I promise I don’t say this as a bitter ex-fan of Game of Thrones that hoped for rains of boos and fresh memes. I gave up hope of a dramatically satisfying ending to this show years ago. Contrary to what the internet, HBO, and David Benioff and D.B. Weiss themselves seem to believe, I think an appearance at San Diego Comic-Con would have been just the thing to quash the backlash against the two showrunners. Not permanently, but if handled properly, Benioff and Weiss could have put most of this behind them and changed the PR battle.
Right now, the lack of comment from either man is sustaining fandom outrage. Their isolation has only fed into the idea that both men knew season 8 of Thrones sucked. That they know they should be ashamed and are just throwing the cast and crew out to defend the show for them. Benioff and Weiss typically show up everywhere in the aftermath of a season. They’ll have interviews ready to go the night the finales air. The aftermath of season 8 has seen nothing but radio silence, which also feeds into the idea that they just wanted to be done with Thrones and phoned it in.
Comic-Con could have been a celebration of 8 seasons of one of the most popular shows ever made. If they sold it as such, that atmosphere would have easily won out over the fandom anger. Instead, their canceled Comic-Con appearance just made them the butt of further jokes. Even other cast and crew joined in on the jokes, as seen with Seth Rogan at the Preacher panel. The more they hide, the easier these jokes become.
The actual Thrones panel at Comic-Con didn’t help, either. They did everything they could to limit fan questions and heavily moderated it. I get it, I do. You don’t want angry fans making for a miserable experience for the cast that was there to celebrate the ending of the show. The problem comes with the aftermath. The whole thing feels so desperate to avoid any real criticism that it just creates more. Nothing sustains fandom outrage like the fandom feeling silenced.
Add in the timing of the cancellation, just one day before Comic-Con started, and it was a terrible way to go about this. The initial announcement of their attendance built up hopes, built-up fan expectations. Canceling not only sustained the anger, but it also created fresh anger.
In the end, despite all the “hope” that Benioff and Weiss would show up, the angry fans ultimately didn’t want them to. They love that those two didn’t show up. It makes them feel justified in their anger. And it also makes them feel like they won. Benioff and Weiss’s cancellation feels like victory. The outrage is working. The outrage scared them off. It doesn’t matter how true it is.
This outrage depends on a certain view of these two more than it depends on actually the truth, and they fed into it by canceling this way.
The best way to stop all this would have been to face it head-on. Show up to Comic-Con, take your lumps, let the fans ask questions and answer candidly and respectfully. Nothing kills anger like someone who doesn’t respond to it. I highly doubt the panel audience would have been nearly as vicious as anyone feared. If they were, it just makes the fandom look worse.
Want to change the so-called media-led campaign against season 8? Have the cast and crew keep cool in front of irrational fans desperately trying to bait them. Most entertainment outlets have already dedicated themselves to flipping the narrative to paint finale satisfaction as a disgruntled, irrational minority. They’d have jumped at the chance to paint an angry Comic-Con crowd as unfair to the cast and crew answering questions.
Besides, I think Comic-Con was a perfect place to explain some of their decisions. There are many fans, myself included, who looked forward to Benioff and Weiss going because we really want to hear some answers. We wanted to know the thought process behind how the final season, and the whole show. What did they think up? What came from Martin? Why were certain choices made? I know we wouldn’t like all the answers. I know they’d upset me in some instances. At least I’d have some answers, though, and it would be hard to keep up the outrage when they gave us answers.
A large part of the anger has to do with not knowing any of this. Why cut the last two seasons short? Why kill the Night King and the White Walkers so early? What inspired the character choices they made? I was never really angry about the show because of my already disgruntled opinion. Having the rug pulled out from under me like this did upset me, though. I’m sure I’m not alone.
I understand the reasons Benioff and Weiss would avoid Comic-Con and the media in general since the show ended. The backlash began well before the finale and only increased with each week. Fandom can be a hard thing to deal with, especially with one as big as Thrones. It feels like a no-win situation. Why bother at all? Just say you won’t attend Comic-Con from the start.
Handling things this way just wasn’t the way to do it. They just made the anger worse. At some point, Benioff and Weiss will have to face the fans. They’re moving on to Star Wars now. If they think the Thrones fandom was combative and hard to please, how will they deal with Star Wars? There is no way Disney allows them to avoid the fans forever. Facing the fans is part of the responsibility inherent to being a creator. You must be able to take in feedback and face your mistakes in a public manner.
I know that avoiding an embarrassing spectacle was not the only reason for avoiding Comic-Con. I’d hypothesize that Benioff and Weiss are hoping to stay out of the spotlight because they think it’s the quickest way to let the criticism blow by. They don’t want to carry this over into their Star Wars work. They’re avoiding it until people stop caring.
Normally that would work. Here, I don’t think it will. There is a huge crossover between Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire fans and the Star Wars fandom. There is no simply letting this blow over. All they’re doing is delaying and making it worse. No matter when they resurface, the angry fans will be there.
I know it’s not a good look on the fans when I say that. What kind of petty people would hold this grudge for so long? Why wouldn’t they move on? They should get a life, right? However sad it is, though, they won’t just move on. Even those who do move on will probably care again the first time Benioff and Weiss do interact with Star Wars fans. There’s no leaving this behind. Just ask Damon Lindelof. The ending of LOST still sticks with him. It wasn’t until the masterpiece of The Leftovers that people started giving him the benefit of the doubt again.
It’s a long, hard road back from infamous endings like the one for Game of Thrones. One requiring a lot of good PR and smart choices for the rest of your career. Even then some people will never fully move on. It’s not always fair. It’s still the truth.
This was a huge missed chance to extinguish a lot of the anger and backlash. I think Benioff and Weiss are going to regret it.