In yesterday’s New Yorker, Laura Miller (a former colleague of mine from Salon) published an excellent profile of George R. R. Martin—author of the novels on which HBO’s Game of Thrones is based—which focused on the increased demands by fans on creators in an era of ever-more online kibitzing and access. GRRM, for years, has been beset by a splinter group of fans who have groused about the increasing time he takes between books.
Ironically, Martin took aim at another pop-culture work that has been the subject of endless fan analysis, pressure and complaint: Lost. Count GRRM among the fans who hated the finale. The full piece is not online, but here’s the relevant excerpt: “We watched it every week trying to ﬁgure it out, and as it got deeper and deeper I kept saying, ‘They better have something good in mind for the end. This end better pay off here.’ And then I felt so cheated when we got to the conclusion.” With his own series, A Song of Ice and Fire, he now feels under pressure not to “fuck it up” and “do a Lost.”
Ouch. Lost writer-producer Damon Lindelof—the show’s chief creative force and favorite punching bag of finale-haters—saw the comment and took to his Twitter feed. Lindelof is also an unabashed fan of Martin and his books, so the criticism had to come as a particular punch in the gut: “George RR Martin is terrified of ‘pulling a LOST’ by ending Game of Thrones shittily,” he wrote. “In related news, my therapist just hit the jackpot.”
Lindelof then reeled off a series of—I think, I hope—tongue-in-cheek tweets feeding the “feud,” such as, “Winter IS coming, bitch,” likening Martin’s fulsome beard to Lost character Mr. Friendly’s (a pretty apt comparison) and tweaking Martin for his tardiness in meeting deadlines: “I’ve just been informed George is working on his feud response. I’ll have it in FIVE YEARS!” (Actually, I’m pretty sure Martin would tie his response to the foot of a raven and let it fly from his custom-built tower in Santa Fe.) But Lindelof also tweeted, in a more straightfaced tone, “I don’t take issue with his opinion, I take issue with the fact that he coined ‘Pulling a LOST’ as empirically ‘fucking up the ending.'”
I’m not surprised by Martin’s view of Lost, since it came up in my own interview with him in Santa Fe a couple weeks ago (I’ll be posting it at more length later). And he didn’t mince words:
Did you watch Lost?
Martin: I did watch Lost. I watched Lost in its entire run and I was fascinated, but you know, even as early as the second season and certainly the third season, I started saying, how the hell are they going to pull all of this together? If they pull all of this together, it’s going to be the greatest show in the history of television, man. They better know how to pull all of this together! And then when I reached the end and they hadn’t pulled it altogether, in fact, they left a big turd on my doorstep? I was pretty upset, you know.
Having been a veteran of not only writing for but watching Twilight Zone [Martin wrote for a CBS remake in the 1980s] it was about the second episode of Lost, I said, “Oh, they’re all dead.” They’re all dead. That’s what it would be in a half-hour Rod Sterling Twilight Zone, in 1958. And they took what? How many seasons to get to the point where they were all dead?
120 some episodes?
Yeah. Rod would have gotten that in about minute 20. Where everybody would have realized that they were all fucking dead. In fact, he did that in about six “Twilight Zones.”
Now, I love A Song of Ice and Fire. And I loved Lost—even loved, if with qualifications, the finale. So there’s an uncomfortable element here for me of watching a family fight. Mommy! Daddy! Stop it!
I don’t begrudge Martin his disappointment, though. (I don’t think it was as simple as “They were all dead,” since everything that happened on the Island was real—but that’s a topic for another day.) And I’ve done enough interviews with TV people loath to say anything about any other TV show that it was refreshing to hear GRRM talk about it, simply and unvarnished, like a fan. [Update: Interesting twist: the folks at ASOIAF fansite Westeros.org pointed me to a GRRM blog post from exactly two years ago; evidently he didn’t like Battlestar Galactica’s finale either, and was worried about a “they’re all dead” Lost twist even then. Foreshadowing!]
But if nothing else, it was interesting to hear this coming out of GRRM’s mouth, since he’s been on the receiving end of pretty much exactly the same flak as Lost: that he’s making it up as he goes along (he says he’s not), that he’s taking so long because he doesn’t know where the story is going, that he will let us fans all down in the end. (“How is he going to pull all of this together?”—I recall thinking that somewhere around the third or fourth Dorne or Iron Islands chapter in A Feast for Crows.) This is not to say that he’s a hypocrite; on the contrary, if anyone out there has the right to take this kind of swipe, it’s him, even if I feel bad for Lindelof hearing it from an icon.
More than anything, it’s a reminder that this kind of intensity of reaction—of feeling not just let down, but cheated, betrayed, robbed—can perversely only come from deep fandom. People don’t react like this to works that they never loved. (Well, maybe some do, but I can’t begin to understand their psychology.) They react this way to shows or stories that grab them on a gut level and completely captivate them. It’s a lover’s betrayal. And creators like Martin (or, I suspect, Lindelof) are not immune to it either. They are good at what they do because they are geeks themselves—which I mean in the best way, that is, intense and obsessive fans.
But it’s not just them; multiply their voices by millions. What I have to wonder is whether that kind of constant chatter—amplified by Twitter (which Lindelof uses) and blogs (GRRM has one)—creates a new kind of anxiety of influence that authors would be better off without. Do I want Martin worrying (more than he already would) about the number of fans with various expectations they want met? Do I want him worrying about “pulling a Lost,” or would we be better off if he wrote a story to satisfy his inner voice and let the crits fall where they may? And, I have to wonder, does that fear of “making a mistake,” as Martin says in that New Yorker profile, contribute, even in some indirect way, to those books taking so long to produce?
I can’t say. Maybe they provide a kind of discipline, a necessary corrective to hubris. Either way, if GRRM does manage to pull it off and wrap up the teeming threads of ASOIAF on time and in a satisfactory way, maybe he’ll have the anxiety of influence of Lost—and Lindelof himself—to thank.