By Matt Neglia
Tomorrow, the biggest television show of our lives will come to an end. The untitled series finale of HBO’s cultural phenomenon “Game Of Thrones” will bring about the close of 73 episodes of epic storytelling (sometimes great, sometimes good and sometimes not so good…but we don’t like to dwell on that) and also the end of an era for the communal viewing experience for some. At least, for me, it will be the end. I’m sure there will be other television shows in the future which will unite us around our HD television screens in large numbers with eager anticipation, waiting to see what happens on the latest episode. But for now, this is it for me. I don’t normally tell personal stories here but this was one I felt I needed to get off my chest. In order to come to grips with the end of “Game Of Thrones” (I still haven’t fully processed that this is the end), I thought it would be best to tell my story with the show, the book series and what it has all meant to me over the last near decade.
THE BELOW FEATURES SPOILERS SURROUNDING SEASONS 1-8 OF GAME OF THRONES
It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows my work here at Next Best Picture, that “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is my favorite film of all time. With themes of friendship, honor, loyalty, good vs. evil and more, it spoke to me on a grander level than most stories do. It taught me about devotion, impulse, sacrifice, and most of all, escapism. It single handily took my love for movies and pushed it to the next level. Because of the countless special features that came with the trilogy’s DVDs, I became interested in filmmaking in my younger teenage years and went on to study every aspect of the craft that I could in college.
Coming out of college, I had just gotten a new job and was lucky enough to meet some truly incredible people, who were just as interested in pop culture and the art of filmmaking as I was. During this time, I was lost and did not know myself as well as I do now. After watching television shows such as “Breaking Bad,” “24,” “Lost,” “The Sopranos” and “Sons Of Anarchy,” I considered myself a movie guy first and a television person second. It wasn’t that television was inferior. There had just never been anything that had rivaled cinema to me in terms of visuals and scale. Then, along came “Game Of Thrones” and everything changed.
I’ll admit, I didn’t start watching “Game Of Thrones” during its initial airing for Season 1 on HBO. I had heard, due to my interest in the above-mentioned shows, that it would be something worth checking out. It was sold to me as “Imagine if The Lord Of The Rings was rated R.” That was enough to get me started and then I was told it was also starring Sean Bean (Who played Boromir in “The Lord Of The Rings”), Lena Heady (“300”) and Peter Dinklage (“The Station Agent”). On paper, it looked terrific and from what I had heard, there was tremendous buzz surrounding the show. However, the series was not a proven property at this point and I was (and still am for the most part) weary of starting television shows before they truly establish themselves and will be seen through to the end (Nothing is more frustrating to me than to start watching a show, get invested and then find out later that the show is getting canceled for whatever reason).
I started watching on HBOGo on my iPad (before it was available on Apple TV), a few weeks before Season 2 was set to premiere. The first episode was confusing but instantly hooked me once Jaime Lannister pushed Bran Stark out the window for discovering that he was having an incestual relationship with his sister Cersei Lannister. I’ll never forget verbally saying out loud, “Oh, well now I guess I have to watch Episode 2 in order to find out if the kid is dead or not.” Here’s the funny thing though…I watched episodes 2 and 3 and then I stopped. The show was introducing new characters left and right with names that were hard to remember. There was an entire backstory which was never fully explained nor shown. It was a lot to take in all at once and I grew disinterested.
I gave up watching after that thinking that I might come back later but I wasn’t as invested as I thought I was going to be. Then, I had Ned Stark’s big twist at the end of the season spoiled for me when I was reading about the show online and realized then and there, I needed to come back to it and at least finish the season before making the decision on whether or not to continue watching Season 2 when it aired. Sure enough, I got to Episode 9 of Season 1 titled “Baelor,” and watched Sean Bean, the lead actor on the show, the man who with his very involvement had me interested in going on this crazy ride that would go on to define my 20’s, get his head chopped off. Even though I knew it was coming, the direction, writing, staging, cinematography, performances, music, all of the elements came together to tell me a story that made sense and affected me on an emotional level. It would not be the last time I was spoiled by events in the show, for immediately following the brilliant first season, I began reading George R.R. Martin’s “A Song Of Ice And Fire” series.
I read book 1 as Season 2 aired and by the time I finished the first book, Episode 9 of Season 2 came on titled “Blackwater.” My mind was as blown as Stannis’ ships on the blackwater bay. I had never seen a full battle at this scale on television before. It instantly reminded me of the epic battles from “The Lord Of The Rings” and that’s when I began to wonder “How many other people in my life are watching this show right now?” I came to work the next day and started asking around, “Have you seen this before?” “This story is epic. The characters are fascinating. The world is vast. The intrigue is captivating. You must check this out.” I was pretty persuasive and would lend out my copy of Season 1 on BluRay and DVD frequently (I had one each) to anyone who was willing to give the show a shot because I loved it so much, and I wanted others to feel what I was feeling as I witnessed history unfold for 10 weeks every Spring on Sunday night. By the time Season 3 was getting ready to air, I had hooked a majority of my friends and family onto the show. Because I wanted to capture the same feeling one gets when they watch a movie in the theater and I felt “Game Of Thrones” had that same level of cinematic quality, I began to host every remaining episode of the show at my house all the way through to the end.
