All games must end…

There are probably thousands of websites where you can get all the hot takes, spoliers, and analysis of eight seasons of Game of Thrones, especially now that it has come to an end. I had to let the series finale sit with me for a couple of days before offering up my own opinion.

I was a latecomer to the series and didn’t start watching until someone recommended it to me in 2012. After a bit of binging through seasons one, though, I had the fervor of a convert. Episode-for-episode, I think it stands up as some of the best drama ever put on television – with even its weaker episodes and seasons standing tall against most competition.

That brings us to the ending. Was it everything I had hoped for? No, it wasn’t. The compressed final two seasons made scenes out of what in early days would have been entire episodes. I would have gladly watched as many more hours as HBO would have aired. The ending wasn’t how I’d have wrapped things up – but unlike another storied HBO series, at least there was an ending that felt like a reasonable place to let the story stop.

It’s easy to raise hell and cast the producers and writers as villains. The thing is, though, I didn’t have $100 million to throw at making a television program. The decisions on what to put in and what to keep out rested with others. Although I was invested in the fandom, I’m a rational enough fan to realize those decisions belonged to someone else. They made the artistic and financial decisions and then brought the curtain down.

As Ramsay Bolton famously said, “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” Maybe that one line is the thread that really binds the entirety of the series together. No one has ever been all happy about the way the game played out.

All games must end…

This weekend I finished my end-to-end re-watch of Game of Thrones. With 47 years between seasons it’s easy to forget just how good a show it is episode after episode. It was a good reminder of why season eight has been worth the wait.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Thrones is popular because its characters are so universally identifiable, although I like to think that each fan sees something of themselves – or something they wish they saw in themselves – in at least one of the characters. I mean who wouldn’t want at least a touch of the bold certainty of a Mother of Dragons, the stiff honor of a Ned Stark, or the ability to drink and know things a la Tyrion Lannister? We collectively see something in these characters and this story that elevated Game of Thrones beyond just Sunday night television. 

In a few brief weeks our watch is ending. At least one entertainment journalist is prognosticating that upwards of a billion people will tune in to see the series end… and that’s just accounting for it’s “official” numbers without tallying all those who find a “less expensive” way to tune in. 

I’m pulling hard for my dragon queen to sit the throne when it’s all over, but in a George R.R. Martin universe it’s hard to imagine a character he raised so high won’t come plummeting back to earth in some utterly horrific fashion. At this point, part of me will just be glad if the execs don’t give us an ending as deeply unsatisfying as The Sopranos.

But seriously, if anyone needs me for the next six weeks, I’ll be busy looking for a way to block any website that contains the words “game” and “thrones” in a probably hopeless quest to avoid spoilers.

It’s just a Game…

I read the Entertainment Weekly article on Game of Thrones’ eighth season this morning. I almost wish I hadn’t. Although it feels like it has been years since season seven ended and I’ve been giddy at the thought of the kind of monumental television the season might be, I’m not sure I’m ready for it to be over. I almost feels like it might be better if the 8th season went unaired so that it remains forever subject to imagination.

That’s not practical, of course. HBO expects a hefty return on their investment. There are spinoffs to market. And all, stories do eventually reach an end… even if we find their end unsatisfying (I’m looking at you here Sopranos).

I like a lot of television programs. There aren’t many of them that I feel invested in, though. Series come and go and for the most part once they’re gone I don’t spend much time thinking about them. TV is ephemera – something to be consumed in the moment rather than to be dwelled upon. Thrones is different not just because it’s occupied my imagination for nine years now, but because the story it tells and the characters themselves are just so damned compelling.

It’s just television – just a Game – but knowing that winter, at long last, is upon us, leaves me wishing the long summer had lasted just a little bit longer. I’m desperate to see who wins and who dies, but I’m just a little bit heartsick at seeing it all drawing to an end.

I know Jack…

I want to like Amazon’s new series about the life and times of Jack Ryan. In fact I didn’t just want to like it. I wanted to love it. I wanted to wrap myself in the well-known and comfortable embrace of the Cold War. I have a long history of being willing to read or watch anything if you slap Tom Clancy’s name on the package and this new show isn’t an exception.

