The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones has produced its highest ratings ever and the most tweeted TV episode of all time. Game of Thrones has also provoked a petition among nearly one million fans demanding a remake of the entire final season.
“[Showrunners] David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have proven themselves to be woefully incompetent writers when they have no source material (i.e. the books) to fall back on,” the petition claims. “This series deserves a final season that makes sense.”
Indeed Game of Thrones has triggered a backlash among many viewers and critics who perceived the writing as weak and clumsy. I am still deciding how I feel about the final season. There are so many plotlines and character arcs being resolved that I suspect I’ll need to re-watch some of the previous episodes to appreciate and assess how the plot has unfolded this season. I may end up being disappointed. (I was certainly nonplussed when the White Walkers were dispatched so early into Season 8 after being built up as the end-all-and-be-all threat for seven previous seasons.) But I do know that even if I’m ultimately feeling let down by the final season of Game of Thrones, there’s no way I’m going to sign that petition to re-do the show.
Even if you’ve never seen Game of Thrones, the petition should matter to you. If you respect art, it should bother you. With this petition, we’re witnessing the ugly downside of consumer-driven customization. We live at a time when we can create customized song lists and order customized wardrobes that get even more customized with the help of machine learning. We can play interactive games and watch TV shows where we choose our own narratives.
Being able to choose your own narrative for Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is all well and good. But let’s not treat artists like a cafe latte that we can order to our specific liking and return if we don’t get what we want. Because when the fans get exactly what we want from artists — when we dictate terms to the artist and bend them to our will — everyone stops growing, and everyone starts dying.
An unsatisfying Game of Thrones matters — a lot — because it forces me to better understand and articulate what I like and dislike about art. Do I agree with critics who feel that the Game of Thrones writers made wrong choices with Jaime Lannister’s character arc? Were the shocking actions of Daenerys Targaryen in “The Bells” properly foretold? Why or why not? Criticizing Game of Thrones properly requires me to re-assess and discuss storylines and character arcs going back to Season 1. Reading thoughtful criticism of the final season and its perceived flaws helps me do that re-assessment. I am grateful for the criticism — but if the creators of Game of Thrones re-made Season 8, the useful and perceptive reactions to the season as we know it would lose their value. I want to learn from your reaction to the art as we know it.
All art, however satisfying, helps me understand the artist better, too — where they are in their lives and how they attempt to make meaning of it all. The record albums Goats Head Soup, It’s Only Rock and Roll, and Black and Blue are considered by many critics to be inferior works by the Rolling Stones. But those albums maintain their place as transitional creations from a band attempting to reconcile their art with personal fame and decadence. I would never dream of suggesting those albums be re-cut. They remain useful documents of the band’s history.
Sometimes artists re-do their work, which helps us understand their motives and vision. The original Apocalypse Now felt uneven when I saw it in 1979. When Director Francis Ford Coppola released a lengthier version in 2001, Apocalypse Now: Redux, I was pleased. The new version addressed continuity problems I had with the 1979 version. In addition, with the release of Apocalypse Now: Redux, Coppola reflected publicly on the choices he made with the 1979 version — how, facing financial ruin, he had condensed the movie to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience. Here was a fascinating insight into an artist’s uneasy relationship with commerce.
But regardless of how I felt about Apocalypse Now or Apocalypse Now: Redux, it was Coppola’s call, not mine, to tamper with the original art (as he is doing now with the release of Apocalypse Now: Final Cut). The art belongs to me in a sense that I can interpret and criticize it. But it’s not mine to change.
And then there is the case of art that challenges the audience. Ever heard a song that sounded harsh because your ears just weren’t ready? Ever read a poem or book that had to grow on you? I have. It took years for me to appreciate Kate Bush’s talents as a songwriter and vocalist. The first time I heard her music, I was not impressed. But with repeated listening, I “got” her voice and her world. Thank God artists challenge me like that. When I am challenged, I grow. When I stop being challenged, I wither away.
Don’t like Game of Thrones? Did your favorite musician disappoint you with their latest track? Did an author fall short of their standards? Well, form an opinion. Share it. Better yet, make your own art. Create fan fiction if that’s your thing. But respect the artist’s creation. If they want to re-do their art, fine. But that’s their prerogative, not yours or mine.