by Cat Voleur
A personal article about using rage constructively (geared for GoT fans.) (SPOILERS)
The last couple weeks have been intense, especially for fans of HBO's series Game of Thrones. To say that the final season has been divisive so far would be somewhat of an understatement. It's on the verge of throwing people into one of the biggest online wars in fandom history - and I'm not on the side that I expected to be on, much to my disappointment. In watching these arguments unfold I've had to take a step back to really question what creators owe to their work, and more importantly, what the fans owe to their favorite creators. So before the last episode of Game of Thrones airs, and before these arguments can escalate, I just want to take some time to talk about that point in escapism where passion turns to toxicity.
If you're someone who has been outraged by Game of Thrones, or someone who has responded to someone who has been outraged by Game of Thrones (particularly this season) I ask that you would read this piece and consider the things outlined in it. Even if you're not very passionate about the show, but you're someone who has experienced/given harsh criticism, or have/do experience hyper-empathy for characters, there might be something in this for you as well. However, there will also be lots of spoilers, so if that's something you want to avoid, then this is where I leave you.
I want to start by saying that I get it.
If you're mad about season 8, I totally get it. Watching episode 4, I called exactly what would happen in episode 5, and I was so mad that I almost didn't watch. I did watch, and was proven right in the worst, least satisfying way. I got really mad. It was the angriest I've been all year. I get it.
Game of Thrones isn't just a show to me. It's been an important part of my life in ways that it's hard to understand from the outside of the situation. I feel passionately about any fantasy world that I spend so much time in, but rarely do I learn so much or get so many opportunities based off of a single story.
One of the first writing jobs I ever had was doing live recaps of the show. They chose me mid-interview from about a hundred applicants because I could discuss nuances of the show and peel back layers of development for every single character and plot point. It was the first time in my career I got to put my name on something I was really passionate about and was getting paid for. It was a turning point for me, and it gave me the confidence I needed to start really getting my work out there.
Reading the books in A Song of Ice and Fire taught me so much about characters, world-building, and story structure. The show gave me this huge, popular, common ground when I would teach people about how to make their own work better, because suddenly I had examples everyone could understand. Learning to conjugate in High Valyrian taught me more about my own mother tongue than any English teacher ever did in school. It reignited my passion for learning and writing, and that's before I even get into how the characters have impacted my life.
They really have.
Oberyn Martell was the first pansexual character I'd ever seen on television. His views on sexuality opened me up to the discussion of my own identity, and it was through talking about his character with other LGBTQ+ fans online that led me to, for the first time, stumble across a label that I felt truly comfortable with.
Daenerys Targaryen means the world to me. It sounds really stupid, but I think anyone who has struggled with depression or anxiety understands that sometimes you just have to do whatever you have to do to make it through those dark days. A lot of what I've done in the last six years is think about The Mother of Dragons because for the first seven seasons, she was someone to look up to in spite of her faults. She'd been in worse positions than I ever have been, and she had mental blocks to get past, and not once did she ever let it stop her from doing anything. One of the reasons I took up High Valyrian was so that I had something to make me feel like I was capable of anything - and you can laugh if you want, but it worked. Sometimes it's the dumbest tricks that get us through the rough patches.
I knew that this would be a rough season going in, but I also knew that no matter what happens, Game of Thrones has made me a better person. I knew I'd always be grateful, and I am. I've heard a lot of other stories, some way more intense than mine, about how watching this series has impacted people, and it can be a beautiful thing to be a part of something this big and this influential.
The downside is that when something becomes such a big part of you and your life, it can be all too easy to forget that it's a show. It's a story being told to us, and we're not entitled to how that story goes. It can change us, better us, but it cannot ever belong to us.
It hurts to see the characters that we love be treated like their arcs don't matter. It's hard to watch Jaime go back to Cersei and throw away all of his redemption arc once we'd finally thought he'd learned. It's hard to watch Arya get thrown around like she's a little kid again when King's Landing falls. It's hard to watch Daenerys become her father in a way that doesn't even do the heartache of a Mad Queen arc justice. As a fan, as a creator, and especially as a woman, it was hard to watch the "scorned lover" trope be the final straw that broke my favorite character and to witness a strong woman kill a million people on a whim so that Jon Snow could have a white, male savior arc.
I was livid. The plot was no surprise, but the execution let me down.
