Hot take — people still care about Game of Thrones.
Six weeks after the finale of the epic HBO series, debate still rages about the world of Westeros and its morally grey inhabitants. The final GoT panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year had a mile-long line stretching along the water, and the very unofficial panel, A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones Fan Discussion, filled out its space at the San Diego Public Library.
The latter was moderated by A Podcast of Ice and Fire's Amin Javadi, with Ashley Mitruk (The Geekiary) and Tara Lynne (Ice and Fire Con) at the dais as well. The panel promised to be a discussion of all things Thrones, from Season 8 to the books which haven't gotten that far (yet). The elephant in the room was immediately addressed, as Javadi asked for a show of hands asking who enjoyed Season 8.
The airing of grievances had begun.
Roughly half the audience felt lukewarm about the season, while 20 percent of the audience said they enjoyed it. The rest of the audience, about 30 percent, were ready to take revenge on showrunners David Benioff and David Weiss for what they thought was a bogus ending. Given just how many outraged fans tweeted and signed petitions following the finale, it was actually more split than perhaps anticipated, a reminder that internet commenters are only a sliver of any given show's fandom.
Javadi, Mitruk, and Lynne offered their commentary and answered fans’ comments and questions in what was a giant session of emotional catharsis.
“There was all this lore, but that ended so suddenly," one audience member remarked, regretting that so many story threads and hints about the White Walkers did not lead to something more. The audience member went on to wonder if Arya was truly meant to kill the Night King, given the number of showdowns between Jon Snow and the commander of zombies.
Naturally, the panelists pondered how author George R.R. Martin will handle the series' conclusion in the long-awaited final two books of the series. Mitruk doesn’t even think the Battle of Winterfell will happen in the books, and that Benioff and Weiss were just winging it. Lynne felt the White Walkers — The Others, as they’re known in the books — will be a big bad, but not the final villains.
“It’s people who are the ultimate enemy," Mitruk said. Amin disagreed, however, suggesting that the battles will be reversed in the book, with the armies of Winterfell and Danaerys taking out Cersei first and then heading north to fight the ultimate threat. He also felt there wouldn’t even be a Night King in the sixth book.
Danaerys’ fall was the biggest point of contention amongst the panel and audience, and they largely felt that her rushed plotline was due to a crammed final two seasons. Her power-hungry end wasn’t necessarily a surprise to anyone, but as many people noted, “foreshadowing isn’t character development," so it wasn’t hard to see where they had issues.
“Dany always was a champion of women and children,” an audience member commented, explaining that yes, she understood her burning the Lannister army, but that she wouldn’t have attacked innocents. Most fans agreed with the point, though another audience member said that Dany couldn’t break the wheel and sit on the throne at the same time. Either way, it wasn't her ending that was the issue, but how she got there.
“[Benioff and Weiss] expected us to do the character building, fill in the blanks of their character development," another fan complained.
Discussion of Jaime Lannister's arc also brought out fans' frustration. His story was widely considered to be one of the best in the show, right up until the end when he ditched Brienne to go back to Cersei. This prompted Lynne to start an important conversation about abusive relationships, as she noted that Cersei was the instigator of abuse in the pair's relationship, and Ser Jaime returning to her is right in line with the actions of those who have escaped those relationships, but ultimately end up returning.
“There’s something interesting about a man having a crisis on conscience,” an audience member commented. The conversation grew from there, as fans wished the writers had explored what Jaime was going through, wondering what kind of man he really was. “Jaime was always used to being told he was a bad man, but suddenly all these people in Winterfell are treating him like a good one.”
“[Benioff and Weiss] hate Jaime,” Lynne rather vehemently declared, explaining how they would say he was a terrible person, a bad man, suggesting the redemptive arc was only to keep him interesting until they could get rid of him.
“Some of us are really bitter,” Mitruk added.
While Jaime leaving Brienne is “very Martin,” the panel agreed that it probably wouldn’t happen in the book and was just fan service.
The panel argued that the endings could have made sense, but how they got there did everything a disservice. The crammed six-episode season felt rushed, and left so many unfinished arcs as carnage on the side of the King’s Road. So much build-up meant nothing, from Bran’s warging or Jon being the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. There was a lack of real resolutions to many of the questions and plot lines that had been so built-up.
What was Bran’s purpose? “To become a meme,” Lynne answered
It wasn’t all pitchforks, however. There was an overwhelming appreciation for the fact Game of Thrones was brought to the screen at all, never mind how cosmic it became in scope. There was also an understanding that Benioff and Weiss probably never expected to have to finish George R.R. Martin’s story. A story, they added, that Martin was struggling to finish himself. The fact was, Benioff and Weiss were given plot points from Martin and had to fill them in with their own ideas. Not an easy task for a show so big.
Other commendations included Brienne getting knighted, the cinematography, the dragon dance in Episode 4, Sansa and Sandor getting closure, and Theon Greyjoy’s arc. A significantly smaller list in comparison.
“If you would have told me I would have cried when Theon Greyjoy died, I would have been like, who are you?” Lynne laughed.
And that leads us to the big question: What will happen to the fandom now that the series is over and no one knows when George R.R. Martin will release the next book (if he ever does at all)?
“Unless the book comes out within the next year, there’s a chance the fandom will settle into a stasis,” Lynne said. And she has a point. Without any new content, the dreaded hiatus rushes in, dragging down enthusiasm in its wake. However, there are still plenty of opportunities for fans to engage with others and spread the GoT and A Song of Ice and Fire love.
There are of course the prequels, which are filming right now, and will likely be a success, though maybe not on the same level as the original show. Lynne runs Ice and Fire Con, with its next iteration set to run from April 23 to 26 in 2020, and it will be held just forty minutes outside of Columbus, Ohio. The con will feature LARP tournaments, panels, and is more or less a Westerosi love-fest where you can let your geek heraldry fly.
Between podcasts, board games, and auxiliary books on the history of Westeros and more, there is plenty to keep fans occupied until Martin actually finishes the series. How he does it though, remains to be seen.