Mild spoilers for Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame below
How was your #Fanmageddon Week?
I confess to being emotionally drained. All the hype, all the fan theories, all the speculation. Guessing who would live and who would die in Avengers: Endgame and The Battle of Winterfell has been a full-time occupation for the last few months.
Seeing the culmination of a combined two decades of character arcs, life or death battles, redemption, and Easter eggs – all in the space of a few days – was an intense experience, the likes of which we shall never see again.
All the memes, all the fanfic, all the in-jokes. Game of Thrones and the MCU are the two biggest franchises of this entertainment era. That they both reached a story climax at the same time… it was almost more than Twitter could bear!
I’m a sucker for a story with an unhappy ending, provided that it comes after a glorious campaign of noble struggle against inevitable death. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thelma and Louise. Old Yeller. It feels good to say The End and it’s usually for the best. There’s a reason why the myths that went on after the Hero’s Great Triumph end in such sad, sometimes pitiful, deaths. Heracles and Jason are betrayed by their angry housewives (a little misogyny thrown in for good measure.) King Arthur doesn’t make it out of the Battle of Camlann alive, and his Roundtable, his best knight and his queen are all dead or exiled.
My favorite, as you all know, is The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s exercise in mass elficide, where only a handful of protagonists make it out alive, and the more people fight against the darkness, the more they succumb to their grievous wounds. Tolkien kept things at a great remove (probably because he never actually wrote books, just a series of drafts), but George R. R. Martin brought us to ground level for the slaughter, a trend that the TV showrunners stuck with for as long as there was a book to guide them.
Left to their own devices, Benioff and Weiss gave viewers a Winterfell death count that was…far too light, went many complaints. I realize we have three 80 minute episodes to kill more favorites, but B&W clearly don’t have the stomach for murdering our darlings that Martin had.
Over in the MCU, the deaths were mostly contractually mandated, and survival depends on the status of your upcoming Disney+ show. It might have been all business at some point, but the inevitable was handled with a certain degree of emotional honesty.
(OK, I’m still a little troubled about Black Widow, the only girl who got to play the whole game with the boys, but she went out with noble struggle all the way.)
Stories end. Heroes die. We tell the stories again and relive the journey as a way to deny the inevitability of death. It’s part of how we process our own mortality, rationalizing death as part of a circle or as the darkness that gives the spark of life its definition.
I woke up Monday morning thinking that my friend Michael Davis had succumbed to his own noble struggle. The words you are reading now would have been about him, about the many memorable moments of our friendship, how he’s one of the funniest, smartest, most talented people I’d ever met.
A cruel hoax, a hack. Someone’s idea of humor. After all the real fictional death, processing this fake fictional death put everything in real life into a greater perspective.
I do believe that reading and watching the noble struggle of our fictional heroes is what helps us with our own daily noble struggle…a struggle that often seems very, very far from noble. If some omniscient author was writing our stories, we might never know the most important episodes, the moments when we touched someone the most, or offered the help that was most needed.
(We might never know the moments when we were the biggest assholes, either. That’s part of the package, alas.)
It may seem sometimes that the struggle is too much, and we’ll go to that dark place. Everyone has been there. Most of us return. Some don’t. And the tragedy is that someone, somewhere, always had a light. There’s always someone to say “Not today.”
If you are considering suicide or fear you may become suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org. If you live outside the U.S., you can find a list of suicide-prevention hotlines worldwide here.
[This column originally appeared as part of The Beat’s weekly newsletter. You can subscribe to it here.]
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.