I've ranted to my friends and family. I've made statements online. I've retweeted jokes about potential causes for the issues. I took a week off my collaborative writing advice podcast just to have an angry intermission about how a sad end doesn't also have to be a dissatisfying end. I quit following anyone online who told me that I was "angry just because I didn't get the ending I wanted" or that I "didn't understand the show." Understanding the show is exactly why I'm mad because I see what they were trying to do, and they had the potential to do it all so much better. That's what let me down more than any one plot point or editing mistake that you could name.
This is where I arrive to my point, and I thank you all for bearing with me, because I think this is important.
As a fan of the show, I'm entitled to my feelings. I'm entitled to my opinion. I'm entitled to voice that opinion. I am not however, entitled to demand this be fixed. Fans don't get to dictate the stories that come from other creators and they shouldn't try to.
There's a petition going around this week (and again, I remind you, at the date of me posting this the final episode has not even aired yet) for HBO to remake the entire eighth season with new writers. For as angry and hurt as I am by the show, I believe that's a petition no one should sign. It shouldn't even have been started.
I understand feeling like the writers weren't taking this season seriously. I understand wanting it to end differently. I even understand being offended by some of the content, and some of what was going on behind the scenes leading up to the release (it's awful that there were no female writers this season, and honestly, it shows that they were missing.) It's a unique kind of pain to have this attachment to something that you've poured countless hours and feelings into and then have it mishandled. It's not fun, and I don't feel any better going into the finale than the people who started this petition.
I do however, genuinely care about the people who brought it to me.
Let us not forget the good seasons of the show, or the credit still owed to the creators. Let's not forget that even this, the weakest season, brought us the biggest fight scene in cinematic history. Let's not forget the actors and cinematographers and costume designers and countless other amazing people who pushed themselves as hard as they could to bring you this season that people are demanding to have done before it's even out in its entirety. It's easy to say that the writers let the team down through their scripts, but fans who discard all of the effort are also letting everyone down - including other fans that are struggling with the season, and are now being lumped in with a selfish, overly-entitled part of the fanbase.
As a fan, you can feel like you deserve a better end, but if you have any lingering respect for the creators who got you this invested in something, it's a terrible thing to demand they redo it. It can be difficult to find the line of what is and isn't okay to ask of writers, and until this week I had no idea just how difficult. Because there's a part of me that wants to see that "better season 8" and there's a vain part of me that thinks even I could have written it better (even though that's obviously not true.) Even the majority of me has been fine posting jokes and harsh comments about the show, because it feels good knowing other people are in the same boat I'm in and that other fans are frustrated.
The only person in the world who has any sort of right to contest this ending, is George R. R. Martin because it's his characters who are being handled. If he were as angry as fans are right now about how things are playing out, he could step up and say something. I think the fact that he hasn't means that he's showing respect to the people he trusted with his world, and even the most outraged fans should follow him in this - or at the very least accept that the last season won't ever be good for them. It was never, under any circumstances, going to be good for everyone. Not being able to please everyone is written into the very essence of storytelling, and from the beginning this was not a show that was made to pander to or coddle its audience.
If you want a better end, or more consistency in characters, or stronger female conquerors, than I implore you to do the following:
Don't demand that someone else write the story you want to see, write it yourself. Try your hand at it. Share your ending. So many wonderful fanfictions have come out of dissatisfaction with a story that was good up until toward the end somewhere. Show other fans who feel the same as you who you wanted to win, and how. If fanfiction isn't your thing, then take it a step further and do an original story that fixes whatever problems you're having. Write about female characters with no romance arcs, and dragons who are good, and societies that learn their lessons before it's too late. Write the change that you want to see, and let something good come from the ashes of this.
Anger can be very destructive, but we have the choice to let it be inspirational instead. We have the chance to use those fires to forge something better with what we've learned not to do.
I want to leave you with this.
In the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, Daenerys uses dragon fire to massacre innocent people and tear down the city she was fighting for. In season 3 episode 4, she had used that same dragon fire to liberate people and build a better world. Creativity is a sort of fire of its own. It's fierce, unpredictable, and frighteningly powerful. Writers have the rare gift to wield that power as they choose. If you have that dragon fire in you, you get to decide how you want to unleash it - whether that be tearing down the writers who inspired you, or writing to inspire the audience of the next, big thing.