The problem isn’t really with the show per se. If you’d have called the lead character Bob Smith it would have made compelling television if you’re a fan of the terrorist hunter genre. My real problem is I’m steeped in the Jack Ryan backstory. Where they’ve changed it to fit this new universe feels jarring – Like the young Ryan having an economics degree and coming out of a big city financial firm instead of a history degree and landing at the CIA by way of a professorship at the Naval Academy or Cathy being an infectious disease specialist in Washington instead of eye surgeon at Hopkins. They’re messing with details I’ve lived with in book and film for decades now.

For me, Jack Ryan and the universe he inhabits are and ought to be products of the Cold War. He should be fighting Commies instead of tracking terrorists through every third-world hell hole we’ve ever seen on the news.

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a fine show. I’m going to watch it and probably enjoy it instead of shunning it like some kind of disgruntled fan boy. Good as it may be, though, it’s not the Jack Ryan I’d hoped to see on the small screen.

The fanboy experience…

I guess you can say I got to have the real fanboy experience this past Friday. Now, I can sit comfortably and interact with generals, political appointees, and elected officials all day long without being the least bit impressed, but put me in front of seven random guys from California and I’m a mumble mouthed mess who can barely bring himself to make eye contact with the god of his own making. It’s good to know that I can still feel over-awed by something, I suppose.

A quick photo op and a few mumbled words would have been plenty enough to make my day, but with my 40th just passed, I wanted to do something a little more out of the ordinary. I’ll say without reservation that sitting fifteen feet above the stage watching your favorite band belt out the songs that have become the staple soundtrack to your life was really one one those thrill of a lifetime moments. I’m still trying to get the dumb grin off my face.

Sitting behind the main speakers, the sound is a little muddled and some of the site-lines are better from the front row, but for seeing the “whole picture” there’s really nothing better. You get to see the organized chaos of on the fly equipment swaps when earpieces stop working and the interplay between shadowed band mates when someone else is taking their moment under the spotlight. You get to see the massive human effort involved in making the seven guys on stage look like they don’t have a care in the world beyond being there making music.

I wanted an experience, bought my ticket, and saw the show. It would have been an absolute steal at twice the price.

If you think you need to go…

I’m going to see my favorite band again in concert on Friday night. This will be the 5th or 6th time I’ve seen them over the last decade, although the music of Counting Crows has been stuck in my head far longer than that. I knew their songs in high school, but it took a girl with a guitar on the 5th floor of Cambridge Hall to secure their place permanently at the apex of just about every playlist I’ve ever made. Most music seems to wash past me like a stream, but these guys, well, they get in my head and just rattle around.

I wish I could tell you exactly what it is that makes this band speak to me particularly, but I’m sure it isn’t just one thing. Their music is sweet and sad and funny and has this timeless quality that I can’t quite explain. I’m also going to just sit here and pretend it’s in absolutely no way an effort to stay in touch with the version of me that’s still half my age. It’s definitely not that.

So off I’ll go again to willingly wade into a crowd that under just about any other circumstance would agitate every single nerve I have. For this one night only I’ll not just endure it, but embrace it. I suppose that’s how you know I’m a real fan. Of course it also helps knowing you have a seat away from the rabble and there’s a very comfortable shuttle waiting to expedite your exit from the venue and back to a delightful old hotel. Just because you’re going out into the crowd doesn’t mean you have to be part of them, after all.

Sigh. These next three days are going to be interminable.

Diplomacy…

I’m not, either by training or disposition, suited for the world of diplomacy. There they use find words and polite phrases to make even the simplest issues sound complex. The complex issues, well, they make sound too difficult for a mere mortal to comprehend. Certainly not all people will ever grasp the detail of policy but the brad strokes don’t feel like they should be out of reach.

While I can’t in good conscience support all of the activities on the world stage of our current president, I do have something of a gut feeling that an occasional shake up in the polite world of diplomacy might actually be a net good overall. Turning the polite, made-for-tv photo op frippery of international diplomacy on its ear makes a dark little corner of my heart just a little bit happy.

With the G7 conference left in a tizzy, I’m waiting with great interest to see what news comes from Singapore. I fully expect the hand wringing of the international media, talking heads, the left here at home to be something worth seeing – even if only for its entertainment value.

No, I don’t want to watch the world burn, but I don’t mind at all seeing it dragged out of its comfort zone from time to time.

Like I said, I’d well and truly suck as a diplomat.