The eighth and final season of HBO's swords/butts/dragons trifecta is premiering this Sunday and the world is collectively losing its mind in anticipation. Like a kid in a hot pie shop, fans are salivating at the thought of new twists, big battles and more fur capes than a middle-aged dude at a Renaissance Faire.
But I'm not a wide-eyed kid, excited to wake up on Game of Thronesmas and see what George R. R. Santa has left in my stocking.
I'm the dead-eyed parent of that kid, standing in line at Target on Christmas Eve while other people's children scream at my feet. Staring down the barrel of another season of "event television" and knowing that if I just grit my teeth and close my eyes, it will be over. Night will come soon and I'll be able to sit alone in the kitchen with a glass of box wine, massaging my temples before the next fresh hell emerges.
Because it turns out life in the 21st-century pop culture mill is just one sequel after another until you die.
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It's all teasers for the next installment. Trailers for the sequel, spinoffs of the prequel, constant cliffhangers and never-ending next acts. A narrative that is forever robbing us of the final, gratifying ending.
While this episodic culture feels like it's reached its giddy apotheosis this year, it's not a new phenomenon.
I remember sitting in the cinema at the end of the first Lord of the Rings, letting the past two hours sink in (and quietly noting the stirrings of what would be a long-running Orlando Bloom crush). Merry and Pippin had been kidnapped! Frodo was setting off to Mordor alone! I turned to my father and uttered the now immortal words.
"Awesome! Let's go see the next one!"
Oh my sweet summer child. You don't get the next one. You have to wait, and you have no say in the matter. They choose what kind of narrative catharsis you get and when you will get it. In the case of Lord of the Rings, I had to wait a year. But that was a breeze for my parents, who'd had to wait three years to find out whether Han Solo would escape that carbonite.
But life on the entertainment treadmill is getting more intense. Now we have to play the waiting game with virtually every TV show and movie we love. And the waiting game sucks.
Case in point. Game of Thrones season 8.
I watched the first seven seasons at a leisurely pace and quite enjoyed them, thank you very much. I would even say I'm a fan. And so if season 8 is coming, why not rewatch the old seasons to refresh my memory? Why not? Because now I have seven seasons of hourlong episodes to watch in less than a month.
Nek minnit, it's 2 a.m. and I'm six episodes deep, shoveling gray-import cup noodles into my mouth while I silently curse writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss for putting me through this horror.
(Did you know Benioff and Weiss were the writers? I did. Because [claps] I — have — seen — the — opening — credits — four hundred — TIMES.)
But it's not just Game of Thrones making life hard. Every major franchise needs an accompanying almanac to decipher the action. You could watch Wonder Woman, but have you consulted the ancient scrolls detailing the metahumans of the DC Universe? Do you know the history and exact locations of the Infinity Stones? Did you decipher Rhaegar Targaryen's ancestral charts to find out why Daenarys can't bang Jon Snow? Whoops, too late!
If you're about to "well, actually" me because you have those answers, then I will pay you real human dollars to decode this flowchart because I'm tired and I can't and I don't have time to when there are seven bloody seasons of Game of Thrones to watch!
Pop culture has always rewarded detailed knowledge of fictional worlds, but you didn't need a cryptonomicon to know Ross was with Rachel.
But even encyclopedic knowledge of one series is no longer enough. You can't be a real pop culture devotee unless you're across all the gritty reboots and sci-fi/fantasy/comic book/geeky series there are.