Belfast Telegraph

From the fate of Daenerys to the Mercurio method, Alastair McKay looks at the art of saying goodbye

The final credits roll for Game of Thrones on Monday and fans who have devoted so much time to the series are on edge about how it will wrap up.

Final curtain: Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Final curtain: Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Line of Duty
Car Share

By Alastair McKay

Spoiler alert: the ending of Game of Thrones is terrible. It will ruin the whole series for you. It will prompt you to wonder whether all the time you spent in Westeros - justifying your interest in dragons and incest and naked people muttering in corridors and fighting in the dark - was worth it.

True, it's not going to be as bad as Lost, where loyal viewers - reader, I was that twit - were left with a crumpled tissue of implausible mumbo jumbo: not just flashbacks and flash-forwards, but zipwires into an adjacent reality, the sideways timeline, where characters could be together after death, but only if they accepted what they had done and even then there was some nonsense about supernatural lights and electromagnetism and... a confession.

I can no longer remember the ending of Lost. It is suppressed, because after 121 hours of emotional and intellectual engagement, purgatory and angry smoke, the only thing the ending proved was that the writers were driving blind and had no idea where they were going. In the end, the ending didn't matter, except to undermine everything that went before.

Spoiler alert two. Game of Thrones won't be like that. After eight seasons, the show's creators have a good idea what they're doing and the likelihood is that they will deliver something that pleases most fans, most of the time.

There are caveats, of course, kingdoms full of them. There is a school of thought which argues that the show should have ended after that shadowy battle in The Long Night, where the Living Army met the Army of the Dead. Those who do not wish to know the result need not look away, but subsequent episodes have shown that, while that battle did much to shape the outcome of events, individual characters still had scope to mess with destiny.

This last week has been all about Daenerys, who has surprised many, and disappointed more, by not being as lovely as everyone had been hoping.

True, there is a vocal minority who refused to be taken in by Dany's pale charms, but it is a bold drama that allows the psychopathic tendencies of its heroine to drown out her redemption song.

And here's another thing about Game of Thrones. It is complicated, of course. But GoT also seems to have made screenwriters out of its audience. Over these past few days, the internet has been alive with Thrones kneelers trying to Elastoplast the scabs of their enthusiasm by discussing character arcs and the extent to which the behaviour of Daenerys - lovely, terrible Dany - was foreshadowed or - stand back now - a complete betrayal

(Spoiler alert three: it was both of these things and more. Seriously: though nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition, Game of Thrones fans raised on dragon logic and random acts of jeopardy ought to be expecting the unexpected by now).

Already, the inquests have begun. On the Twitterverse, the Twitterists have been poking the still-twitching corpse and wondering why this series feels so different.

A hat-tip here to Twitterer Daniel Silvermint - he likes dogs, fantasy novels and intersectionist philosophy - who proposed the Plotters v Pantsers theory. Google those words and you'll find him. Google Plotters vs Pantsers and you'll find a creative-writing trope that is particularly popular among fantasists.

Fasten your safety belts, here's the theory. Plotters have a plan, pantsers fly by the seat of their scants. They make it up as they go along. The point about this series of Game of Thrones is that it takes the action beyond the source material.

Author George RR Martin - a pants man (albeit very flowery pants) - hasn't written the ending and he can't be rushed. The series has gone on without him.

It has fallen to the show's creators, David Benioff and DB Weiss, to resolve everything, which is a bit like playing chess on a Rubik's cube. Twist the action this way and the queen falls off. Complete the white side and you'll lose the plot.

But all this talk of pants sounds like a diversion, a technical way of explaining something simpler. Endings are difficult. They are hard in fantasy novels, though less onerous in cinema, where the contractual requirement for possible sequels means every conclusion comes fitted with an escape hatch. But television, the way it is today, doesn't favour final curtains.

Consider last week's Baftas. Jed Mercurio's Bodyguard was barely recognised, despite being the TV sensation of the year. It won a single award, on a public vote, for the Must-See-Moment. That was the bit where Keeley Hawes exploded. It was a great moment.

Why wasn't Bodyguard's broader achievement recognised? It's because of the final episode and an ending that left many viewers suffering from Bodyguard Regret, an itchy ailment similar to Lostitis, which leaves viewers wondering whether their investment was really worth it.

The same goes for the last series of Line of Duty. At tension, Mercurio is a genius. At resolution - with the caveat that we still have another series of Line of Duty to come - he is merely clinical.

The audience may be missing a trick, as the whole point in Line of Duty is insinuation, and the suggestion - to paraphrase Ronnie Biggs - that no one is innocent. But a Scooby Doo conclusion feels like an answer to the wrong question.

Can endings be good? Occasionally. Fleabag exited stage left by leaving Phoebe Waller-Bridge in a bus shelter communing with an urban fox, but that was a short-haul drama.

Car Share kept its will-they-won't-they dance going until the ride was over. That was a comedy. But when viewers have invested years watching a complicated drama, breaking up is hard to do.

Perhaps the best example of how to get out is to be found in the closing moments of The Sopranos. The last four minutes are extraordinary. The whole episode feels like a wake, but the curtain falls with a fade to black. Is Tony Soprano dead?

Many people think so. People still argue. The show's creator, David Chase, has grown tired of talking about it, saying definitively that "whether Tony Soprano is alive or dead is not the point".

More death? Six Feet Under was falling apart by the time it shot the crow, but it pulled off something magisterial in its closing scenes. Yes, this was a neurotic drama set in an undertaker's, but the flashes-forward to the deaths of all the major characters was quite a jolt.

Or there's Mad Men, in which Don Draper spent a stylish decade redefining the "mad" in the title, from Madison Avenue to stark, raving. He found solace, meditating his way into a Coca-Cola commercial.

And here we are, wondering who will sit on the throne and whether the throne even exists. For dragons, gamesmasters and Machiavellian fantasists, it's a bittersweet symphony, because it is the end and nobody wants that.

The producers of Game of Thrones are promising something "appropriate". Some fans are signing a petition calling for season eight of Game of Thrones to be remade. It's an internet sensation.

Because - final spoiler - the game is never over. And the end is never the end.

© Evening Standard

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