Summer makes me think of endings. It is the end of an academic year, the start of lying in bed and reading to my heart’s content.
I have always thought endings are beautiful. They are also a revelation. When the curtain calls, we, as creators, want others to be moved. And we, as an audience, want art to move us. To make us believe in things greater than us, in people greater than us. (Maybe we want to believe that there are, in fact, people greater than us. This mess can’t be the apogee of human perfection, can it?). We want to borrow someone else’s mind for a while, and stay there till the best bits stick.
In the past couple of weeks, four things I’ve absolutely adored have ended. Four things created by people I have never ever met in my life (and most likely never will) have changed my life. Some of these journeys have been long- 24% of my life has been consumed by Game of Thrones, longer if you consider the summer I tried to read it. Others have been shorter- I watched Fleabag for the first time not two months ago. And yet others (Veep) made me open my eyes how brilliant, how contemptible reality is.
Yes, it’s true that GoT did not live up to my naive nineteen year old expectations- Ned Stark didn’t live, women, even queens, get raped, and people’s motivations can change within seconds; we are terrible, terrible creatures, but we egg on. We let a naive, hopeful, powerful, broken woman drive us into the apocalypse, and we give long monologues about the beauty that is a story, we sail off to seek new adventures, and we stop emulating others and become the rightful Queen, while simultaneously letting a perpetually high white guy in charge. You know. Shit happens.
But what gets me more is how much I looked forward to the social aspects of a Game of Thrones episode. Everybody is a friend. Everybody has a theory. And we are all competitive about how much we think something will happen. And then everybody will be equally frustrated that it didn’t even come close. But we were in this together. For a bit, every week, we forgot about ourselves and let three dragons and five direwolves, and an eclectic bunch of characters take our minds off the dystopia we live in.
We let a power-hungry, ignominious woman match up with a balderdash, conspiracy-mongering of a man run for the most potent office in the world. We cry when she “sacrifices” her support system and steps into her crest all alone. When she dies, men disappoint her again. And then, a man replaces her. “Man up,” she says, “I’ve been fucked over a hundred times, so that you can complain about the little things you do.” Anyway, look at all the door she opened. Of relentless comedy. For graceless, ambitious women, whose legacy is briefly freeing Tibet and overturning same-sex marriage. We let her say goodbye to us after seizing what she’s wanted for more than seven years.
Not very unlike this other woman. Graceless, yes; angry, hell yes; phlegmatic? A bit. Defeated? Crumbled? Relentless? Yes, yes, and yes. Honestly, I am not even ready to talk about it. I’ll just say, I know that it will pass. But I’m glad it was here. Mine for a short while.
I am fascinated by these endings. Some “landed,” while the others didn’t, leaving us collectively dissatisfied. Why was that? Frank Kermode, in The Sense Of An Ending, says that an ending should come as expected, but not in the manner expected.” We all wanted Selina to be President, but nobody expected it to be so pyrrhic. She lost everything, and everybody who cared about her, to achieve her goal. In fact, I am sure that she failed miserably after, because she didn’t have a plan! In that way, Veep falsifies our expectations by reaching “the discovery or recognition by an unexpected route.”
Fleabag also does this. We root for the oh-so-familiar titular character. We hope that her sister leaves her creepy husband and creepier son-in-law. We hope that her father recognises what a terrible person his wife-to-be is. We hope that she finds love (whatever that means) in a person worthy of it- at least someone who’s not a who’s who of human garbage. And all of this happens. We see her recognise her pains and her confusions; we see her fall in love on the way. But
it doesn’t end well it is not a happy ending. But we know she’d continue to soldier on. We know that she will be fine. But it’s open-ended and deliciously reflective, but extremely satisfying. We know that anything else would be less than perfect.
Then there is Game of Thrones. It disappointed. For a grand high fantasy series with brilliant, flawed characters, a metaphor for the society we live in today and a reflection of ones gone by, it disappointed. It might not have been so terrible if the previous seasons were bad too. But because the authors wanted to shock us into believing that that was the fate of characters, it negated all progress. George Eliot argues that conclusions are essentially negations, which is why most authors find it difficult (you’ll see when I end this piece). In trying to shock us, they negated all foreshadowing, and eventually nothing made sense. Chaos is a ladder, indeed.
The problem with the Game of Thrones ending was, I believe, the crudeness; the “distribution at the last of prizes, pensions, husbands, wives, babies, millions, appended paragraphs and cheerful remarks,” as Henry James called it. A happy ending for its “good” characters. It tried to create the perfect loop (a lot of the scenes in the last season emulated the first), but failed spectacularly. I think the writers were trying too hard there; the last season lacked the depth of the first, the characters were hollow and did things so uncharacteristic of them that it did not land. All of this might not have been a problem if they had planned ahead of time what they wanted the characters to do and where they wanted them to be. It failed in trying to shock us, in trying to falsify our expectations by deviating from an earlier plan. They could have afforded it if they were writing a novel or a book, because they could have gone back and edited it.
Unlike Fleabag, Game of Thrones doesn’t end in heartbreak. It doesn’t make you ponder. Unlike Veep, the ending doesn’t seem inevitable- this was hardly the only path to end all troubles. Giving us a more fulfilling ending was possible- probably through pacing, or through tying up glaring loopholes.
But, it’s okay. This is not about how bad or good the endings were. This is about the fact that they did. We journeyed with the creators until the very end. We also journeyed with our friends and strangers on the internet, sharing our thoughts and creating responses. But maybe now it’s time to rest and get ready for newer things. Kermode akins endings to an Apocalypse. Maybe they are only a pause to breathe before newer pursuits. Here’s to hoping!