Game of Thrones, television’s greatest phenomenon, came to an end one year ago this week. Two years ago this week, HBO’s adaptation of George’ R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series was six episodes away from doing to The Wire and The Sopranos what Michael Jordan did to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Instead, a decade-worth of slow cooking finished in the microwave. Season 8 left millions in a state of dismay. That was then, how do it and its future sit a year later?
I have not been able to rewatch the final season or any episode of Thrones. For background, I, like many others, have watched every episode from the first seven seasons at least twice. The truncated, illogical final season ruined the re-watching experience of a show designed for timeless viewing. The hidden meanings, the magic, the history, the build-up, and the prophecies don’t work when you know they ultimately mean nothing. We were expecting The Lord of the Rings meets The Godfather, when we were left with a combination of The Godfather Part III and Lost.
Golden State’s 2015–16 season is remembered for blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. At some point, its paradigm-shifting 73-9 season will come to mind first. Hopefully, the same can happen for Game of Thrones. Instead of puzzling ourselves anew why the White Walkers were defeated that easily or why Bran is king, we’ll reminisce about Jon Snow’s Battle of the Bastards wins and Cersei blowing up the Sept. But right now, Daenerys’ hardly provoked Mad Queen transformation and Cersei’s dispiriting death block seven seasons of greatness.
The Warriors’ disappointing ending wasn’t all that consequential. It led to Kevin Durant and another league-altering few years. That’s the difference. Game of Thrones’ franchise faces steep ramifications. Alison Herman, of The Ringer, pointed out earlier this week how Thrones‘ extended universe remains just a dream. Westeros is capable of producing the type of life-long spinoffs, sequels, and prequels that Star Wars has. Though, the sour, cheated feelings toward the ending have significantly complicated the odds.
The first step of expansion is leaving fans wanting more. Star Wars’ stans walk out of a theater discussing their plans for the next trip to the galaxy. Breaking Bad‘s viewers still refuse to admit Walter White is dead because of the unsettling feeling that’d come with realizing Heisenberg’s last cook has already happened. Game of Thrones‘ massive audience is, instead, operating as if the show never existed. And it’s virtually the entire former fan base. My only confident prediction going into the final season was that it wouldn’t please everyone. When a show reaches football-level importance, it means its viewers are fragmented. Shockingly, the reception was closed to unanimous — disappointed. This includes both critics and fans.
An ending that no one is fond of doesn’t bode well for prequels, which is HBO’s post-Game of Thrones focus. It’s not clear what led to HBO rejecting Jane Goldman’s pilot (Long Night was the suggested title). I can’t help but suspect the selling point of a White Walker-centric series would be difficult as we know how it, unfortunately, ends for the once most fascinating species in pop culture. A second prequel, House of Dragon, was ordered and set for a 2022 release. A Targaryen-focused story has the advantage of source material — Martin’s Fire & Blood — but the hype is minimal. It’s hard to get excited and theorize — two feelings that made GoT a juggernaut — about a family dynasty that’s ending is as unsatisfying as the Night King’s.
Martin’s world of ice, fire, dragons, dire wolves, death, royalty, sex, politics, and war isn’t going to be rectified with events that preceded those that angered a nation. This all began where it’s always needed to return: Martin’s mind. Game of Thrones‘ universe cannot be successfully expanded until Martin finishes the last two books of the series.
Perhaps, as the Bald Move podcast questioned, there isn’t enough time in a life to tie up all the loose ends, character arcs, prophecies, and subplots in Westeros. Maybe 2011’s A Dance with Dragons is all we’ll be left with. But if Martin fulfills his promise, and releases both The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, all of sudden, the endings of the characters we loved and hated for nearly a decade will be replaced with their novel endings. Martin’s ending, which he says isn’t all that different, is likely to resemble Weiss and Benioff’s. It’s the how that’d effectively differ. Daenerys burning down a city as her father would isn’t an unsuitable destination. The book series begins with Bran, thus his journey to a pantomath could fittingly lead to the Iron Throne. But both of these critically panned outcomes needed time to marinate, reasons to happen.
Martin has largely avoided criticism for how the TV version of the once-invincible ship sunk. All the blame is aimed toward Weiss and Benioff, both of whom are as disappointed as the most avid ASOIAF readers that the book series is yet to conclude. They adapted a book series they loved; they didn’t sign up to write fan fiction. This was Martin’s story, one he can’t even figure out how to land.
Game of Thrones was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There wasn’t anything like it. All the major networks are trying to recreate the appeal. It had a level of drama, suspense, and conversational weight reserved for a presidential election. Someday, hopefully, we can look back at the ride that filled our Sunday nights glowingly. Until then, though, its franchise’s future lies in the hands of its composer. If it’s motivation Martin needs, saving his historical creation gives him it.