Why does the end of Game of Thrones, Big Bang Theory, MCU Phase 3 feel like a break up?

Swetha Ramakrishnan

May 25, 2019 09:28:54 IST

Three flagship entertainment properties saw an end in 2019.

The Big Bang Theory, the longest-running multi-camera sitcom with 276 episodes, wrapped up after their 12th season, on 18 May.

Why does the end of Game of Thrones, Big Bang Theory, MCU Phase 3 feel like a break up?

A still from The Big Bang Theory. YouTube

Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phase 3 concluded with Avengers: Endgame on 27 April, after 22 mammoth, interconnected movies that changed the way we view the superhero genre and how we consume films whose narratives cross paths more often than we can keep up,

A still from Avengers: Endgame

A still from Avengers: Endgame

Arguably the most popular TV series in the world, HBO's Game of Thrones started in 2011 as a dramatic adaption of George R R Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of fantasy novels, and raked up massive traction and acclaim over the years. After a polarising season 8 that sparked off massive debate and backlash online, the series came to an end on 19 May.

Game of Thrones promo. Image via Twitter

A still from Game of Thrones. Image via Twitter

2019 has been a year of closure. So why does it feel like an anxiety-inducing break up?

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In the latest season of Masterchef Australia, a lot of weightage is being given to Indian food and culture (this could perhaps be because a Singaporean-born Indian contestant, Sashi Cheliah, won the previous season.) In one particular group task, the contestants were divided into three teams and had to master street food from three regions: Mexico, Malaysia and India. The Indian team decided to prepare meat skewers and in their rush to start their challenge, accidentally picked up beef. One of the Asian contestants on the show, Tati, informed everyone on her team that they couldn't cook beef because it would offend Indians. She yelled: "The cow is considered sacred in India, we absolutely cannot cook this!" Things started to get heated (quite literally) in the kitchen as the team scampered around, looking for an alternative to beef. All cameras were focused on what the team was going to do next. The atmosphere was tense, and finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they decided to switch to south-Indian fish curry instead. Phew. Controversy averted.

That it didn't occur to anyone in the team to make Kerala's famous Beef Fry is a topic for another day.

But in the post-Game of Thrones world of entertainment and pop culture, controversy and shock takes on a whole new (muted) definition. During the years Game of Thrones played out, there was so much more to be offended/shocked/jolted by (Sansa's rape scene in season 5, Jaime and Cersei's non-consensual sexual encounter next to Joffrey's dead body in season 4, Khal Drogo consummating his marriage to Daenerys as she cries in season 1 — we can go on).

Still from Game of Thrones season 7 episode 4

Still from Game of Thrones season 7 episode 4. HBO

Game of Thrones gave us viewers such a unique viewing experience — one that is graphic, gory, layered, tense, playful, witty, fantastical, magical, dramatic and intense — that it's hard for any other show or series to even attempt to live up to it. It's unfair to compare two different genres, but when I try telling my mind that, it simply does not listen. The world of Masterchef Australia is colourful and comforting, and there's always cake or panna cotta at the end of it, but who wants that after the thrill of Game of Thrones?

Sometimes even when you hate how a TV show ended it can still leave a lasting impact on you. In fact, one can argue, the void is more palpable when you don't get what you want. I'm one of the million Game of Thrones fans who was disappointed with how the show ended (not enough to sign a petition, though, just saying). Even though I spent all of May wanting the show to conclude so I could move on with my life, I feel positively more broken by its end now. In every other universe, this is like a child throwing a tantrum ("give me the pop-culture experience I want!") — but in today's world of more-content-than-we-can-breathe, this is a revelation.

This is a show that has witnessed severe backlash towards its end because fans have not gotten what they want. It's like being on the best date of your life (weak-knees and stimulation galore) and then finding them gone the next morning. All you're left with is the scent of expectations.

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The last time I cried like baby was when the Harry Potter series ended. I was sitting in the dark theatre as Snape professed his love for Lily Potter, when it hit me that I had the privilege to witness this story come to life and see an end in front of my eyes. I was an inquisitive nine-year-old when JK Rowling wrote and published the first book in 1997. I went on my first date, as a gawky teenager, to watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 2004. I wrote my first fan-fiction account about a secret love affair between Harry and Hermoine because I was so frustrated then that Ron and Hermoine end up together. It is what made me realise I wanted to be a writer.

Clearly I had a personal stake in the Harry Potter series, so when it ended, it took me months to get over it. I would never stand in line for the books again; I would never be able to wildly anticipate watching a Harry Potter film so that I could compare notes and nonchalantly say, "the books were better", as if I were the first person to say that.

