Demanding a Do Over: The 'Game of Thrones' Petition
What exactly is the audience's role in the production of media?
Shortly after the fourth episode of the final season of HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones, a petition was posted on Change.org. In it, petition-maker "Dylan" called for the eighth season of GoT to be completely rewritten and remade by “competent writers.” As of today, over 1.5 million angry fans have signed the petition.
Dylan notes that he isn’t actually expecting producers to hire a new writing team and remake the series. In an update to the petition, he states, "I didn’t make this petition to be an entitled, whiny fan. I made it because I was immensely disappointed and needed to vent." The petition, according to him, is less so a demand to recreate the season and more a message of "frustration and disappointment at its core."
He seems to be a relatively well-spoken fan who, on a whim, put up a joke petition that has since served as a means of expressing to the writers and producers of Game of Thrones the disappointment fans felt at the series' last turn. But, taking the premise of the petition at face value, it conjures an interesting question: What does this say about a fan’s role in the production of media? Should the audience have a say in how the final story looks?
We’ve seen lines blurred regarding fan interaction, especially as the line of communication between storyteller and audience becomes more accessible. More indie creators sometimes listen to fans and take their ideas into account. In one instance, Griffin McElroy, the storyteller or game master of the popular series, The Adventure Zone, listened to disheartened fans about a homophobic trope (killing off the only LGBT+ characters at that time) included in the work. McElroy apologized for unknowingly using a harmful trope and promised to understand that moving on. Later in the season finale, he brought back those characters, which for many fans made right the initial wrong. Other small web-based fiction is directly influenced by fan feedback, and some fictional stories even require fans to interact with the story, such as in Augmented Reality Games (or ARGs).
In traditional media, we can see that some relationships (such as that of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully from The X-Files) were directly influenced by the sheer fervor of the fans. Most recently, we’ve seen the quietly revolutionary concept of Netflix’s Bandersnatch, which allows fans to interact with a movie in a choose-your-own adventure type of way.
However, none of these actions are necessarily retroactive. Everything that had previously happened stood. The creators simply allowed fans to shift the direction that the story had been going. Whether or not this can be considered “pandering” really depends on whether or not you agree with the movements in the story.
To persuade a creator to change their work—not just in the indeterminate future, but to destroy and recreate their work—is not quite what we’ve seen before. And for some creators, it is one of their worst nightmares.
The man of nightmares himself, Stephen King, wrote Misery, in which an author is trapped in a house with a superfan. When this fan reads his final book for his acclaimed Misery series (in which the titular character dies), she hates it so much that she forces him to revive the character and write the story exactly to her liking. Obviously, the modern fanbase is far from a morally corrupt nurse who keeps a man with broken legs trapped in her house and addicted to pain medication, but the sense of entitlement to the creator’s vision certainly remains.
The fact is, there are many ways you can criticize bad work. You can make a call to refuse patronizing it, for example, cutting your HBO subscription and refusing to watch the rest of Game of Thrones. You can write a scathing review. If you’re set on petitions, you can ask people to sign a censure of D&D.
Furthermore, there are ways to find better endings. In a world where fan fiction is more readily acceptable and accessible than ever, you’d be hard-pressed to not find an acceptable fix-it fic. Writing one is also a possibility.
Whether or not the last few episodes of Game of Thrones were awfully written (and they were) is besides the point. The point is that, while a work belongs to the fans once it is completed, the fans should not be able to demand a specific vision from the creator. Amateur creative artists and writers may feel more apprehensive about sharing their creations if a fan will demand that person to scrap the piece and create something more in line with what the fans want.
The petition might just be a little novelty thing, but it sets a scary precedent for future storytellers.