"Hate's a good a thing as any to keep a person going. Better than most."
Sandor Clegane - also Known as The Hound
HBO’s Game of Thrones was on the air from 2011 to 2019 and was quite the sensation. A global sensation in fact. There are even vacation packages completely devoted to taking Game of Thrones - or G.O.T. fans - around the world. They can visit and tramp through all the wonderful locations where the series was shot. Croatia, Iceland, Scotland, Morocco, Northern Ireland and many more. I know about these tours because once, while walking through Dubrovnik with Goran, our tour guide, he told me about the group he had hosted just before ours. It had been a large group of upper-middle-aged tourists from Kansas who were on a G.O.T. sightseeing tour. Before hearing about this group, I had no idea that was even a thing. Although I must admit that earlier, walking through the town, I had seen, to my complete amazement, one Khalessi, two Dothraki and three Wildlings. As Goran had tried to wrangle the well-fed Kansas crowd through one of those tiny, twisted medieval Eastern European streets, he heard one of the women say, in complete sincerity "I can't believe HBO built all this. It looks so realistic!”
I watched Game of Thrones religiously, grinding my teeth through Sundays, just biding my time until 9 p.m. when I would find out what those sexy incestuous Lannisters or those even sexier, wild yet noble Starks would get up to next!
When season 6 ended it was announced that Game of Thrones would produce only two more seasons - 7 and 8. People, me included, were not happy. Our favorite show was ending after all these years and we got a little bit angry. Even before season 7 started, people were whinging, saying that season 7 was terrible and that season 8 was going to be even more of a disaster. Serves them right, I thought, those HBO goons. Taking our show away and making it suck in the meantime. I watched both seasons and, as promised and with the G.O.T mob on my side, I decided that they were terrible. Poorly executed. A waste of time.
Last week I was on a flight, quite bored and without a book. I started to scroll through the JetBlue streaming options and among offerings that obviously are meant to appeal to all ages I saw Game of Thrones, which surprised me. What if I was sitting next to a kid? I would have been forced to tell them to scram so that I could enjoy my bloody, violent, HBO-porny show in peace. The only season available was season 8, the very worst of the seasons. I hit play and settled in. Almost immediately, as soon as I heard that incredible opening music, I was hooked. Delighted. As enthralled and enraptured as I had been during the truly marvelous seasons 1 through 6.
I watched the first two episodes of season 8 on the flight and was desperate to get off the plane once we landed. I ran to my hotel, and in the hour I had before meeting my client I watched another episode. I am now working my way once again through the show, starting with season 8, episode 1. Working my way backwards through the seasons in order. And it’s still incredible. Maybe even more incredible backwards. My dear friend Christine, another die-hard G.O.T. fan (who has even read the books) laughed and asked me if, while watching "our show" backwards, I could hear the devil speaking to me. "No more than usual" I assured her.
But I have to wonder why everyone was so ready to hate the last two seasons? They really are the perfect ending to the previous six. I think it might just be because we are human and humans are funny. We know something is going to end and we don't want it to end. So, in some sort of twisted self-preservation we make ourselves hate it. We make ourselves angry. How could I have been so swayed by the internet's opinion of my favorite show? So impressionable? So ready to believe something that goes along with what I want the narrative to be. My own personal narrative, that I repeated to myself ad nauseam, was that I wouldn't miss watching Game of Thrones on Sunday nights at all. I convinced myself that G.O.T. went totally downhill after season 6 and it was just no good anymore. A sad shadow of its once brilliant self.
I’ve seen people do the same thing with relationships. Knowing it is ending, they don’t allow themselves to feel the pain and the loss. They just switch on the rage and anger and it’s an easier pill to swallow. A less dangerous pill than grief perhaps. And I see that The Hound, although known more for his scarred visage and misanthropic ways than his philosophical musings, may be right. Hate may as good a thing as any to keep a man going. At least there is an energy to hate, to anger. The force behind it will get you out of bed in the morning anyway. Whereas grief, sadness and sorrow can feel like quicksand. Something sticky and immobilizing. Something a person could drown in.
I felt this way the last week of my father’s life. Christmas week it became clear to everyone but me, I think, that he would not make it to the new year. I had held this notion for decades that he had endless life in him, that he would always bounce back, that he would forever beat the odds and rally.
But of course he didn't. No one rallies forever. This was it. We spent the last few days of his life with him and it was really beautiful. I was so happy to be there. I kept hoping he would open his eyes and ask me “what time is it, Dear? How are the markets doing?” But when he started to go downhill fast a priest was called to administer his last rites.
Once the priest had come and gone, I started to get angry. A sharp and bitter anger. I was furious at the passage of time, appalled at the briefness allotted us all, enraged at the grim reaper, even angry at my father for not rallying. I was filled with a buzzy hatred of death itself. And I worked myself into a rage, because I knew he was dying, and I didn't want him to be dying and I was afraid to feel that pain. Terrified actually. It was too deep. Too dark. Too dangerous.
Would I rather feel the suffocating, immobilizing grief of mourning or the buzz of anger? The energizing current of fury? For years, anger won out but as I get older, I am starting to open myself up to feeling the grief, to accepting the grief, and to moving on. Granted, my grief at losing my father is on a much different level of pain than a favorite show ending but it was enlightening to realize that I am much more comfortable dancing with hate or rage than with any sort of pain, be it superficial or profound.
I am still happily watching Game of Thrones backwards. There are 73 hours of episodes and I'm watching one every time I find a spare hour. I’m thrilled to have rediscovered G.O.T. but I’ve got my work cut out for me. Maybe I’ll be so old once I’m done watching the series backwards that my memory will be shot and I can watch it all over again, having forgotten everything I’ve watched during the preceding years. A girl can dream.
I see I've had a habit of running scared from sorrow and heartbreak. A lifelong aversion to feeling the pain of loss. As if that pain is a monster, capable of annihilating me. But I’m working on acceptance. Getting more and more comfortable with sadness, with pain, with life. Things end. A career, a relationship, a favorite show. Everything in this life comes and then goes. But when a loved one's life ends, that is the hardest thing to bear.
And then I remember another line from Game of Thrones, this one pronounced by Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. "All men must die, but we are not men." I agree with her. We are more than just flesh and muscle and bone. We leave our bodies but the memory of us remains. Our legacy remains. And those of us left behind live with these memories, beautiful and vast. Memory, like hate, can also have a galvanizing energy, a pulse, a momentum. And that's what I cling to and gain strength from when I feel myself sinking into the quicksand of sorrow. Beautiful memories of things and people come and gone. Joyful memories that keep me going and give me strength. Even through the pain of loss. Even through the pain of life.