I eventually got over the loss, but it all came running back to me when I watched Avengers: Endgame. With Iron Man's death came the kind of finality you cannot reverse. When Marvel released Iron Man in 2008, they started a trend that would set a precedent for the superhero genre in the years to come (*cough*Deadpool*cough). It created a shift in how we view superhero films, and it made subversion the norm (we know now M Night Shyamalan was definitely watching). With Tony Stark and Natasha Romanoff's death, we laid this to rest. Sure, MCU will power on, and I'm sure there's more mind-blasting entertainment coming our way, but it will never be the same. Your jaw doesn't drop the same way every time.

The main cast and setting of The Big Bang Theory.

In direct contrast to this feeling, is a show like The Big Bang Theory. This isn't a sitcom that saw a cult following (at least in my social circles). We didn't spend hours discussing each character's motivations, or how we feel the next episode should play out. It kept running in the background, and sure, we laughed at Sheldon's "quirks" and Penny's ignorance, but it was never my show of choice. I would never seek it out or plan to watch it; I'd mostly just stumble upon the show playing on TV or watch it if there was nothing else to watch.

Why, then, did I weep when on watching the finale? When Sheldon makes his Nobel Prize speech and acknowledges the importance that his friendship with Leonard, Howard, Raj, Penny, Bernadette — and his relationship with Amy — has had on his journey, I couldn't help but humanise the characters and internalise the on-screen love that was coming to an end. All those years of passively viewing the show suddenly merged into one holistic conclusion, and it made me sit up and take notice.

In that moment, I understood the reason behind the grief I was feeling over Game of Thrones, Marvel Phase 3 and Big Bang Theory ending.

The Big Bang Theory allowed us to escape reality. It was a frothy but entertaining sitcom that I could watch to forget about my everyday rigmarole, or procrastinate on deadlines. Game of Thrones made me question morality and truth, all with its entertaining drama and story arcs. I was so invested in the characters and the world of Westeros that suddenly my troubles seemed to pale. And then, of course, there is Avengers: Endgame, the epitome of event entertainment. A continuous story-within-a-story-within-a-story that Marvel kept reeling us into, until we couldn't possibly look away.

We turn to entertainment and pop-culture to unwind, engage in public discourse and start conversations that have never been had before. And so the end of these three unique properties — a cheery sitcom, a fantastical drama series and gigantic 22-film cinematic experience like no other — is bound to leave a void. They are each irreplaceable in their own way. They represent a different era of entertainment consumption.

Avengers: Endgame poster

Avengers: Endgame poster.

Think about it: when was the last time everyone you knew was watching all seasons of a sitcom religiously? Was it Modern Family or The Office or — gasp — Friends? Our TV shows now come in a crisp one-season-eight-episode package, courtesy Netflix. We no longer download torrent after torrent by the season. We've replaced it with legal binge-ing. We no longer frivolously watch sitcoms, because our screens have become smaller and so have our attention spans. The bar for content has raised, but comedy has become sporadic and niche; drama must culminate on a cliff-hanger or we'll never come back, and movies must promise us treats or why would we even leave our homes?

When was the last time you were willing to go anywhere in the city, war with the traffic, and book tickets weeks in advance for a film? Nobody wanted to wait for Avengers: Endgame to be accessible on a streaming platform. It was a big screen experience, best had with a tub of popcorn and bitten nails due to edge-of-the-seat action. When was the last time you were willing to watch 21 movies to prep for the 22nd film? Of course, there will still be films that drag us to theatres (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood releases on 26 July, FYI), but it won't be an Avengers film.

When was the last time you woke up at 6.30 am on a Monday morning to watch a TV show so that you don't miss out on the conversations (and memes, let's be honest) around it? Just the thought of Game of Thrones spoilers could give me severe anxiety and I obviously had to know the fate of my favourite characters. This made me — not a morning person at all — promptly wake up at 6 am to watch the show. Several websites will give you suggestions on what to watch now the GOT is over (Outlander seems to be on everyone's list) but it isn't going to make you wake up at 6.30 am. Admit it.

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All hope is not lost. In June itself, we have Black Mirror and Big Little Lies coming. Modern Family will return with its final season soon. The Cannes Film Festival has teased some interesting films coming out this year: Pain and Glory, The Dead Don't Die and Rocketman to name a few. Robert Pattinson is playing Batman in an upcoming Warner Bros film. Dimple Kapadia is in a Nolan film. We are in an entertainment-loop (and nobody is complaining).

The show must go on, right?

Updated Date: May 25, 2019 09:28:54 IST