitted some of the finale storyline feels. But when we say 'Oh, why didn't Benioff and Weiss take the 10 episodes that HBO offered instead of going ahead with six?' we forget that each of those four additional episodes would have meant the work of four entire feature films!

When we criticise Benioff and Weiss for rushing Game Of Thrones so that they can start on Star Wars, we fail to explain why it is a crime for them to want to move on to a new project and fresh challenges after having devoted over a decade of their lives to producing the best version of a TV show that they could?

And when we say "any fan fiction writer could have done it better" — well, let's try. Let's also get together the funds necessary to make a TV series that does justice to our writing, because Benioff and Weiss' version of Game of Thrones wasn't our damned show to begin with. (The cast and the crew and GRRM's, yes.)

When we say Benioff and Weiss messed up George RR Martin's books, consider this: as long as they could faithfully adapt, they did faithfully adapt. When the material ran out, they tried to bring several important plot threads to as satisfying a conclusion as they believed was possible. Consider that their task was immense: GRRM is mentioned alongside JRR Tolkien as one of the greatest fantasy writers of our time. To take the work of a writer of his stature and bring it to the screen is no mean feat — but Benioff and Weiss did it. And for at least six seasons, they did it in a way that did the source material credit.

They brought a sprawling, opulent and richly detailed mediaeval world (and its people and their concerns) to life, year after year. A place where dragons soared in the skies and direwolves roamed the earth. Their work, for years together, was a stunningly realised vision of GRRM's words.

So Season 8 may have faltered, does it deserve our hatred?

Can we truly say that Brienne's knighting or Theon's death or Podrick singing 'Jenny's Song' weren't moments worthy of the Game of Thrones we've loved?

Can we truly say that Game of Thrones season 8 hasn't delivered a spectacle unlike any other on the small screen — one unlikely to be replicated for a while yet?

There are things we'll never see — even before the finale comes to our screens. Never again will 'The Rains of Castamere' play as the Lannisters efficiently despatch one of their enemies. Never again will Daenerys ever take to the sky on Drogon's back and have us view it as a triumphant, heroic gesture.

We only have one last hour and a few stray minutes of Game of Thrones to go. Let's not spoil it with bitterness and our entitlement over "what we are owed". Let's not be in a rush to dismiss its legacy. Critique, but keep it measured, fair and dignified. Hear all the voices. Be the fandom we've been.

Let's rise to the occasion. Let's prepare to say goodbye. Let's remember the superlative times and forgive Game of Thrones the less than sparkling ones. Let's honour a show and a cast and a team that worked tirelessly to bring us entertainment — and took us along on the dragonride of our lives.

Updated Date: May 20, 2019 13:26:47 IST