When to End: Game of Thrones vs The Walking Dead – The Ry Perspective

When to End: Game of Thrones vs The Walking Dead


Television (like film) provides a place of creative possibilities.  With a wide array of programming, the networks and studios behind the scenes create series that play to people’s interest, hobbies or intrigue of new concepts.  When we become attached, this spawns a certain feeling towards the characters.  From the initial inception to ongoing seasons, the continuation of the characters’ journey is a ride we want to stay on as long as possible.  Because of this feeling, television has been able to rival the quality of many award-winning films.  Within the last decade, we have seen the rise of many great series that have been produced on the small screen.  From network television (ABC, CBS, NBC), cable stations (History, AMC, HBO, Starz) to the streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon), they have produced content that have had amazing characters with storylines that are intense, thought-provoking and emotionally endearing.  With shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire, Vikings, House of Cards, Outlander and more, the idea that storytelling can be built with delicacy through multiple hours provides a place or pure entertainment.  Like most things, a great show can only last for so long before it comes to its inevitable end.  With this situation, the people behind the scenes always hope they can take their vision to its rightful end.  Seeing a storyline concluded on its merits is a choice that a writer (in any medium) hopes to have when creating new content.  Even with that hopeful wish, there are some factors that may end a show earlier than expected:


The Unforeseen Factors

Low Ratings – One of the big factors in a premature show’s death is ratings.  If a network/streaming service provider does not see a high return in viewership, even if the quality and content are great, they will cancel it in a heartbeat. (Ex. Firefly, Deadwood).

High Cost – Shows are a massive undertaking, sometimes rivaling the budget of huge blockbusters.  If the cost starts to spiral beyond a network/streaming services can’t/won’t handle, it will be removed from the lineup (Ex. Marco Polo, Rome, Terra Nova).

Writer/Actor Strikes – If the people associated with a project go on strike, then production could halt or what is produced becomes lackluster material.  This usually has a bad impact on ratings and quality, leading to shorten seasons and eventually, cancellations (Ex. Heroes, Pushing Daisies).


If a show can get past these hurdles, it eventually becomes autonomous and continues at the TV producers’ discretion.  At this point, the ultimate ‘When to End’ Card comes into the fray.  As seasons continue the journey of favorite characters, it becomes apparent that the thrill may turn towards the mundane.  When faced with this dilemma, the question becomes, when shall the series come to an end?  To answer this question, I give you two great examples of the right and wrong way to guide a television series to its’ final act:


Game of Thrones (The Right Ending)

One of the most popular series to come across the small screen, there are many things that draw people to this HBO program.  From the acting to the fantasy like escape, the gravity of each situation keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Having reached 8 seasons (With the 8th being the last), Game of Thrones provides the best example on how to end a series.  Being one of the most popular in the history of television, you would assume that because of the big fanbase it could continue for 10 plus seasons.  Anything is possible, but having a finite list of episodes helps add to that popularity.  The reason this show is ending the right way are based on the following factors:

A Central Through Line – One of the biggest things in developing a story is having a through-line for your characters.  With that overarching focal point, it allows for each prominent character to evolve at a natural pace, giving the actors/actresses and writers the ability to know where, when and how to create drama, suspense, laughter and tears.  The brevity of any situation is drawn by workmanship of everyone involved with the production, so without that through line, you’ll just have a meandering of circumstances.  This will lead to convolution and no way to find a pristine endpoint.

One Ideal Direction – The equivalent to directors (films) for television is their producers.  When you have a project that goes for more than 10, 20 … 600 hours, you should have someone that can manage, direct and focus everyone on a central vision.  This kind of management creates great directors (Scorsese, Spielberg) and has also created a great duo for Game of Thrones (David Benioff and D. B. Weiss).  This allows for the storylines to stay focus, characters to continue to evolve, and the rest of the big items (action scenes, dialogue, dramatic twist, etc.) to be shocking and endearing, even if it’s an adaptation.

Definitive Journey – At the heart of any story is the journey.  When you’re able to map out a beginning, middle and end, it allows for a firm position for the rest of the elements (script development, character design, world building, action set pieces, etc.) to come together in an organic way.  By knowing the obvious points, it allows for the drama and action to have true emotional fervor.  It gives purpose to every detail, interaction, battle and conversation.

By having a definitive plan, it shows how these factors makes Game of Thrones a series that will be remembered as one of the best created.  On the other side, not ending at the right time will drive a popular series down the drain.  This is where we have the other example:


The Walking Dead (The Wrong Ending)                         

This is another popular series on cable television, one that AMC has developed to have many die-hard fans.  With strong leads and the niche of living in a zombie filled world, how can a promising concept become a series that is fading from the limelight?  Just like Game of Thrones, it has reached 8 seasons, but has decided to continue making episodes.  By continuing the journey and not having a proper end, the following factors begin to occur when you have no plan:

Repeating Plot Points – When you continue a series beyond any true development, it begins to lose that central through-line, causing a repeating sandbox where characters and storylines are recycled.  No matter the genre, if you deviate from that initial focal point, a series will start to become predictable, causing anything ‘new’ to become something reused with a different coat of paint.  This will lead to drawn out episode, where any kind of ‘twists’ become something the audience will not care about.

Revolving Door of Direction – If a season continues past a certain point, it will start to have an effect of the ones that ‘oversee’ the project.  If things aren’t going a ‘certain way’, networks/studio heads will get involved and change out producers, writers and sometimes actors/actresses to find a way to reenergize the creative process.  By changing course, it takes away the ability to stay consistent, creating a place of fragmented plot elements, unexplained character shifts and lack of intuitive thought.  The ability to have one direction is strong, but changing those running the project will move that vision to where it will be readjusted with no possible end.

Infinite Paths of Impossibilities – With changing parts and no true evolution of the plot, you end up in a situation where you have no way of writing a true journey for the characters.  This will turn a series that starts out serialized, but eventually becomes episodic and meanders into repetition:

New situations > conflict > predictable conclusion.

What you have is no sense of purpose, just an encapsulated husk of monotony.  Karma will kick in and the attempt at high ratings will fail, fans will start to walk away and the series will hit what is known as ‘jumping the shark’ – a show continuing past its prime with no end in sight.

By having no definitive end, The Walking Dead provides an example of a series that got lost in its potential.  These factors give an honest reflection of where things should have ended, if they focused on the right stuff.



When you have a strong attachment to a show, you have that feeling that it should last forever.  In that sense, a great show never ends if it ends strong by the final episode.  With every series I have had a strong attachment to that has had its series finale (Longmire, Bates Motel, Mad Men, Halt and Catch Fire), I understood that when it ended, it was the right time.  For those that didn’t, the quality suffered and what could have been memorable just became a dud in its final shows (That 70s Show, True Blood).  No matter how much you love a series, hopefully it will find its proper place to make its inevitable curtain call with a smile.

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