For the actors, it’s been over for months. The producers are looking forward to getting drunk and fleeing the internet. But there are entire communities that have been born around “Game of Thrones” as its popularity has risen, and for them, the show ending will be a life-changing experience.
For the crew of “Gay of Thrones,” for example, the end of the show means the disbanding of a team that’s been working together since Season 3 to recap each episode from a very distinct point of view. The Funny or Die digital series was created by Erin Gibson after her hairdresser Jonathan Van Ness (years before his casting on “Queer Eye”) began offering up his “Thones” thoughts while dying her roots; after five seasons (and two Emmy nominations), she and her crew have perfected the making of the show down to a science, which IndieWire experienced once again by visiting the set during the taping of Episode 2, “A Knight On Seven Inch…Heels.”
For the “Gay of Thrones” team, coming together to make a new season of the show feels like, in writer Matt Mazany’s words, “summer camp.” “I’m very happy with the job we did at keeping a lot of the same crew over six years,” he said. “We have the same sound person, sound engineer. We bring out a lot of the same editors, a lot of the same writers. It creates a sense of, oh we’re all back together, we’re watching the show together. This is who I watch ‘Game of Thrones’ with. These are my ‘Game of Thrones’ friends.”
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When “Gay of Thrones” began, Gibson and Mazany were full-time Funny or Die employees, but while they are now working independently, they still work with the company to produce “Gay of Thrones.” “Funny or Die has been very good about giving us the infrastructure we need to handle all the stuff. Their support this year has been awesome,” Mazany said.
“They really stuck their pussies out. Do quote me on that,” Gibson added.
Not much has changed for the team for this final year — beyond the fact that instead of filming the episodes on Sunday night, they instead get together on Monday morning for publishing on Tuesdays, which has made it easier to bring in guests: The guest for Episode 2 was “Mom” star Anna Faris, while Episode 3 featured Gabrielle Union.
Beyond the guests, Van Ness said, “this last year, I feel like our comedy, it’s still the same comedy but I do feel like it’s a little edgier. I feel like we’re going for broke a little harder.”
When Van Ness considered the legacy of “Gay of Thrones,” one key aspect was all the changes that have occurred since its premiere. “Navigating the age of new media and digital media, and how over the top television has gone with how people consume television, and streaming, and cable — ‘Gay of Thrones’ has been around for this huge shift in how people consume their entertainment. I think staying with that but then not losing the voice of the show that made people like it – I think has been something we’ve managed to accomplish,” he said.
Would the “Gay of Thrones” team ever reunite to recap another show? “We’re all really busy kittens, we all got a lot going on, but you never know if we’ll want to recap something else,” Van Ness said. “I would go through losing another big toenail if I got to work with Erin on anything. So you never know.”
However, he continued, “I think ‘Game of Thrones’ has been such this social, cultural phenomenon that has brought so many different types of people together to one watering hole of fandom, in a time that’s been so divisive…I think I can speak for all of us and say we’re all really hoping to bring that excellence that has made this be the experience that it is to these last four, five episodes, and bring every bit of comedic nerve, uniqueness, and talent, and really push, push, push. I think everyone really wants to celebrate this show.”
Gibson confirmed that there’s nothing in the works, as far as future recapping shows might go. As writer Mark Rennie mentioned, “What else would you recap? ‘Game of Thrones’ is like lightning in a bottle.”
The Spoiler Fiend
Susan Miller thinks she “only” knows about 40 to 60 percent about what’s set to happen in future episodes of “Game of Thrones.” The fan, whose interest in “Thrones” began with George R.R. Martin’s books, is editor-in-chief at The Watchers on the Wall, one of “Thrones'” most relentless news sites, and gets sent tons of spoilers for coverage consideration.
“Heading into the final season, HBO very smartly — I have to completely admire what they did — they completely cracked down for Season 8 and they did a really good job of locking down on things and just intimidating their staff very well,” Miller said. “Some things still leaked, but it certainly made our jobs tougher, much more challenging. It’s still been an exciting time, but it has been not quite as juicy as the spoiler game as in previous years.”
