Some Deep Thoughts on Escapism, Monoculture, and ‘Game of Thrones’

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I have a lot of thoughts about the season seven finale of Game of Thrones.

I have so many thoughts that it’s taken me way longer than normal to figure out how to put them in a discernible (let alone entertaining) order. I tried doing something pithy and fun, like a listicle of the most “OMGWTF” moments, since there were so many. But even after a second viewing of the episode, that didn’t feel right.

I think that’s because this finale felt momentous in a way no other finale, or even episode, has. The “OMGWTF” parts were affecting, of course. How could we not go batshit over Littlefinger’s death and the Night King riding wight Viserion and collapsing the Wall? I literally screamed. Literally screamed. Several times.

Maybe it was the snow falling on King’s Landing as Jaime rides away from everything he’s ever known. Or the beautiful shot of Theon collapsing on the beach after demonstrating a strength of will he’s never had, full knowing he’s likely going to be giving his life for his sister. Or even Dany and Jon’s roll in the hay. As questionable as it is for this show to really want us to be okay with incest, when looking at them purely as characters that we’ve grown to know and love, they haven’t had a real reason to live for years except to take on the responsibility of saving the world. Laying naked in bed together, they’re almost surprised to remember what affection feels like.

So maybe it was all those things. The few tender, understated moments that remind us that’s what’s made Game of Thrones great all along. But I mostly feel sad about it. I am sad that the season’s over, and that there’s only six episodes left. But it’s not in the fandom kind of a way, where I feel like I’ve invested a lot in these characters and it’ll be hard to leave that all behind. I’m a hardcore J.R.R. Tolkien fan, so I’ve been through the five stages of Your Fandom’s Ending grief with The Lord of the Rings (no, The Hobbits don’t count) and that was years ago. That kind of grief is very personal. It exists within the confines of whatever part of you that attached yourself to this particular story; the part that mourns for the loss of that particular story as an emotional outlet. And what I’m feeling now doesn’t feel like that.

When I really break it down, I’ve been sad for over a year. I’ve been deeply sad ever since it seemed imminent that the person who is currently in the position of the President of the United States could become just that. When I looked around and saw a lapse in judgment and critical thinking for the sake of righteous outrage gaining traction. Where unchecked sexism, racism, and xenophobia became more overt until it became actually dangerous. And then the unthinkable happened, and living in the United States now means living with horrible, daily reminders of what happens when people make decisions based on emotion instead of logic.

I didn’t realize it until the season ended, but Game of Thrones took on a wholly new dimension this year: it became the best, most fulfilling form of escapism any of us could have hoped for. Just by being itself, the show gave us an hour’s length of time each week to forget what was happening around us. And consider all the time taken to discuss every little detail of every plot. And then there were the recaps, and the theories, and the memes. And, for me, spending upwards of seven hours a week writing about it. The events of the last year elevated Game of Thrones from Coolest Dang Show on TV to Temporary Amnesia for Your Real Life.

I’m sad because there is now a Game of Thrones-sized escapism hole in the entertainment I intake, and there’s nothing on the horizon to fill it. If Mark Harris’ predictions are right, we’re in for a lot of on-the-nose commentary about our nation’s current sociopolitical climate. In the case of the newest season of American Horror Story, it’ll be heavy handed: the season is reportedly about clowns, bees, and the 2016 presidential election. Yikes. In the case of the newest season of Black Mirror, the dystopia may be too real to bear. The Waldo Moment actually happened. As outlined in a piece from Salon, Black Mirror originally “arrived to reveal the often unseen monsters lying just beneath the surface of the connected, seamless future Silicon Valley and the technocrats surrounding Obama had sold us.” Now, “we live with those monsters every day.”

I’m sad because it feels like Game of Thrones is the one unifier we all have left, and it’s almost gone. An HBO record of twelve million people watched the season seven finale, and there’s no way they all vote like I do. Sure, there’s the Super Bowl, which reliably pulls in over 100 million viewers. But it’s more likely that the vast majority tuning in celebrates the Super Bowl like I do: as an excuse to invite friends over to eat bad-for-us food and drink too much on a Sunday, and mostly just pay attention to the commercials and the halftime show.

Game of Thrones feels like the last bastion of cultural consensus this country has, and one that also deals with complex social and political issues. We can all agree that a hurricane slamming east Texas is horrible, but a natural disaster doesn’t require us to choose sides. It doesn’t require all those who see it to determine the value of loyalty. It doesn’t ask to consider the larger implications of Jon’s speech, that “when enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies.”

As it happens, the day Kit Harrington delivered that speech was November 9th, 2016.

But do they, the other person that supports someone I utterly despise, think of these characters the same way I do? Is Cersei the villain for them? Is the Hound sympathetic? Were they uplifted in the same way I was when we find out that Arya and Sansa worked together? How is it possible that they feel the same empathy I feel, when they support people and policies that treat the cripples, bastards, and broken things of this world with disdain?

I’ve never been a patriotic person. I don’t care about seeing the people of this country come together necessarily, other than on a Sunday night in front of the TV. And I certainly don’t think that Game of Thrones is going to suddenly make someone with a dumb red hat listen to someone like me. But to face the reality that soon we won’t have at least one thing that we can agree on does make me sad. It’s another reminder of how far removed we are from one another. But there is something perversely comforting, and very confusing, in the idea that that red-hatted person also considers Ned Stark to be the pinnacle of honor.

We have some time. The last season of Game of Thrones might not come until 2019. Maybe the wheel will break in the meantime. Now that season seven’s over, the best I have for forgetting about the world’s problems is the twenty minutes I spend playing Solitaire on the elliptical three times a week. That’ll have to do, at least until next season. Anyone know any good books?

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