- If you were sad about “Game of Thrones” ending this week, you’re not alone.
- Well-crafted fictional worlds and characters let us step outside ourselves for an hour or more at a time so we can observe more objectively.
- At the same time, we relate to these characters – which makes it easy to become personally invested in their outcomes, and take it badly when things don’t go well for our favorites.
- Any type of storytelling that allows us to spend more time exploring a given fictional world gives fans more to talk about, which generates deeper discussion and may yield greater insights and camaraderie among fans.
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With endless amounts of media out there, it can be hard to find one that seemingly unites everyone in interest. But every once in a while TV shows can capture the world’s attention, inspire deep fan love, and cause endless conversation, such as the newly ended “Game of Thrones” series on HBO.
Having these shows end can be devastating and though it might seem silly to some, fans can be deeply emotionally invested in these types of properties – even if they didn’t go exactly how they’d like.
INSIDER asked licensed independent social worker Arianna Galligher of the Ohio State Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health about why certain TV shows and movies affect us so deeply – including why some onscreen choices in these fictional worlds have the power to make us angry.
For one, finely honed storytelling and characters can reflect our own lives back to us in a way that feels safe
The “real” world can be a scary and intimidating place and finding ways to process the myriad of feelings and information we deal with on a daily basis can be a challenge. But well-crafted fictional worlds and characters who we find relatable can help us to feel those real-world emotions in a less painful way because they’re not actually happening directly to us.
“Different people have individual motivations for participating in fandom, but broadly speaking, well-crafted fictional worlds provide the opportunity for people to engage with nuanced topics related to morality and the human condition in a way that is one-step removed from their own lives,” Galligher told INSIDER. “While it’s possible to relate to characters who may reflect our own perspectives or experiences, there is enough distance that it’s safe to think about these topics on a deeper level.”
This is why you may often like to watch movies about breakups when you’re going through one or read about grief when you’re dealing with it yourself. Seeing others tackle these tough feelings and also seeing them often come out on the other side can help you process those emotions in a safe way.
Tackling those universal issues is also a way to bond us, no matter where we are
These popular shows also tend to tell stories with truly universal human themes. No matter what social, cultural, geographical, and other differences we may have, every one of the record 19.3 million viewers who watched the GoT series finale live are human. As it turns out, that’s what we all have in common – and at the end of the day, that’s all we need to see onscreen.
- Helen Sloan/HBO
“It sounds trite, but there really is more that unites us as human beings than divides us. All human beings experience emotions, and the most accomplished blockbusters succeed in taking the audience on an emotional journey,” Galligher told INSIDER.
OK, so we may not all be trying to conquer kingdoms or dealing with dragons, but if you cut down to the core of it, shows like “Game of Thrones” tell stories with emotions that many can relate to, and that’s part of what makes them so beloved.
Generally speaking, stories that are longer and feature more material give fans more to talk and think about – and so, they do
One-off movies can be moving, but for the most part, don’t seem to attract the same kind of massive fanbases as TV shows or films in franchises do. These fans are willing to talk endlessly about things they love – or hate – in these TV shows or movies in a series because there is just more there to talk about.
“I think different people respond to different mediums. A single full-length film may be every bit as moving as a multi-installment series. However, the more material there is to engage with, the more opportunity there is to have multiple conversations about it,” Galligher told INSIDER. “The more fans talk about it, the more the hype builds and more people join in the discussion. These discussions, and the human connections that we make as a result of a shared interest in the topic, leads to greater emotional investment.”
Episodic entertainment like this intrigues us for one very simple reason: every day, we all wake up not knowing what could happen
“The episodic nature of television or movies with multiple installments plays on our natural sense of curiosity,” Galligher told INSIDER. “When episodes leave us in suspense, our brains crave more. We want to know what will happen next, and the fact that we have to wait for it makes it that much more enticing.”
There’s an added layer of world-building depth in fandoms that exist across multiple media, such as ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Harry Potter‘ – and it invites fans to wade deeper
When books are adapted for movies or TV, there are always fans of the written version who are dissatisfied with the new, visual version. And of course, they just have to tell everyone about it. But then there are fans who are just as enthusiastic about the movies or TV shows – and don’t necessarily come into it knowing anything about the books. And then they might read those books later because they love the movie or TV show so much – or they might not.
All of these different levels of understanding can enrich and inform fan discussion. Add in lore, fan fiction, and enthusiastic online communities and this can inspire tons of discussion and a rich world even beyond the show.
“Successful adaptations of written source material tend to engage fans on a deeper level, in part, because it’s fun to see how well the TV or movie adaptation aligns with how the reader imagined it when they read the book(s). Often, the source material can provide additional context and nuance that it’s not always possible to incorporate into the show or movie, so fans who’ve read the source material also have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the story and the characters,” Galligher told INSIDER.
When you love a fictional world and its characters, you get attached – and that makes it much easier to take any ‘bad choices’ you see onscreen personally
Fan and critical reactions to “Game of Thrones” season eight have been somewhat divided – and that’s putting it mildly. If you’re a fan of any franchise, especially one with as much written about it as “Game of Thrones,” you definitely have opinions, and you’re probably very passionate about them. There’s a very simple reason for this, according to Galligher.
“Fans take it so personally when storylines become sloppy or take abrupt turns because they relate in some way to the characters,” she said. “The characters that we love or hate (or love to hate, or hate to love) tend to reflect some aspect of ourselves that we’re proud of or that we’re grappling with.”
And keeping in mind that viewers often see their own issues playing out in some way onscreen, well, that’s a good reason enough to take it personally and get emotional.
“The experiences of the characters may remind us of things that we’ve been through ourselves, so we have a vested interest in the decisions that the characters make to resolve conflict, survive through adversity or celebrate success,” she said. “There tends to be a strong desire for characters to behave in a way that is consistent with how they’ve been represented thus far in the story. If there is to be a shift in perspective or behavior, there needs to be a thread of logic that weaves the story together and shows the progression of the character over time. When that doesn’t happen, some fans react so strongly because of the personal connection they feel to the characters. “