I like watching people watching endings.
When it was announced that HBO's Game of Thrones would get to the end of GRRM's story before the books did, my geek friends convulsed. It wasn't so much that they believed someone had made a bad creative decision. It was more personal than that. They'd been robbed of something important to them, something long-promised. They'd expected to witness that ending on their own time, in their preferred medium. They'd imagined that ending, imagined themselves reading it with grim satisfaction at some point in the future, when they'd first met the Starks and their wolf cubs.
The TV ending wouldn't just prefigure the ending in the books.
By virtue of existing, it would diminish it.
When a friend watched The Sopranos for the first time, she, like so many before her, had a violent reaction to the ending of its last episode. It wasn't so much that she found that black space a narrative or aesthetic disappointment. She reported feeling that she'd wasted months of her time -- months she'd enjoyed as they passed.
That abrupt ending didn't just piss her off.
It reached into the past -- and made it worse.
I write the endings of my own stories in a wild rush. By the time I hit the last quarter of a story, I'm racing. I can see the conclusion with perfect clarity, and I bang it out in a haze of caffeine and endorphins. I'm always sure that it's perfect. I always give it the most cursory of rewrites before sending it out to my readers.
They invariably send it back.
I invariably see their point.
I've wondered for a while what we're raging against when a long-running series comes to a dissatisfying end. This won't be a surprise: I'm pretty sure it's death. We treat the end of a life the same way, after all: no matter how good a person's life was, hour by hour, year by year, if they die by violence, by accident, by disease, if they die at the wrong time or in the wrong company, we suddenly view their entire life as tragic. Death reaches back into life and alters it. Either it's peaceful, at home, on a sunny day, with a final moment that somehow encompasses and comments on everything that came before, or it detracts value from the life that made it possible.
That's stupid. It's stupid, too, that the last five minutes of a story can ruin all the five minutes-es that came before. Lots of human stuff seems stupid to me, but especially this.
Because good endings are almost impossible to pull off. They're as rare as the legendary "good death".
The end, when it comes, is rude. Painful. Dark. Unannounced. Uninvited.
As writers, we can either tell the truth about this or, as is far more common, in my work as in anyone else's, we can disguise it. Pretty it up. Make it look intentional.
I guess that's why I liked the Sopranos ending. It was the truth.
I'm not sure that I'm capable of writing an ending that clean. But ask me again when I'm older.
For now, wishing that endings weren't so important doesn't stop me from going back to the desk, time after time, and writing one more draft of my own story's attempt at bringing closure.
This time, I think, it'll be perfect.
And bring with it every word that came before.