Still, Miller and her fellow writers are doing their best to keep up with what’s about to come. “Sometimes we will get script fragments, and they will be tremendously vague. It will say something about, ‘Oh, we’re filming a scene in a crypt a conversation between two characters.’ That is actually a piece of information that we received, and we were like, ‘What the hell does that mean?'” she said. “I mean honestly, that was something we were puzzling over like a year and a half ago. And we were like, ‘That could be anything. That’s useless.’ Cut to a few days ago — it was the scene between Jon and Daenerys, when he’s revealing who his parents were.”
The team at The Watchers on the Wall are already starting to get similar spoilers in for the untitled prequel, which is going to be filming soon. “We have already been covering the production of it. They’re building sets for it already. We already have photos leaking in from Belfast of that going on. So we already have some exciting things going on, and of course George R.R. Martin still has two books to write, so we have that to cover as well. Fingers crossed we will get that eventually.”
Miller doesn’t necessarily think that fans will flock to the prequel series, because “people are excited, but it’s a much more cautious excitement. There are some people who will probably just be not interested at all. There are some people who are already gung-ho, but I think most people are in that middle ground of, ‘I’ll check it out, but I’m not committed to it.’ I think … I’m very interested in it, and I think we want to fall in love with it, but we just don’t know yet. With ‘Game of Thrones,’ most of us anyway involved in this site had read the books, and we already knew that we loved these characters, so we were just all in.”
However, “with the spinoff, these are totally new characters as far as we know, or they’re from somewhere in the deep lore anyway. We just don’t know yet what we’re working with. We don’t have that same attachment, so while it is incredibly intriguing, it’s not quite at the same level of commitment. I’m super interested to follow it, but the fandom as a whole isn’t 100 percent all in yet.”
That said, if the prequel wasn’t happening, Miller said that she and her collaborators would probably be a bit more despondent over the show ending. “It would be a lot sadder, because, well, it’s not the end of everything, but it is the end of something,” she said. “There is always that change, that adjustment, and I think it’s that way for every fandom. You just always have to accept that things are changing and adjusting and that some people will just kind of move on from it, and that’s always just a little, bit sad.”
When it comes to her experience working on the site, Miller said that “I’ll ultimately just be really proud of what we all accomplished. Because, what started off as just this silly hobby, watching a TV show, talking about it with your friends, has become this thing that is really important — building a community, coming together. It’s about so much more than a TV show. The TV show is great, but that really has just become the thing at the center of the web that connects us all, at the end of the day. It’s my friends at Watchers on the Wall, and my friends that are all on Twitter, and the extended community that we all come together. It’s amazing what ‘Game of Thrones’ has inspired beyond. It’s so much more than a TV show at this point.”
However, as Miller said, while “people tend to be pessimistic and say, ‘Oh this will never happen again.’ But there is always another fandom around the corner… I think every fandom always feels like it’s the end of the world. That they are the be-all, end-all of fandoms, and I think that’s just the nature of fandoms. We all think that we are the biggest and the best fandom, and that’s just sort of, a tribute to how much we love it, because we really do love it that much. But I think, there will always be something else coming around the corner, and that’s great. It’s a rebirth.”
The Con Organizer
Melissa Anelli, the founder/CEO of Mischief Management, has been organizing conventions like the upcoming Con of Thrones for a decade now, and she says that the value of new “Game of Thrones” content coming out affects the excitement level surrounding the fandom. But she also isn’t worried about the fandom potentially dying out after the show ends, after seeing what happened with the “Harry Potter” fandom.
“We started with Harry Potter, and our first convention was in 2009, and in 2011 we thought it was going to be our last event because it was the last movie came out,” she said. “And that could not have been more false. Our biggest LeakyCon ever was last year in Dallas. And so it was you know, this is ‘Harry Potter,’ that ended, the last book came out in 2007, the last movie came out in 2011. We’ve had a resurgence now, but it’s not necessarily due to the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ movies; it’s because the entity is still there, books find new fans every day in a way that TV shows and movies do not. So especially when it is based on a book series, the fandom’s going still be really strong for a long time.”
