Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why I suspect it's impossible to end Game of Thrones well—and, honest, no spoilers about GoT!

I haven't read the books because I hate reading a series that doesn't have an ending, but I realized something watching the TV show: the series wasn't designed to have an ending.

Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings both start with an evil force threatening the world, Sauron for LotR, the white walkers for GoT. In theory, both stories should end with a huge battle that the good guys win at great cost.

But big battles in stories are boring for anyone who thinks during battle scenes. We care about individuals, not spectacle. In the greatest battles, we care about individuals on both sides.

Tolkien made the war with evil interesting by giving us characters on evil's side. Saruman was Gandalf's friend, and it's always tragic when friends fight. Gollum retains a bit of Smeagol in him that Frodo recognizes, so the ultimate fight against Sauron boils down to a fight between and within two small creatures, Frodo and Gollum. The clash between armies is only a backdrop for the fight Frodo learns he can't win when he's unable to throw the Ring into the volcano—but which he ultimately wins because he had let Gollum live, and Gollum's corruption takes him to his doom and the Ring's destruction.

But Game of Thrones gives us no one to care about on the white walkers' side. No one chooses to join the white walkers. No one can be saved from them.

Game of Thrones' setting is what matters: people struggle for power with a greater threat facing them than they imagine. Endless stories could be set there, and perhaps should be. George loves editing the Wild Cards shared world anthologies; he could do the same thing with Game of Thrones if he wanted to.

The logical ending for Game of Thrones  is the humans learn what will kill white walkers, then kill them. There's no room in that for the ending to be as interesting as what led up to. It's the problem all mysteries face—the mystery is always more interesting than the solution.

The HBO writers have to end their series while the actors are young enough to be plausible in their roles. But George doesn't have to end his—he can explore his world for as long as he wishes. The white walkers stay a threat to his world just as war and the destruction of our environment stay threats to ours. We never expect stories set in New York or Kansas to solve those threats.

But stories aren't our world. We want strong endings to stories. We want to feel we've traveled to something that makes the trip mean more than what we saw and did along the way. So here's hoping George and HBO's Game of Thrones writers find brilliant endings. And here's sympathy if they don't.

ETA, the quick take: There's no room for dramatic conflict in the final conflict as Game of Thrones is currently set up. There's only room for physical conflict.