I felt a great disturbance on Sunday night. It was as if millions of tweets were suddenly sent out in anger (and millions of fans were definitely not silent). That’s what happened after Game of Thrones aired its final episode. The North may have survived the Battle of Winterfell, but the internet looks more like the people of King’s Landing right after Daenerys showed up and burned them all to death.
After the show became a worldwide cultural phenomenon, Game of Thrones turned its fans against each other with this final season. Beyond the online discussions on Twitter and Reddit, the disappointment-turned-into-hatred toward Game of Thrones has reached the point where well over a million people–at the time of writing this article–have signed a petition begging HBO to remake the last season with new writers.
Many critics have correctly pointed out that this season felt rushed. GameSpot’s Michael Rougeau wrote about why the last few episodes have been full of misplaced fan service. Wired covered the notable differences in storytelling from when the show passed the books, focusing on how the showrunners gave themselves a fixed endpoint instead of accepting more episodes like HBO offered. That forced the narrative of this season to become more of a checklist of what people wanted to see than the natural story of the characters making decisions and following the consequences of those decisions. Daenerys going Mad Queen and slaughtering the people she vowed to free was the moment that seemingly broke the fandom, and many fans felt betrayed by the choices in this season.
Of course, this is far from the first time a giant franchise released a new installment that split the fandom right down the middle. Coincidentally, this past Sunday also marked the 20th anniversary of the release of the start of the prequel trilogy and a film absolutely everyone loves, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Remember that one? The movie people hated so much, with characters so loathed by fans, that one of the stars of the movie considered suicide because of the backlash against his character, and another one destroyed all his Star Wars memorabilia after being bullied endlessly? Maybe an online petition isn’t so bad, considering.
That movie wasn’t a masterpiece either, and despite news clips of early reactions showing satisfied viewers (watch this below), the film is now regarded as one of the worst things to happen to the Star Wars franchise and the start of a trilogy that threatened to destroy everything the franchise had built.
Except it didn’t. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Star Wars in general? Is it Jar Jar Binks doing fart jokes? Qui-Gon Jinn talking about midi-chlorians? Probably not, unlike you actually love the prequels, which is totally fine. Otherwise, you probably think of scenes in the movies that you love, like the Binary Sunset scene, the Darth Vader reveal, or maybe even Han and Chewie arriving on the Falcon in The Force Awakens. No matter what your favorite Star Wars movie is, you always remember the moments that made you happy more than the ones that disappointed you.
Confession time: I used to love the prequels. Despite having memories of seeing the special edition of A New Hope shortly before the release of Episode I, the movies I vividly remember seeing in theaters were Episodes I-III. Even if I always thought it was weird that Anakin was so much younger than Padmé and I had no interest whatsoever in the taxation of trade routes, I still loved the podracing sequence, the Battle of Naboo, and of course the lightsaber battle between Maul, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon. If I think back to 1999 it is those scenes that come to mind.
Likewise, no matter what you think of this last season of Game of Thrones, we will always have those early days. More than that, we survived up to this moment. We survived seeing Ned Stark beheaded in the first season, the massacre of the Red Wedding, and that awful, awful Dorne storyline. It is entirely within everyone’s right to criticize the show, but a handful of disappointing episodes won’t take away all those moments of thrilling political intrigue, staring in awe at the cunning conversations between Arya and Tywin, the horror of seeing Oberyn suffer such a horrible death, the collective anger after watching the Red Wedding, and the many tears we all shed every time a favorite character bit the dust.
I get it. You can only do the series finale of Game of Thrones once, just as you could only tell the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader once–or could you? There probably won’t be a remake of the prequels, and you can’t go to the past and change the script or the acting, but you can build up from what’s already there and try to make it better. Star Wars has the Expanded Universe, and even though most of it is technically not canon anymore thanks to Disney, there are still plenty of stories that expand on what we see in the movies and even improve them. After the prequel trilogy was over, Dave Filoni made Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and in the show’s six (soon to be seven!) seasons: Darth Maul came back, Jar Jar became a bit less annoying, and we got to know more about Qui-Gon Jinn and how the clones were created and their purpose in the creation of the Empire. More importantly, it got us to care about Anakin Skywalker even if the prequels didn’t. The Phantom Menace may not be fully vindicated in the eyes of fans who were burned after spending years waiting, but thanks to the ever-expanding EU, the prequel era feels fresher than ever.
And if even after all that you still don’t want anything to do with the prequels, there’s still Disney’s sequel trilogy, and the recently announced non-Skywalker movies, and the Disney+ TV shows. Star Wars fandom survived the prequel era, and the dark times before it when fans had to wait a decade and a half for more Star Wars. There has truly never been a better time to be a fan of the galaxy far, far away.
The same thing applies to Game of Thrones. For better or worse, the series has become a cultural phenomenon bigger than any single episode or season of the show. Not only did we all become addicted to the endless cycle of rooting for a character only to see them mercilessly killed by their own stupid decisions, but an entire tourism industry flourishes in Northern Ireland and Dubrovnik thanks to filming locations for the show. A few polarizing episodes do not take away from all the discussions regarding what characters were secretly planning, debates over what Hodor meant, and the watch parties that occurred all over the world.
HBO is still working on those prequels. And best of all, we still have the books! Even if you end up disappointed by the finale, remember you can still look forward to reading George R. R. Martin’s ending eventually. Being the rare adaptation that got ahead of its source material, we still don’t know what the original ending is, or if it will change because of the show. In any case, that’s as close as you can get to a remake, even if you have to use your imagination to picture how it all looks.
Game of Thrones, and by extension its fandom, will be OK. We may argue, we may fight, but even if we don’t love it now, we all used to love this show and watched it religiously every Sunday night. Winter came and went, and there will be other shows in the future, but for now–and only for now–our watch has ended.