By this time next week, Game of Thrones will be over. Everyone will know what happens to Westeros. There will be plenty of screen space and thought-energy spilt on whether or not the ending was “good,” “consistent,” or “earned.” But no matter what the eminently reasonable masses of the internet think, the story will be over.
As of April 26th, The Avengers, and with it the many intersecting loops of the Marvel Comics Universe, has ended. There will always be movies based on comics, and presumably many will be based on Marvel Comics. But– officially at least– the over 11 year long narrative arc that ties together in increasingly intricate crossovers– that story is done.
By this time next year, Star Wars will be over. Star Wars– a story that started before I was born, that my parents saw together on a lark in their first year of marriage– will be done. Decades of waiting and speculation satisfied. Over. Put a fork in it.
YES BUT I ALREADY KNEW THAT
I saw Star Wars when I was ten years old. Already I was old enough that all major twists had already been given away. Kids don’t care about spoilers, especially during Star Wars themed pillow fights. The entire family-relationship plots and all that I went into knowing. Maybe that’s why it’s never been quite as magical for me as it has for some others. Don’t get me wrong; Star Wars is great, even when it’s cheesy and sort of dumb. The cheesy dumb parts still serve the larger story, and make way for the cheesy-awesome parts. There’s way worse ways to divert oneself for an afternoon, or lifetime of them.
I can imagine what it’d be like to be the kid seeing “Empire” for the first time and being blown away by the “I am your father. . .” moment. Or being the adult who wasn’t entirely surprised, but was gratified that their prediction held up. Star Wars has always been a story for children, told by adults, but it’s mechanizations are such that they meet very basic storytelling needs. You may need to fall into one of a couple different age brackets to love Star Wars, but anyone can enjoy it.
As such, quotes and references from a forty-year old movie about nervous robots and barely defined space magic and reluctant princes pepper our common dialogue.
THE SPORTS-ANALOGOUS THEORY OF RELATABILITY
The arrival of a new episode of GoT, or a new Star Wars or MCU movie is a lot like living in Pioneer Square when a home team is playing. I may be excited about it, I may not, but there’s no getting away from it.
GoT, Star Wars, and the MCU aren’t the only major pop cultural phenomena to bring their narratives to an end recently, but these three have achieved universality in ways that not much else has in recent times.
Put another way, I could probably after a brief conversation make an educated guess as to whether the person I’m talking to is, or was, into Harry Potter, The Wire, or South Park. These are things that a lot of people like, and talk about at length, but there’s a limit to their scope. There are a lot of folks you can have a conversation about the end of Breaking Bad with, but it’s not the same as “so, what’d you think of that last Game of Thrones?” or “Have you seen Endgame. . . yet?”
Everyone likes, or at least knows these things. Describing something as some “real Game of Thrones shit” immediately evokes treachery and gnarly violence. The MCU achieved the unlikely feat of creating stories that Film Buffs (grudgingly at first) respected while hitting all the candy notes of otherwise vacant blockbuster garbage. To tell someone you don’t watch Marvel Movies (I’ve admittedly seen fewer of them than most of my friends) is to be that guy. Don’t be that guy.
The assumption is that, like knowing what happened in the Sports, it’s a part of the air we breathe as a culture. Frequently suffocatingly so.
So what happens when that air gets sucked out of the room?
TELL ME A STORY, ANY STORY
There’s going to be a scramble, on the part of movie studios and television studios and streaming services, to find the next. There’s big money to be made. Studios will spend a lot of money and waste a lot of talented people on failed attempts to capture the zeitgeist by employing tropes similar to those we’ve seen in the past. One of your favorite actors will probably put on a silly outfit and fake ears in an attempt to capture one of the 8,234,448 YA novels floating around in episode form. It should be fun to watch, in one way or another.
Some folks have theorized that, due to changing viewing models, Game of Thrones is the last gasp of collective story-intake. That we’ll all now fritter away to our corners of individual interest, and society will be the worse for it.
I doubt it, personally. Back when Seinfeld ended they were saying the same thing. That this was it for something everyone knew. But people want stories. They want narratives, and they want to be able to talk to people about it. Fandoms expand and contract in unpredictable ways; the book you had to beg to tell your friends about is suddenly in the window at Barnes and Noble. The band you saw in a basement two years ago is soundtracking a movie. There are Industry Professionals whose job it is to predict such things, and at least 60% of the time, they’re wrong.
THERE WILL BE MORE
Because we live in an age where nothing is left alone for long, there will be more Marvel content, Star Wars spin offs, and there’s already a couple Game of Thrones prequel type things in the works. This is fine; I doubt I’ll get invested, but those who really put their hearts and souls into fandom of these shows will have more stories.
It’ll be a few years before these modern fables are replaced, or joined, by others. Unless you’re paid to keep track of such things, you probably won’t even notice the shift in air temperature. But in that meantime, at least we’ll be able to breathe.