CMNS 236 Understanding More Television: The End of Television

Carlo Javier // The Only Exception 

Illustration by Coralie Mayer

The most on-brand ending Game of Thrones could possibly run would have to include the Night King and his Army of the Dead lay waste to the Westerosi civilizations and drive our surviving heroes past the Narrow Sea. 

A victory for the bad guys would follow the long-established ethos of Thrones – one that eschewed conventional narrative tropes, such as good triumphing over evil. Plus, if we were to accept internet readings that claim Thrones is a commentary on modern socio-political issues such as climate change, political polarization or general apathy, then what better way to end than to have evil triumphing over good. It would just seem ‘on-brand.’ In the wise words of the red priestess Melisandre, “There is only one hell, princess. The one we live in now.”

The end of Thrones will come later this spring. It will undoubtedly be contentious, as devotees of George R.R. Martin’s yet-to-be-finished A Song of Ice and Fire series will certainly have their gripes. Even show-first fans like me will likely have complaints, since loose ends and unanswered questions are inevitable. 

But more important than how Thrones concludes, is the very fact that it’s ending. Thrones, as The Ringer’s Alison Herman said, “is the very last piece of television monoculture.” It is the biggest television program of the post-Sopranos era, and likely has a claim as the biggest show ever. It is certainly the most expensive to produce, and as we found out last year, the most pirated. When Game of Thrones ends, it will take with it, the last bastion of linear television. 

Linear television refers to the broadcasting structure that programs traditionally follow. For example, Thrones airs on Sundays at 6 pm, Grey’s Anatomy is on Thursdays at 8 pm, and The Bachelor is on Mondays at 8 pm According to television scholar, Nele Simons, linear television isn’t just a mere broadcasting construct, it also paves the way for a social experience. A set-broadcasting schedule allows millions and millions of people to watch the same content, at the same time. Furthermore, the shared experience can also extend after the show, as evidenced by commentary, critique and conversation that we conduct about our favourite shows among friends and co-viewers. 

Thrones’ place in the pantheon of television greats is indisputable. It’s among the most watched shows in history, it’s the most pirated, and it’s the most expensive. Unlike other television titans like The Big Bang Theory (finally ending, whew), and Grey’s Anatomy (needs to end), Thrones remains in heavy demand despite the extra cost that its premium cable channel asks for.  

The most powerful weapon in any television show’s arsenal is the ending. It offers the long-awaited pay out to the seasons and seasons we invest in not only as viewers, but also as active participants in the culture around it, in discussions and critique. The end of Thrones comes at a time when we – active agents in the communications dialogue between producer and consumer – have displayed some semblance of power in effecting change in the process of content creation and production. Our very habits are the data that feeds Netflix’s infamous algorithm after all. Thrones stood tall amidst the rise of streaming, and once it concludes, there will be a massive vacant space in the television landscape.  

It’s fair to ask who will fill the crater that Thrones will leave. HBO’s Westworld exhibited tremendous promise in its first two seasons, and the cable company also has its highly-anticipated rendition of Watchmen in the works. Netflix isn’t going away, and Disney, Warner Media, and even Facebook are looking to secure some of that streaming revenue with their own platforms launching in the near future. Maybe we shouldn’t be looking for the next vanguard of linear television. Maybe the question to ask is whether or not we even need one. The streaming format has given us a seemingly endless library of television content to watch at our own leisure. More importantly, it’s given us control. We can now dictate what show we’ll watch, when we’ll watch it, where and how we’ll watch it. After all, the medium is and will always be the message.  

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