“Who Shot J.R.?” The now infamous question in 1980 that puzzled Dallas fans for months after the end of season three generated such curiosity that over 80 million Americans watched the “whodunit” episode. It’s hard to imagine a show in 2016 being able to similarly capture the public’s attention due to the endless availability of old and new content. Yet, if the name Jon Snow sounds familiar, that’s because whether you watch Game of Thrones or not, the growing curiosity his name has generated is reminiscent of the ever popular Dallas mystery 30 years ago.
Is Jon Snow dead? Is he alive? Can he be revived? Who are his parents? The sheer number of questions and theories going around about the fate of the character, compounded by HBO’s teaser poster, featuring Snow front and center with blood dripping from his eye, has only further escalated anticipation for the show, which returns on Sunday, April 24. Will the new season live up to the hype, much in the way that Dallas did? Viewers are expecting the same high production levels, writing and acting that earned Thrones a record-setting 12 Emmy nods last year. One of the challenges going into this year is that unlike all the previous seasons, this one will be premiering before author George R.R. Martin has even finished writing its corresponding book, The Winds of Winter. While author George R. R. Martin is a producer on the show and has shared his general vision for how the show ends with the producers, he simply hasn’t created the specifics yet.
Is this a cause for concern? Not necessarily. In previous seasons, when the producers had complete access to the original text, they made conscious decisions, both big and small, to evolve the vision for the television adaptation. For example, changes were made to address the issue of child actors and actresses significantly outgrowing their characters in age. However, now with this season surpassing the books, the producers and writers are entering unchartered territory. This puts more pressure on the show to deliver a satisfying story to both the consistent viewers and the readers who will be learning of Jon Snow’s fate (and other major plot developments) through the show for the first time. However, it also gives the producers more creative freedom to take unique risks that set it on an asymmetrical course with the books such as further developing certain characters. As viewers of the show who have accepted the changes that have been made thus far, it’s important that we trust the producer’s vision.
Trust in the producer’s vision is equally as important for ending the series. Most television producers will say that when it comes to conclusions, it’s nearly impossible to satisfy every viewer. And as popular as Thrones is, all the good will towards the show could come crashing down, like any other show, if the ending doesn’t at least meet general expectations. Additionally, producers have to deal with external threats such as the networks themselves, who may try to squeeze as much money out of their content before all is said and done. Take How I Met Your Mother, the CBS sitcom that generated a buildup of curiosity over many seasons based on one central question: Who’s the mother? While the finale itself polarized fans, many believed the shows last two seasons in general represented a financially motivated decision that diminished the ending fans thought they deserved.
So what’s the plan for ending Game of Thrones? Last week, HBO Programming president Michael Lombardo already spoke of his desire to see the show run six more years. However, executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss told Variety that they were strongly considering wrapping the show up with 13 more episodes, which would comprise both season seven and eight. As viewers of the show, we can only hope that the desire for embracing the creator’s vision outweighs the economic allure that has all too often damaged the reputation of previous shows.
As a relative newcomer to the show (I started season one last summer), I’m looking forward to finally being caught up and able to watch the show live so I can experience new episodes with my friends who have watched from the beginning. Since we know the producers have envisioned a potential end to the show in the not-so-distant future, it’s safe to assume that season six will be pivotal to the show’s final stretch. While there’s no guarantee we will be satisfied with the ending down the road, we can hope that HBO’s programming department sees fit to let the producers and writers decide when’s the right time to stop and let them do what they do best, create. To George R.R. Martin and the producers, I say thank you for the journey so far and, speaking as someone who goes to school in upstate New York, I’ve never been so excited to hear the words “winter is coming.”
Ethan Berkowitz is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. Views From the 14853 appears alternate Fridays this semester.