That world is the universe of Game of Thrones. Naturally, spoilers for Season 3, Episode 9 are to follow.
In the few days since the massacre of the Starks in the event known as the Red Wedding, I have been struck at the reaction by many fans of the Game of Thrones series. First, I have to say how much I admire the capacity of those who have read the books to keep a lid on what was coming. Spoilers appeared here and there, but it was not so ubiquitous that I, a layperson who kind of likes the TV show, had come across any inkling of what was about to happen. I found out at the same moment Catelyn did, and if I weren't a robot I imagine I would have been shocked and dismayed much like her.
Shock and dismay, though, is putting very mildly what appears to have happened to the collective culture that calls itself Game of Thrones viewers. The Internet has been flooded with memes over the episode, news shows have thrown their tuppence worth in, and in forums across the web I continually see angry, stunned fans express a peculiar sentiment: this is the final straw. The almost annihilation of the Starks means they will not watch this program any more, and the reason is that it is too painful and upsetting to endure the torment and death of their favourite characters.
Game of Thrones is a fictional TV series, based on a collection of fantasy novels. It is a story where lots of nasty characters do nasty things to one another. It is a heavily political story, and we all know politics does not make for a world that has clear good and bad guys. The Starks aren't saints, and even if they were, this maudlin response as though the Red Wedding was this generation's 9/11 is perplexing. These people are not real. Their deaths did not actually happen. And I get that the viewers know that, this is not a rant at a stupid strawman who bizarrely cannot tell fantasy from reality. What I am getting at is this strange anger and resentment that came about in response to this plot twist. So many viewers seem furious at the show, at the novels, at the author himself, for killing characters they happened to like. So furious, in fact, that there have been numerous cries of "I'm not watching any more".
Why would you not watch any more? Is it not the stuff of melodrama and the basis of conflict for the protagonists to be beaten down to their lowest ebb and to come clawing back? Is it just not acceptable for bad things to happen to characters you like? This is like deciding to stop watching Star Wars because Luke got his hand cut off. It is shutting down the story in a fit of pique, before giving the author a chance to redress the balance.
Perhaps they fear, with good reason, that the balance will never actually be redressed. Perhaps viewers are starting to hide behind their proverbial couches because they are terrified that the show won't end the way they want it to. This is Game of Thrones, after all. But to that, I have to ask... so what? You are not the writer, you are the viewer. Pardon me if this sounds high handed, but it's not your job to decide where the story goes next. Stories unfold how they will, and you can enjoy them or not. If you find yourself not enjoying a rather bleak story where the good guys keep getting a pasting, by all means stop. There is no obligation to carry on a story that turns down a path you would rather not follow. But there appears to have been a strange sense of betrayal in the reaction to the Red Wedding, as though G.R.R. Martin and HBO are just trying to upset people by daring to steer their own ship their way. I have seen forum posters argue that next week, the fans will have to be appeased. Have to? Since when? Next week the only thing that has to happen is whatever has been scripted to happen. Where do fans get this idea that creative endeavours are a zero-sum game where everything they don't like has to be off-set by something more pleasant?
Perhaps it is simply the shock that has got people upset. I certainly did not expect most of the 'good guys' to get wiped out at the dinner table, and even for Game of Thrones the level of violence was extreme. Yet even those who saw it coming had trouble accepting what occurred. I have seen numerous people describe how they read the scene and then threw the book at the wall, in the trash, or out the window. Some people gave up on the books right there. Some describe watching the TV show, knowing it was coming, but hoping that for no apparent reason the producers would make something different occur. They were heartbroken to discover the TV show pretty much made it worse than on the page. And all the time I can only wonder: why? Why would you expect something different, and why does it matter so much that something bad happened to some fictional people? Let the story go where it is going. Again, if you don't like it feel free to get off the bus, and if you think there's something wrong about the show there's nothing wrong with saying so. Still, it appears this is not an issue of quality; I haven't heard any arguments that Martin's plot is poorly written or problematic for technical reasons. It's just that a lot of fans really don't like what actually ends up occurring. It is as though they are happy to view the stark (pardon the pun) and cold world Martin has created, but are not at all comfortable dealing with the ramifications of it. There seems to be a great reluctance to accept that bad things happen and the designated good guys aren't necessarily going to win.
So, what is going on here? Is the reaction to the Red Wedding happening as expected overblown and kind of entitled? Does it come from a place of fear of bad things happening and not being able to stop them? Or is there something wrong with me and I cannot grasp the connection people have to fictional characters, so do simply cannot fathom their outrage? Feel free to let me know.
Until next time, here's your moment of zen: