The world is set to look like a very different place for millions of people on Monday, May 20.
No idea why? Then you’ve clearly not been part of the huge cultural phenomenon that has swept the globe since “Game of Thrones” (GOT) first took to our screens eight years ago.
The first-ever episode drew in a same-day rating of 17.4 million viewers, a figure that looks likely to be eclipsed on Sunday night when the battle for the future of Westeros draws to a close in the United States.
But will the much-anticipated finale — which airs in countries outside the US on Monday — delight or disappoint the armies of GOT fans worldwide? Many are resigned to the inevitable let down they expect to feel, among them more than one million people who signed a petition on Change.org demanding the final series be rewritten.
Identified only as Dylan D from Fort Worth, Texas, the instigator slammed the “woefully incompetent writers” and demanded, “a final season that makes sense.”
A nice try, but most unlikely given that HBO is said to have spent around $90 million on this season, which comprised just six episodes.
One person who will not be putting his name to the petition is Jamie East, who, together with Sue Perkins, presents “Thronecast,” an official after-show aired on Britain’s Sky Atlantic.
“Someone wasted 10 minutes of their life setting that up — it’s ridiculous,” East told CNN.
Nevertheless, he admitted: “I’m in total denial that, after Monday, that’s it.
“I’m going to be gutted professionally and as a fan… I just can’t bring myself to imagine a world without it.”
Part of the problem, according to East, is that the show is based on a series of bestselling books by author George R. R. Martin.
“People have had the source material since the mid-’90s and built up over the years a story in their minds of what the ultimate ending of ‘Game of Thrones’ will be. But it’s impossible to live up to everyone’s expectations.
“It has been nearly a decade of people’s lives so it’s part of the furniture now,” said East, who has produced a series of podcasts called “Previously, on…” in which he summarizes every episode of the blockbuster production in bitesize recordings.
“It’s the biggest show in the world for a reason. It’s extraordinarily well made and is a deeply complicated world of characters which mirrors our own society.
“Once you’re in, you’re in, but everything has to end eventually,” he said, citing the similar buildup surrounding shows like “Lost” and “The Sopranos.”
Often the main draw of such shows is the characters, he said: “Tony Soprano, Walter White, Daenerys Targaryen they are all anti-heroes — baddies, who are good at the same time. It’s those kind of narratives that we just can’t get enough of.”
Perhaps surprisingly, East will have to wait to see the finale with everyone else.
“People are getting themselves in to such a state of indignation. They just need to relax and enjoy what has been an incredible series,” he said.
“Clearly the big finale is going to be what happens between Jon Snow and Daenerys — that’s the key to everything now.”
But what he would really like to see is “two or three surprising deaths.”
“I think in their minds everyone has earmarked who they want to go, but I would like to see one final rabbit pulled out of a hat by [creators] Daniel [Weiss] and David [Benioff]. The whole series started on a curveball so it would be fitting if it ended on one too,” added East.
Back in 2007, HBO left fans similarly bereft and divided when “The Sopranos” drew to a close. Some, like journalist Chris Hallam, a regular contributor to science fiction and fantasy magazine Infinity, hope they won’t follow suit with GOT.
“‘Game of Thrones’ is a truly epic story encompassing a cast of hundreds of people, several different lands and a complex, fully realized fantasy world,” he told CNN.
“Tying up all those multi-faceted plot strands in a way which is both satisfying to the die-hard fan who has not only read but thoroughly scrutinized every paragraph of the books, as well as every scene of the series, while simultaneously proving accessible and entertaining to the casual viewer was never going to be easy. An ‘it was all a dream’ ending or a fade to black ending as with ‘The Sopranos’ just won’t cut it!”
As both a GOT fan and TV writer, Lisa Holdsworth sees things from both sides. Deputy chairwoman of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, she has worked on a string of hit British shows, among them “Call the Midwife,” “Midsomer Murders” and “Robin Hood.”
Drawing a popular drama to a close is no small thing, according to Holdsworth, who has followed GOT from the start.
“There was always going to be an enormous problem with the ending because you’ve got an enormous cast across an entire world. It isn’t just a police precinct or a hospital where you can get everyone back together,” she told CNN.
So how would she have done it?
“I would kill them all,” she admitted.
“None of them are particularly pleasant characters. I would go for what I call the ‘Blake’s 7’ ending, which left me scarred as a child as everybody died in the end.”
Holdsworth has never shied away from dramatic endings, twice having written what she expected to be the final curtain for BBC school drama, “Waterloo Road.” Yet both times, it survived.
“First I burnt the school down and then I knocked it down with a bulldozer — it was a very resilient school!” she said.
The problem for many GOT fans, according to Holdsworth, is that “characters are doing things out of character so that the ending has plenty of drama.”
She added: “I have a deep degree of sympathy with this as a viewer, but as a writer, I understand how difficult it is to keep things action-packed and exciting and not stray from the psychological realism of the characters.”
Sadly “you can’t please all of the people all of the time,” she said, adding: “People become very invested in characters over that length of time and also what they would like them to be. The romance, the revenge they want to see is often not what the writers want to happen. They have other journeys they want to go on.”
Though she will be watching the finale, Holdsworth admits she is not “absolutely obsessed” with what she describes as “just a bit of silliness with dragons.”
However, she knows how deeply affecting the end of a cultural icon like GOT can be.
“The show that’s still etched on my heart is ‘ER’ which had one of the best endings ever. I sobbed all the way through,” she said.
“It was like saying goodbye to a family. I loved that show intensely, so I do understand why people so want ‘Game of Thrones’ to be right.”