Social media, meanwhile, has been aflame with criticism of the show’s finale. Take Stephen Martinez, a 34-year-old fan who lives in Washington and works in government. He took to Facebook on Monday with his grievances. “If anyone hasn’t watched ‘Game of Thrones’ at this point,” he wrote, “there’s literally no reason to start watching it now. None. No payoffs, no resolutions, horrible story lines for characters that aren’t Dany, nonsensical events and endings with no real purpose. Like seriously, if you didn’t watch this show in real time as the world wide phenomenon it was, you won’t enjoy it.”
He told The Washington Post that he didn’t read the books the series is based on, so he feels he has “a more focused perspective on the actual TV show.” He added that his issue is that “the finale failed to deliver on the feeling of purpose for every character or event, or a reason for all of their strange journeys and horrific struggles we saw during the show.”
Disappointment is one thing, but many fans’ reactions were brimming with far stronger emotions, ranging from sadness to anger. A few businesses offered grief counseling. And some viewers claimed that the ending tainted their memories of the previous seven seasons, ruining the show in its entirety.
There’s no question that endings matter. The way stories wrap up is so important that Ernest Hemingway penned more than 40 endings to “A Farewell to Arms,” said novelist Fiona Maazel, who teaches creative writing at Princeton University. (The exact number is debated.)
MFA students are often taught that an ending should be surprising but inevitable. And the reason an ending is “at least halfway inevitable is because the ending was in the story line and just had to be teased out,” Maazel told The Post.
“I think a lot of people would argue that for ‘Game of Thrones,’ it wasn’t inevitable at all. There was very little packed into the prior eight years that might have prepared for you the outcome [that actually occurred],” Maazel said. “An ending that’s unexpected without feeling inevitable just feels unaccounted for, strains credulity, and I think a lot of people are struggling with that.”
The predictability of some aspects of this season didn’t help, she added.
“The queen goes mad. The man kills his love for duty. I mean, for God’s sake, it’s just trope after trope being rehashed by a show that prided itself by exploding expectations,” Maazel said. “The ending certainly wasn’t inevitable. And it was, on the one hand, unexpected because . . . the characters hadn’t developed in a way to sufficiently warrant that ending. But yet it was completely predictable because they mobilized all these tropes that they had shunned from the beginning.”
By those standards, the finale did not provide a good ending. But why do fans care so much?
Over time, “you develop relationships with the characters, and they’re deep. It’s as if they’re your friends, your enemies, your neighbors or even your loved ones,” said Amanda D’Annucci-Kean, who has studied the psychology of storytelling and gave a TEDx talk on the intersection of the two. “There’s a connection deeper than empathy. It’s personal. And once that story ends, your relationship ends. All your friendships are over, and all your lovers are gone. It just ends, and it’s devastating.”
In other words, emotions are already running high when a show is ending. And when it ends poorly, those emotions can be anger and betrayal.
This can particularly be the case when characters don’t act the way they have been presented, such as, say, Grey Worm letting Jon Snow live or Daenerys breaking bad in a split-second, rather than slowly descending into madness.
“When these characters are not true to themselves in a way you’ve experienced, you know it,” D’Annucci-Kean said. “You lose that connectedness. You lose that trust. The person you’ve connected with has either been lying to you this entire time and is now showing you their true colors or vice versa.”
“Writers need to give justice to their characters and have respect for the character development that they’ve made,” she added. “And when they don’t, it puts a bad taste in people’s mouths who trust them as well as the characters that they’ve developed.”
That doesn’t mean characters have to act morally or ethically, but they need to be authentic, and their actions have to be supported by the text and by their character development. If they aren’t, the viewer is pulled out of the story.
And that’s just about individual characters. If a story as a whole isn’t true to itself — if the ending isn’t supported by the text, which is what many are saying about “Game of Thrones” — then those negative emotions can be compounded exponentially.
"It’s like a relationship,” D’Annucci-Kean said. “Let’s say you’re dating someone. You even get married. Then you found out they cheat on you. Your relationship ends. What does that make you think about the entire time you were with them? That it was false.”
Maazel feels similarly, pointing out that part of it is a viewer wanting a return on investment.
“The kind of endings people really want is to learn something, to grow, to feel like their investment over the past eight years or 500 pages or two hours has borne fruit, [created] a revelation, the kind that might dawn on you six months later,” she said.
That, though, isn’t what happened. Instead, the show “went for the easy resolution. . . . You’ll notice that all of our heroes survived. The core people all survived, and they went off and got their just due.”
She compared the feeling to when she was an alternate on a jury. For months, she listened to testimony and became invested in the trial. But when it came time to deliberate, she wasn’t allowed to participate. Instead, she was cut free. She literally didn’t even get to see the ending, and she essentially felt as if her time was wasted.
“A terrible ending can really undo a lot of the pleasure of the experience we’ve had,” she said. “You can feel like you wasted your engagement.”