These past two months have been huge from an entertainment point of view. April brought us Avengers: Endgame, Marvel’s final conclusion to a franchise that spanned all of 11 years and 22 films. In May, we recently witnessed the finale to the Political-Fantasy saga Game of Thrones, that’s had us hooked since 2011. And with all the laughs, and all the heartbreaks, and all the gruesome deaths, and all the Stan Lee cameos, the fans expected a kick-ass ending. Well, they definitely got an ending, but did it live up to the hype? Here, we’re going to discuss how Marvel and HBO both ended much-hyped franchises, to varying degrees of success.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR BOTH GAME OF THRONES AND AVENGERS: ENDGAME BELOW
First let’s talk about Endgame. This one could not have been easy to write. With anxious fans breathing down the writers’ necks, there is simply no easy way to please such a large audience. However, Endgame was still such a great and widely enjoyed film for one reason: they subverted our expectations. I remember walking into the theatre telling my friends I knew exactly how the movie would play out. We’d get a slow first act, in the second act somebody will figure out a way to beat Thanos and rescue Tony Stark from the spaceship, giving everybody a bit of hope for the final act. The final act would be a battle with Thanos almost winning, and then losing at the last minute in dramatic fashion. There was absolutely no way I was expecting Thor to kill Thanos 15 minutes into the film. There was no way I expected them to go back in time and interact with their past selves. The movie could have been a simple three-act action punch-fest. Instead, I felt it was always one step ahead of me, and there was no way I could predict what would happen next and I was hooked for every second of the three-hour runtime.
The Russo brothers succeeded in not only making an epic finale but also a great film in general simply because they avoided falling in line with the audience’s expectations. The film was unpredictable and that is why it’s memorable. They were able to subvert our expectations and they did it well. However, it’s not that easy. There’s a fine line between this and subverting expectations to absolutely no avail. The perfect example of this is Game of Thrones.
Despite Game of Thrones having a pretty cliche and predictable ending (one could say bland), they have tried to add the unpredictability factor in Season 8. One scene in particular that I’m talking about is in Episode 3 of the final season when Arya kills the Night King. I remember watching this and being completely shocked. Completely taken aback. So this means the writers succeeded right? No. Just because they took us by shock doesn’t mean it’s good writing. Remember the first scene of the show? It was about a couple of rangers running from some white walkers. Right from the beginning, the show has always been about the mysterious forces lurking to the North, with the battle for the Throne seeming like an irrelevant distraction. However, when Arya Stark stabs the Night King, it relegates the entire arc of so many characters to completely useless. The army of the dead was set to be the final conflict of the show. Instead, the shocker that was episode 3 left us with (who we thought was) the main protagonist dead, and still 3 long episodes to go.
There is nothing wrong with shocking the audience, but there has to be a reason. What’s sad is that Game of Thrones is usually great at subverting our expectations and its one of the prime reasons the first 6 seasons were so well received. Events like the Red Wedding and Cersei blowing up the Sept of Baelor took audiences by surprise AND serviced the plot. The blowing up of the Sept solidified Cersei’s re-ascent to power and the Red Wedding changed the course of the entire war of the 5 kings.
The point is, the larger the fans, the more they hype and if you want to pull the plug on your franchise, it has to go out in glory. Bland and/or predictable endings (like Game of Thrones) simply do not cut it. You have to stay one step ahead of your audience, and sometimes, that’s easier said than done.