I am almost finished with A Feast For Crows, book 4 of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” or, as many of you know it, “The Game of Thrones Books.” I read the first two books way back in 2000, and when book three came out in 2001 I devoured it quickly. Then I had to wait what felt like a billion years for what we were told at the time was basically half a book. When George R.R. Martin made the decision to split book four into books-four-and-five, I made the decision to wait to read it until they were both available. That was six years ago. When book five did finally come out, I started back at the beginning and read the first three over again, and now I can finally read the new stuff!
Thanks to the television show, the books and the peoples of Westeros have gained significantly more popularity, and “Game of Thrones” has taken its rightful place in pop culture history. A high fantasy show with crossover mass appeal, I can’t help but compare it to another phenomenon that took off in a similar way, my personal favorite TV show of all time, Lost.
Like GOT, Lost was an epic and sweeping story about a place. In Lost’s case it was an island, and we slowly discovered the history of that island through the eyes of an ever-expanding cast of characters. And just like in GOT, one was never really sure that any of one’s favorite characters were going to survive.
I will not give any specific spoilers on either show/book except to say that they are both prone to killing off what appear to be fairly major characters whenever they feel it suits the story. And actually, this is a part of what makes them so good. But it does kind of muddle the ending for a lot of us.
We Americans have been, what’s the word for it? Disneyfied in our need for a tidy ending. It’s certainly not Disney’s fault, they didn’t start it, but they do seem to have become the poster child for a happy ending, no? And happy endings are the order of the day. And not just happy, but tidy. Tidy meaning that all the threads are wrapped up, all doors closed, all problems solved, and all characters at the end of their arc. Certainly one could argue that this is just good story telling. Having a satisfying ending is important when telling a story, and often one of the hardest things to do.
The last episode of Lost was extremely polarizing. People loved it. They hated it. They laughed, the cried, they said it ruined the entire show for them. People still debate it, and they especially debate whether or not it sucked. I worry about GOT for the same reason. How can you possibly end a story in a satisfactory way when you insist on humanizing your villains, killing off fan favorite characters, and introducing so many plot threads that it would be impossible to reconcile them all in a tidy way?
You see, we want to see our villains get their comeuppance, not feel sorry for them. We want our favorite characters to win in the end and get everything they ever wanted and live happily ever after, even though we know that happily ever after is basically impossible. I’m not saying you can’t be happy, but I am saying that once you stop struggling with life, you are probably dead. And we also want everything tied up at the end with a bow on it. All questions answered. All problems resolved. No new problems introduced, unless you are setting up a sequel.
But what if you are not telling the story of a character? What if you are telling the story of a place? Imagine that you want to write a series of books about America. The whole story, or at least the important bits that shaped it. And in order to not be dry and boring, you are going to tell it dramatically, through the eyes of the people that made history happen. You might have a character named Abraham Lincoln. His would be an exciting story, chapters and chapters of war and politics, and then, just when it seemed things were going well for him…..
Okay, no spoilers on the fate of Abraham Lincoln, but let’s just say that if this were a current book or TV show, the audience would be shocked, and many would call America “lame.” But see, it isn’t Abe’s story! It’s the story of America, and there are plenty of other interesting people to take over where he left off. And how do you wrap up that story, the story of a place? I don’t know, but I sure hope George R.R. Martin does, or he’s going to have a lot of angry readers at his house with torches and pitchforks.
P.S. – I loved the last episode of Lost. I thought it was a great balance of being both about the island, and the characters. In case you were wondering. But if you didn’t like it, we can still be friends.