Graham: A qualified goodbye to 'Game of Thrones' and 'Avengers'
Two of the biggest entertainment properties of our time are coming to a close, but it's not a complete farewell
For a pair of colossal pieces of pop culture entertainment, winter is here.
“Game of Thrones” kicks off its final season on HBO on Sunday, and “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters April 26.
The two mega projects represent the culmination of what we’ve been watching on TV and at the movies this entire decade, a block of time which never earned a proper name. (“The Teens” never really caught on, did it?)
Maybe we should be calling it the “Game of Thrones” and “Avengers” decade. “GoT” launched in 2011 and has become the last bastion of appointment TV viewing. It may be the final television show that large numbers of people watch the old way we watched TV: on TV, in real time, when it actually airs.
“Endgame” is the fourth “Avengers” film and the climax of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has unfolded over 21 previous movies, beginning with “Iron Man” in 2008. The MCU has changed movie-dom into a year-round superhero jamboree and has popularized the concept of movie “universes,” shared inter-film realities that have redefined the possibilities of franchises, both creatively and financially.
Both “GoT” and “Avengers” are sprawling, sweeping fantasies based in worlds that, while not ours, are relatable to our own. “Thrones” is about impending doom and the way politics is used as a grand distraction, and the “Avengers” movies are about the ways in which the gifted and powerful wield their strength. Aside from the dragons and capes (and in the “Avengers” movies’ cases, a wise-cracking racoon who loves to blow stuff up), there are plenty of parallels to today’s reality.
Both also represent a triumph of what was once considered nerd culture. Thirty years ago, comic book superheroes and dragon-based entertainment were the stuff of darkened basements and 18-sided dice. Today, they are the most popular form of mainstream entertainment, a shift that began post-9/11, when reality got a little too scary and the relative comfort of “Lord of the Rings” and “Spider-Man” made the geek way of life the new norm.
As we prepare to bid adieu to both, that farewell is tempered by the knowledge that we’re not really saying so long to either of them. A “Game of Thrones” prequel with Naomi Watts in the lead has been ordered by HBO, and the “Avengers” creative team recently announced a five-year plan for the continuation of the MCU. (And with the Marvel films taking in roughly $20 billion worldwide so far, can you blame them?)
We never truly say goodbye to any characters we love anymore, the stakes are too high and producers crave material with a built-in audience. That’s why as soon as “Breaking Bad” ended, “Better Call Saul” popped up, it’s why there’s a new “Hellboy” in theaters this weekend, and it’s why the Joker is getting his own film later this year. There’s even a “Sopranos” prequel in the works. The mentality is that what worked before will work again. (There are plenty of arguments to the contrary, of course, including that new “Hellboy.” Yeesh.)
So it’s bye-bye to “Game of Thrones” and “Avengers” until we say hello again to “Game of Thrones” and “Avengers,” just in different forms. Winter might not be so bad after all.