By Gian Ellis-Gannell
Editor in Chief
After much anticipation, HBO’s award winning series Game of Thrones came to an end after eight years last Monday. The finale has divided fans however, with many unsatisfied at how the show concluded- I too was disappointed after being an avid watcher for many years. I could sprout off many reasons for my initial disappointment- “he didn’t deserve this”, “she should have done this”, but I realised that the storyline did in fact wrap up each of the characters archs.
I found that my disappointment was a reluctance to accept the inevitable- the show that kept me wondering and theorising had come to an end. I was, and in a way still am, in mourning.
This may seem an extreme reaction to some, however I am sure that the symptoms I am describing resonate with many whom have made a television, movie or book series a part of their lives. Litsa Williams, a clinical social worker and one of the founders of 'What’s Your Grief?', notes that there are varying degrees of grief (obviously a series' conclusion is not the same as the death of a person), but that it is quite common to experience feelings of loss around different forms of media.
But how is it possible that such a connection can be made that we are able to display recognisable signs of ‘grief’? Many mental health professionals have weighed in on this issue, which has becoming increasingly apparent in our digital world.
The most obvious reason is because we have built a connection to the storyline and the characters. We can see ourselves in protagonists, antagonists, “Even when it’s fantasy, there’s genuine investment in the outcome of a story and the state of the various characters,” said Brian Kong, PsyD, a Chicago-based psychologist who explores the intersection of therapy and pop culture. As examples, Kong specifically mentions the development of Game of Thrones main character Daenerys Targaryen. Particularly in long running series, and for beloved characters “People feel so connected, and in some cases like they have ownership over something, for example ‘This is completely inconsistent to how Daenerys’ character has been developing,’” he said. “There’s a real, strong reaction to that.”
Another reason that licensed professional counsellors Kristen Diou and Anna Zapata from “Pop Culture Therapists” cite for strong emotional reactions to shows ending, is that we miss the release they once provided. They said that for many people, “It’s a way we detach from our own issues, our own problems.” “We can be more mindless. The thought of giving that up and coming back to our own world is a little frightening for people.”
TV Shows are also something that people can look forward to, and thus when it ends, we find that we miss the anticipation- “Depending on what else is going on in your life, that can be something really important,” Williams said. “It becomes a ritual for people,” Zapata said. “It’s a loss not to have our favourite Sunday night ritual.”
This sense of loss also extends to post-event/episode conversations. Cultural and social phenomenon’s such as Seinfeld, Friends, and more recently Game of Thrones provide conversation with peers. “It’s a shared collective experience, like the Super Bowl or the moon landing,” Kong said. “We watch it in groups, and even if we don’t, we still theorise and speculate together.”
Communities, especially now with the growth of online forums, tend to form around these phenomenal shows. The sense of belonging that they bring can be extremely comforting, and in this case the abrupt end of somewhere to ‘belong’ can be a genuine human loss.
These shows, movies and books can also span years or even decades- with many months in between installments. Williams said, “It causes us to reflect on how our life has evolved for how long the show has been on.” Kong also agreed that in a span of ten years (the length of Harry Potter), eight years (the length of “Game of Thrones”) or even just five years (the length of “Breaking Bad”), people will experience many life changes. Having a constant such as a TV show, film or book series is an emotive way to reflect on what has happened to us over the years. “It reminds us of the passage of time and where we were and who we watched it with,” Kong said.
So, if you are mourning the end of something, know that you are not alone. Many people feel exactly the same way, and you are not as insane as you may think for grieving over a story- because these stories have in one way or another shaped our lives.
Try to keep in mind however, that as our favourite Dr. (Seuss) once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”