Every week, the crowds that would show up to my parent’s house were growing bigger and bigger. By this point, I was almost done with the third book in the series (“A Storm of Swords”) and I knew that Episode 9 of Season 3 was going to be what is now infamously referred to as “The Red Wedding.” I hyped up this particular episode, without giving away any details. “Make sure this is the one you come over for,” “This Sunday, I’m telling you, it is going to get crazy” were phrases that I would say on a daily basis. When the episode aired, we maxed out how many people could fit in my parent’s basement with 18 people all gathered around the TV to watch a moment that would go down in television history. Some of us knew (by this point, at least 3 of us had read the books) what was going to happen and some of us were completely unprepared. It is here, that “Game Of Thrones” truly took off both in my own life and in pop culture.
By the time, Season 4 came around, having weekly gatherings at my house for television had extended to other shows such as “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad” but “Game Of Thrones” was always king. My friends enjoyed the fact that a television show could bring us all together to drink, eat, laugh, theorize and simply enjoy each other’s company. The crowds had become so big at this point that for major episodes, we started throwing outdoor barbeques with themed food and projecting the episodes for all to see (provided the weather held up). When the Season 4 finale titled “The Children” aired, we had 50 or so people outside, some sitting in chairs, some laid out on blankets but all watching with excitement and anticipation as to how George R.R. Martin’s story would unfold. In the years since then, having that many people together for a season’s first and last episodes has become common for me.
Season 5 was the first year I had moved out of my parent’s house but the show (and my viewing parties) had developed such a following that people started coming to my new apartment to watch. I even purchased all new furniture to specifically accommodate our “Game Of Thrones” viewing parties for those 10 eventful weeks. Even though I had a different job and had moved, people still came to watch and it’s here that I realized that the bonds I had formed through this show would extend beyond just the show’s lifespan. For the Season 5 finale, because I knew there was no way I could fit 50 people in my apartment, I rented out a bar to watch the finale which I think further showed everyone my commitment to bringing us all together, no matter the circumstances.
Season 6 and 7 was an interesting time, as I had moved back home, was all caught up with the books (Those final two books took me a long time to get through) and we had no new material from George since 2011 (and we still haven’t till this day). Despite the uncertainty, the end drawing near and seeing many friends move out of state, “Game Of Thrones” still brought us all together, whether it was in person or through social media. We all felt bound together by this show and it’s a feeling which has carried on to the show’s 8th and final season. For the show’s final season, I am living away from friends and family but not far enough that it stops me from traveling every weekend to experience the final episodes with the people who I began this journey with.
I have pretty much convinced almost every person I know in my life to give this show a chance because I have seen how it brought so many of us together. I’ve witnessed others formulate social media groups or join existing ones if they felt disconnected and wanted someone to talk to about the show. That’s the power that this show has. It brings people together. Other than NBP itself, there is no other piece of entertainment that I’ve felt so emotionally invested in and have dedicated so much of my time and energy to think about. In many ways, the communal experience of “Game Of Thrones” inspired me to start NBP as a way to continue to share in cinematic experiences with others. To me, “Game Of Thrones” was more than a show. It was a way to stay connected with the people I cared about and a way to escape when life got me too down. It was evidence that the people in my life cared about me. It saved my life on more than one occasion and it helped me to maintain friendships and start new ones.
No matter the critical or fan reaction to this show’s highly divisive final season (and you can hear all of our thoughts on it on the Next Best Series Podcast episodes we have recorded), “Game Of Thrones” helped me to understand more about the highs and lows of fandom, the power of escapism, the desire to feel connected and the power that storytelling can have on all of us. I owe a lot of who I am today through the nearly decade long experience I’ve had watching this show, devouring all the information on George’s world that I could and sharing it with the people who matter most to me. And while it is hard to say farewell to such an important part of my life, I know that the connections I have are not defined through just this show and I also know that after tomorrow’s Series Finale, the journey will not end when the credits roll.
Thank you to George R.R. Martin for creating this world, to HBO for giving us the show, to David Benioff & D.B. Weiss for steering the ship, and to the cast and crew for bringing it to life. Also a special shout out to all of the YouTube reaction and review pages which gave me plenty of information, perspectives and excitement to chew on both during the on and off seasons and to websites such as winteriscoming.net and watchersonthewall.com for gathering written information and providing excellent content. Finally, thank you to my friends and family for enduring my constant pleas to watch the show and always encouraging and never discouraging my ongoing love for all things “A Song Of Ice And Fire.” All of the merchandise, concerts, conventions, dinner conversations, podcasts and more! Without you, the journey would have truly been (to steal a common word used by the fandom) “bittersweet.” And to anyone out there who hasn’t watched the show or read the books and feels inspired to want to give either a try, I’m always here to chat if you feel alone or if you simply want to. I’ll never turn down a chance to talk about anything related to this world that George R.R. Martin has given us all to enjoy.
I know this final season has had its ups and downs but do try to enjoy tomorrow’s season finale. I know I will, for we will never see its like again.
“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.” – George R.R. Martin
You can follow Matt and hear more of his thoughts on the Emmys and Game Of Thrones on Twitter at @NextBestPicture