In Defense of Franchises: From Star Wars to Game of Thrones

I’ve been watching the fallout to the final season of Game of Thrones with no small amount of interest. It’s been fascinating to see how virulent the response has been from some quarters, including fans signing a petition for HBO to re-do the season(!) Yes, I realize many just view that as a way of showing their displeasure with the end of the show, but it’s still a strange way of expressing that, and it’s in line with fan response to other popular franchises like LotR/Hobbit, Star Wars, Marvel, etc.

One thing I really dislike these days is the trend of fans making up their mind on a show or a movie and then declaring it “good” or “bad.” To me, this is something that began with the Star Wars prequels, where there was this huge pent up demand for the movies, and then when they arrived, they were different than what fans thought they should be, and therefore bad. I fell for that the first time around, agreeing with many that the prequels were a travesty. But as time has gone on, and I’ve seen that same pattern repeated again and again, I’m not really falling for it anymore.

What’s the pattern? Easy. Take any popular show or film franchise. It has to reach a critical mass where there’s enough fans of the show to really be whipped into a furor. It’s also key that this show/franchise be lasting for at least a decade or more, since it takes that amount of time for fans to really conglomerate around various ideas. Build up expectations in the franchise until those expectations take on a life of their own. Then come out with actual films and television episodes and watch the inevitable fallout.

Fans are disappointed. Fans are enraged. The show was ruined. The movie destroyed everything they held dear. The director dropped the ball. The writers are incompetent. And never mind the fact that it’s the same creative team around the show or franchise. Fans start passing out the pitchforks and torches, and then they gang up on anyone who might go against their new canonical opinion of the work in question.

Don’t get me wrong. I 100% believe in the right of the audience to evaluate a show. Anyone who tells me they dislike the Hobbit movies or the end of Game of Thrones or The Last Jedi is totally entitled to that, and they can use whatever reasons they want. True, I might disagree with those reasons, but if someone reads a book and says “this character bored me” or “I didn’t think the ending was believable,” there’s no way to tell them they’re wrong. You can’t be wrong about being bored. You either are or you aren’t, and you’re the expert. (You can suffer from bad taste, of course, but that’s a different debate.)

What I dislike is when fans start to groupthink a franchise to death. They all get into an echo chamber and start reassuring themselves they’re all right. They reinforce their opinions until they’re etched in stone. So you still have the popular opinion that Lost blew its finale. Indiana Jones 4 was awful. The Last Jedi was done in by Social Justice Warriors. The Hobbit trilogy was a complete mess. And there are plenty of articles and videos produced to reassure anyone that opinion is the right opinion.

For the record, I enjoyed the Lost finale, had a great time through all three Hobbit movies, didn’t love Indy 4, and thought The Last Jedi was excellent. I also think this final season of Game of Thrones has been fantastic. (More on that in a moment. I promise.)

I think many of these franchises get to the point where a stunning, perfect finish that’s universally acclaimed is no longer possible. They just have too much weight to carry. With Game of Thrones, think of the thousands and thousands of hours fans have poured into the show, developing theories about what might happen, picking apart character motivations and tiny details that might have far reaching implications. Spending years building up love for certain characters and hate for others.

How can anything possibly live up to all of that? Especially in the heat of the moment. When you watch a show after the fact, all at once, you get a different feel for it. And many of the shows these days are designed to be binge watched. Last week’s Game of Thrones destruction fest felt absolutely brutal, but that was because we couldn’t just immediately move on to this week’s finale, which provided context for it. Take away that week’s worth of debate and discussion, and you completely change the response to the following episode.

Fans are now saying the show runners rushed the ending of the series. That it should have been three complete seasons. That the things that happened could have still happened, if only the show had taken its time to develop all of them adequately. Personally, I think what they’re noticing is a big part of the reason why George RR Martin has been unable to even write another book of the series, let alone finish it.

It’s always easier to spin out more plot lines. To complicate matters more. To answer questions with more questions. To deepen the intrigue and the mystery. But each time you do that, speaking as a writer now, you dig yourself a little deeper. Coming up with a way out of all those plot lines with something approaching a satisfying conclusion snowballs out of control, until the sheer weight of expectations leave you breathless and unable to continue.

Martin wants to be done with the series in 2-3 more books. I don’t think it’s possible to pull that off in a satisfying way. Because remember, the books are even more complex than the show.

Was the final season rushed? Certainly from a logistical standpoint. Where before, it would take weeks to travel anywhere in Westeros, by the last few seasons, people were zipping back and forth between locations at light speed. But from a stance of telling the story they wanted to tell, I think the creators did a great job.

I went into last night’s episode with no clue how they’d manage to pull off an ending I would be satisfied with. (For the record, I was fine with the Mad Queen storyline, because I found it totally in line with what Dany has been doing all along. Burninating the countryside. Burninating the peasants. The only difference between Meereen and King’s Landing (beyond sheer scale of destruction) was the fact that we were more familiar with King’s Landing, so the impact was more immediate and harder to ignore. (And as for scale, she’d been upping her desire to burninate ever since she came to Westeros. King’s Landing Dany was Dany Unleashed.)

But they pulled it off. The jump forward in time was a fantastic move, allowing them to complete the story without showing what really would have been unnecessary fluff at this point. There’s no need to show Gray Worm capturing John and then almost killing him, before being talked down by someone or convinced by someone else to hold off. I mean, sure, you could have done that, but that’s answering a question with another question. At some point, you need to just give answers.

Perhaps that’s why some are so upset about these shows. They love the questions, and so they hate when the ultimate answers are finally given, and they don’t match up with everything they’ve imagined might be the answer. What I loved about Game of Thrones was the fact that any character was fair game. Plot arcs might not be the plot arcs you assumed they were. No one was tied to any one destiny. From Ned’s beheading to the Red Wedding to King’s Landing’s destruction, it was all on the table, all the time, and it made for some exhilarating watching.

The show’s ending was great. It caps off a wonderful series. Not the best series I’ve ever watched. (That’s still The Wire.) But still an easy top 5. Just an incredible piece of work, and no amount of fan petitions are going to convince me otherwise. (That’s okay. I’m sure my post won’t convince them either.) If you don’t like a franchise, fine. But no need to scour the internet to band together and start petitioning for a rewrite. If you want to do something better, go do it.

I could go on for much longer, but I’m out of time. If you have specific comments or questions, I’m happy to answer them as they come up.


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