The last thing the Internet needs is another think-piece on the last season of Game of Thrones… but that’s not to say that I’m past using said event as a jumping-off point1.
Endings are hard.
One of my favorite authors is Neal Stephenson. Cryptonomicon is an amazing book, packed full of details and fascinating characters and interesting twists. And then, about thirty pages from the end, it just sort of… becomes something else? And ends, kinda sorta? Given that it’s a 700+ page novel of itty bitty print, the ending doesn’t feel so much abrupt as it does not an ending. Similar problems plague several of his other otherwise-excellent novels, like Snow Crash and Anathem. Amazing writer, Stephenson, but he has more than a little trouble sticking the landing.
And, hoo boy, so do I. Most of my novels aren’t even complete, really; I just write until I hit 50K, because I’m doing it during November, and then finish the sentence or paragraph and leave it there. I recently went through all of my own novels to see what my “actually wrote an ending” ratio was: it’s either seven or eight out of fifteen, depending on how you want to count a book that was intentionally written as the first of a trilogy (and, no, I never wrote the other two). And several of those endings are, to put it mildly, utter trash. In one case it was a rushed summary of what should have been more of the book, and in another it wasn’t the ending that’s the problem so much as the missing third of the book right before the end.
So, yeah, endings are hard. They’re particularly hard when the ending is of something that has a deep cultural resonance, or heavy buy-in, or however you want to describe the couple-of-times-a-decade phenomenon that has people tuning in like Game of Thrones or reading like the Harry Potter series2. We as consumers of media hate to see a thing we love end, so we are already predisposed to dislking however it is the author or writers’ room or whoever actually goes about wrapping things up. We all have a mental map of questions we want resolved, characters we want to see succeed–or get their comeuppance–and when the ending inevitably doesn’t address All The Things we feel disappointed. It’s only natural.
I’m not justifying the (myriad) issues with the ending of Game of Thrones, mind you, although I think a lot of the problems with the show are covered by this excellent thread on Twitter that explains the difference between pantsers and plotters and what that meant for the last couple of seasons3. I think that, with more breathing room and some showrunners that were more interested in the show they were making rather than the shows they’d rather be making, we could have gotten a better ending. But it was never going to be a great ending, the sort of thing we’d smile and feel smug about and go “yes, that was exactly what we wanted.” There was too much investiture into the show to be happy about its end, no matter how well done it was.
So, yeah, endings are hard. Look, I’m even struggling to come up with one for this ramble. I think I’ll just let it trail off… like… yeaaaaaah…
- To wit: my mom, a dangerously non-critical watcher, had a reaction to the finale that could best be summed up as “shrug emoji”. What more need be said?
- Let me state for the record that I think Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a travesty of a novel, above and beyond its deeply unsatisfying conclusion, but that really only further makes my point.
- For those wondering, I am very, very much a pantser, so much so that several of my novels have veered far off course from my concept of where they were going at the start. That said, the best thing I’ve written came from heavy “plotting” before the writing, where I figured out a coherent metaphysics, and then pantsing the story that took place within those metaphysics.