That said, she’s fascinated by how the “shared moment” of this final season, much like the release of the final “Harry Potter” book or the premiere of “Avengers: Endgame,” may not be replicable. “What is it going to be like when all content is released at once, you don’t have this segmented release capsule of prime things the way we do with ‘Game of Thrones’? If we do have another one work out, where does that come from? We think it’s going to go back to books, because all the source material that has resulted in things like this, comes back to books.”
Thus, beyond the comic book world, she’s looking forward to the upcoming HBO/BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, starring Ruth Wilson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and James McAvoy, as well as Amazon’s in-development “Lord of the Rings” series and whatever Netflix ends up doing with the novels of C.S. Lewis. But the distribution issue still comes up. “Can you have the same level of crazy fandom when you release everything at once? I don’t know. That’s why ‘Harry Potter’ was so popular because it is an amazing story, but also it had that amazing three-year break when the fandom was really flourishing and we didn’t have new content. We spent three years literally just imagining what could be, and that three-year summer was invaluable to the evolution of the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise. If the depth wasn’t there in Harry Potter it wouldn’t have grown that way.”
As she continued, “The same is true of ‘Game of Thrones.’ The reason you have all these podcasts on the websites and the way, the reason you can get deep, is because one image on screen with ‘Game of Thrones’ can pull up hundreds of pages of documental information and texts and side character notes and you know genealogies and everything.”
Looking forward at the future of Con of Thrones, Anelli said that “we have to be smart about it. We have to plan for the possibility that things are smaller or different in the future, but we’ve got some experience doing that now and shepherding at least one fan convention from the days where it wasn’t getting a lot of attention to now. As long as we read the signs correctly and don’t take on more than our budgets can stand, we should be okay.”
And as fans themselves, they can lean on that knowledge to help guide their decisions. “As long as we are the fans we’re serving, we’ll know where the fandom is going and how to help foster it that way. That’s really always the goal.”
Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson is well-known for being one of the most dedicated “Game of Thrones” journalists in the game, and she is currently very tired. She currently hosts multiple podcasts about the series, in addition to putting together explainer coverage on every nuance and plot twist — and she is not planning to dive into coverage of the forthcoming prequel as a result.
“These spinoff shows exists, and in some cases, a lot of people would argue ‘Better Call Saul’ was even better than ‘Breaking Bad.’ But you’re not going to be able to recapture that cultural phenomenon again with your followup thing. There’s just no way,” Robinson said.
And in addition, she told IndieWire, “I need a mental space to finish this thing. Whenever someone brings up the prequel, I’m like, ‘I’m not talking about that.’ I don’t mean this rudely. Not to you, but just generally, I’m just like, ‘I’m not talking about that.’ I’ve kind of barely covered the news as it’s broken because it just feels like I want that room to finish this.”
That said, she is excited by the fact that the prequel will take place in an era without dragons, because “by force, it’s going to have to be a little bit more about political-based conversation, which is what I love about ‘Game of Thrones.’ But because of that, possibly, a lot of the fan base who have just come for the spectacle and the battles and that kind of drama will not be as interested.”
In terms of what might be the successor to “Thrones,” Robinson was intrigued by the upcoming launch of Disney+. “I am very curious to see how that shakes everything up, because I would say Star Wars and Marvel are the closest to ‘Game of Thrones.’ The fact that Star Wars and Marvel are moving to a streaming platform… Depending on their release schedule for those shows, depending on how those shows actually hit, it’s possible that those could step into that vacuum and fill that space at home.”
Key, however, will be whether the shows are released week-by-week or all at once. “I think that will matter in terms of how we discuss it…. For these streaming platforms, the binge model is more profitable. But I think, for the culture and for the discourse and for the way in which these stories have any kind of permanence in our mind versus just, ‘Oh yeah, “Stranger Things” came out, let’s talk about it for two weeks, three weeks. Okay, we’re done talking about it. Versus ‘Game of Thrones’ — let’s sit with it for at least two months and then think about it for the other 10. It’s just different.”
Looking forward, Robinson foresees her beat remaining focused on the geekier aspects of pop culture, with an eye to explaining them — which will likely include the “Thrones” prequel. Meanwhile, she has been considering writing a book about “Thrones”… but not until five or 10 years from now, “with some distance to really take in what happened here.”