An estimated 13.5 million Americans watched the finale of Lost. I am one of the literally tens of those Americans who loved it. It’s not just that decades of Chicago sports fandom and poor relationship choices had taught me to associate loving something with disappointment; I loved it because it resolved the characters.
Sure, abandoned plot tendrils hung over the affair like Cthulhu’s pinata, but the make-believe people I had come to love found a deeply satisfying conclusion. Fifty points to your Hogwarts house if you figured out I’m about to talk Game of Thrones (without spoilers). Well, not just GoT but about ending fictional narratives of all kinds.
Social media has made discussing and dissecting things infinitely easier and, thus, infinitely worse. We have accessible platforms for meaningful discussion, which we use mostly for memes and sexual harassment. Although, to be fair, the GoT memes for the final season were vastly superior to the actual show. When a major piece of pop culture ends now, the whole of the Internet gets embroiled in often embarrassing fisticuffs.
So let’s try to cut through the noise and talk about what makes for a satisfying narrative conclusion, what fans are owed, and how to cope when things don’t go great.
Plotters vs. Pantsers
A really smart dude on Twitter (twitter.com/DSilvermint) had easily the smartest, most understandable thread for what went wrong with the final few seasons of GoT. He divides writers into two camps: plotters, or those who work from a detailed outline of all events that will happen, and pantsers, who “fly by the seat of their pants” and let the characters they create dictate where the action goes.
George RR Martin is either the Godzilla of pantsers or a pathological liar. His Song of Fire and Ice series has been expanded, delayed, and changed more frequently than a major congressional investigation. The showrunners of GoT decided they wanted to quit working on one of the most popular, significant television programs in history in order to pitch HBO confederacy pornography. This meant that a show that was a byproduct of pantsing switched to being heavily plotted. So it started to suck.
It’s really that simple. There were a billion ways to fix this and smooth the transition. These range from slowing things down a bit to actually hiring women to write and direct, not just get naked and commit murder on screen. I truly believe that every single plot development, if considered in isolation, was totally and completely fine. Hell, I’d argue that most were fantastic. It was just how these events occurred that made it feel like gargling with expired pickled herring.
I’d also argue that this is the final proof that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are horrible hacks who got lucky by attaching themselves to a well-cast project based on amazing source material. Not that it should be a stretch to dismiss guys who pitched “What if we imagined having slaves again?” and wrote X-Men Origins: Wolverine and an upcoming movie in which Will Smith fights a clone of himself.
Anyhoodle, the point is that for a conclusion to be fully, deeply satisfying, it must not only resolve the plot but the characters. It’s not complicated … Oh, and if you do choose to sacrifice one or the other, you’d damn well better choose your characters. Just look at Avengers: Endgame. Do any of you think that time-travel shit makes sense? It does not. It does not at all. Yet, because the Russo boys made us cry about Iron Man and Captain America, we gave them well more than two billion of our moneys. Your plot can be a mild disaster, so long as you hit us right in the feels about the fake people we love.
They Invented Fan Fiction for a Reason
So what do you do when the thing you love crosses the finish line looking and smelling like the most popular Wookie at a Kashyyyk orgy? Stay with me now: You deal with it. I don’t traffic in the mean-spirited, dismissive nonsense that suggests the millennial generation is too quick to outrage. Old people killed your fucking planet. You get to be mad about stuff. The anger people have about pop culture that disappointed them is multigenerational and totally OK. But you do have to get over it, and you shouldn’t demand that the creative artists who made the thing that you loved before you hated it redo that thing in the way that you prefer.
It is insanely shitty when showrunners, producers, directors, writers, or anyone flagrantly disregards the desires and opinions of the very people who enable them to make stuff. But it’s totally their right to mess it up. It’s their thing. They made it, they get to publicly euthanize it and take enormous, heaping amounts of shit for it.
Beyond common-sense rules like “don’t send death threats to other human beings,” the guidelines for how to behave after GoT broke your heart are simple. Grieve with your fellow fans. Show how smart you are by talking about how you would have done things if you had created a worldwide blockbuster adored by millions of people.
Pledge to never again watch content from the people who did you wrong, until you go back on that pledge and do anyway. I don’t know, maybe write fan fiction until you heal. Just don’t attack people who did like it, don’t assume that other people’s art and work should be bent to your designs (even if you’re right), and please don’t demand anyone remake something. They won’t, and it makes you look stupid.
Look, I hated how GoT went down. But somewhere, Bizzaro Ryan who hated the Lost ending maybe loved this garbage. As maddening as it can be when the thing that you loved doesn’t love you back, you can turn it into a cathartic experience. Hug someone named Danerys today.