As I’m sure many of you have seen Game of Thrones has been the topic on everyone’s mind this week. With the final episode EVER delivering decidedly mixed reviews across the board I thought I’d take this opportunity to use GoT as a vehicle to convey something I’ve seen all over the place lately; toxic stan culture. For those of you out there that may not be “with it” & don’t know what “stanning” is here’s your urban dictionary definition.
People can “stan” a number of things, not just celebrities, Game of Thrones is an excellent example of that. Now I’m not saying stanning is a bad thing, hell, as an artist we strive for stans! Stans buy tickets. Stans buy merch. Stans share your songs with the masses & get other people to listen hopefully creating more stans! But there’s been this emergence within different stan cultures that is toxic. They degrade others for liking different things than them, they bash creatives for not doing exactly what they want them to do, they end up hurting the art & the artist way more than they ever helped. Tying this back to Game of Thrones I am of course referring to the petition. For those that don’t know there’s a petition going around with over 1.25M signatures on it to have HBO redo Season 8 of Game of Thrones with “competent writers.” The petition went up after certain fans became enraged over Daenerys Targaryen’s “seemingly out of nowhere” heel turn. I’ll get back to the “seemingly out of nowhere” part later. Now. I will be one of the first to admit that this season, this FINAL season of Game of Thrones did feel a bit rushed & had some lackluster, if not pretty weak writing at times. However, that shouldn’t be used to discredit the thousands of hours of labor the cast & crew put into this season FOR. YOU! Sure, they do it for the money & the love of the screen craft but they also do it FOR YOU THE FANS! I’m with Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) on this when I say it’s absolutely disrespectful to those who gave up a year & some change of their lives to create this show for you, especially to those who work behind the scenes & may not get the glory shared by the actors.
The thing that’s really melting my Iron Throne about all this has to be the people saying the show “wasted eight years of their lives.” How? How can something you love, fairly consistently, over that span of time be a waste of time? You still loved it in the moment did you not? If HBO had been shut down before they could do season 7 or 8 you still would have loved the show even without getting “a proper ending.” So how is this different? How does getting the canonical ending you disagree with negate all those years of love?
I mostly see this amongst stans of Dany who seeming saw her turn to the figurative “dark side” as out of the blue. While I agree, in the moment, I would have liked a little more external reasoning for the turn, some flashbacks maybe or narrative moments outspoken in her head. YOU SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING A MILE AWAY! The clues of Dany’s “inner dragon” are all over the previous seasons & in the books. All. Over. Them. She has always cared less about ruling or “liberation” than she has about conquering. She loves the rush of power & always has, the signs are all there. Look to Tyrion’s talk with Jon while he’s a captive during the final episode, he goes back through every season & gives specific examples of all she did in the name of “breaking the wheel” that are questionable at best. Again, I agree the scene could have been written better, I also think a lot of the established plot threads were left hanging due to lack of oversight or the show runners just really wanting to be done with the show. Bare in mind that they were only given a basic outline of how George R.R. Martin planned to end his saga, they didn’t have the books to fall back on to fill in the gaps, they made that up themselves and filling in a story that only has the bullet points can be difficult.
Regarding Bran, I agree with the decision to make him king however I also don’t agree with the delivery. Bran spent the entire season basically as a set dressing. His role in the Battle of Winterfell was basically to be bait & nothing else. He used his Worging to do exactly nothing to help & the implications for all of this are frightening. He let thousands of people die just so he could sit on the no longer existent Iron Throne. He knew all that would happen & allowed it to happen anyway to achieve his ultimate goal, winning the Game of Thrones. Not all who we perceive as good are so as these two characters demonstrate.
Overall I’ll admit that I’m “just okay” with the ending we got from Game of Thrones. I also understand that ultimately, as a fan, I don’t get a say in how it should end. It’s not my story I’m telling, just as much as it isn’t yours. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact our lives & make us feel something. The same can be said for stans who get angry over a new direction for an artist or something they do & claim it as a misfire or non-canonical or pure fiction. At the end of the day it isn’t your art or your life, it’s the person/project in question’s. That being said it also doesn’t mean that criticisms aren’t important for the creation of great art but there are definitely healthy ways of criticizing art or media that for the most part have not been exhibited lately not just with GoT.
I’ve witnessed quite a lot of toxic stanship flowing over from one stanhood onto another where people of one stanhood go after those who like something different. Usually this type of rift pops up when two objects of stanship, be them human or media, are in conflict with one another. It’s even gotten to the point where the subject of a stan will “sick” their stans upon another celebrity or form of media because they feel mistreated or simply just want to be validated. This feeds into a lot of the persisting problems we have as a culture specifically when it comes to communication on the internet. Behind keyboards we can be bold, vicious people because to some degree the internet dehumanizes not only us but also the subjects of our ire. They become images on a screen, just another product to be exploited, instead of human beings. In a world rapidly approaching 8B people we are all struggling to find ways to feel validation on a global scale, that’s where the internet comes in. We all want to have the best commentary on the relevant. We all want to be that trending tweet or that instagram post that gets shared around the globe but we often step on everyone else’s toes trying to do so, not thinking how the things we say effect those who dedicate their lives to their craft.
Again criticism is valid & as an artist it SHOULD be welcomed. It makes us better. However, I’m specifically talking healthy criticism. Criticisms that aren’t just out of spite or disappointment but have an understanding of the art at work. At the end of the day I think we need to come back to the realization that the people on the other end of the web are just that. People. Creators trying to make something they think will make people happy or will tell a story they desperately hope someone out in this wide world will relate to. So next time you decide to react to something with overwhelming negativity maybe digest it a little, understand the motive behind it, & try & experience living as the human behind the product.