I am always baffled by the behavior of fickle fans. I’m talking about those who abandon a series quickly or without logical reason. Sometimes series do go downhill and, in that case, it’s understandable to jump ship. But when the writing and acting remains at a certain standard, and it’s not a procedural that just gets old because it’s the same thing week after week, why do viewers tune out?
The most recent big example of this phenomenon in recent memory involves AMC’s The Killing. After a critically acclaimed freshman run, people were outraged when the murder was not solved at the end of the year. Thousands of watchers, if not more, took to the Internet to pour out their hurt feelings, claiming to have been betrayed or cheated by the series they loved.
Why? The show never promised to tie things up in a year. I believe many jumped to the conclusion that it would be once the case wasn’t closed in the first episode because that’s what made sense and was predictable. But there was never a stated contract that this would be the case.
Taking two seasons to solve the murder was a bold and brilliant move, but The Killing paid dearly for it. Because it didn’t kowtow to an expected formula, viewers punished it with much lower ratings in year two, which resulted in the (thankfully not permanent) cancellation of the series.
As someone who loved both seasons, and was thrilled that The Killing was daring enough to take twenty-six hours to investigate a single murder, I became quite disappointed and baffled with the behavior. Why did anyone feel betrayed? We got more of the same high quality story we were loving! And by really taking its time, The Killing let the story breathe so much more than the typical crime show. It was able to really get inside the heads of those involved in the case and how a family deals with such tragedy.
But that was last year, and The Killing does get to live on, albeit as a slightly neutered version of itself that has to promise to end the latest case by the close of the season.
The more immediate example, which I find even more disturbing, is the way fans have quickly turned on HBO’s Game of Thrones after last week’s penultimate installment, “The Rains of Castamere,” in which several pivotal, main characters were slaughtered at an event known as The Red Wedding. In the past week, people took to facebook and twitter, lamenting their broken relationship with author George R.R. Martin and the series, vowing to be done watching it.
Now, as I write this, the ratings for last night’s season finale have not been released, but already reviews and rankings have not been nearly as positive as before, which worries me. I feel like the negative feedback is part of the backlash from last week, not an actual judgment on the season’s conclusion, which was a very typical episode.
Game of Thrones is one of TV’s biggest series, certainly when compared to other cable networks. This has worked out well because it is such an expensive show to make. Yet, as the three seasons have played out, more and more viewers have gotten on board and sang the show’s praises. A dramatic falling of the numbers could put the future of the show in jeopardy.
Game of Thrones is a little different from The Killing because it is based on a book series, and more or less follows the author’s already-published story. Those who previously read two thick volumes knew of this event before it happened, and I feel like the negativity is coming more from those who have only watched the show, not expecting something so brutal to occur. So it’s the casual “fan,” not the diehard, that is doing the snubbing.
Yet, Game of Thrones has always been nothing if not cruel. Other characters have been taken out without warning, too, and violence and death are routine components of the tale. Ned Stark’s execution in season one’s penultimate offering is a great example of the same type of twist. Why are people so upset now? Yes, they’ve had more time to get to know these characters, so their deaths are harder to deal with than Ned’s, but because death is built into the fabric of the show, it should not be so surprising.