June 3 – 9: “What lessons can we glean from the fans’ backlash to the finale of Game of Thrones?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Fans’ reactions to the Game of Thrones finale weren’t great. This week we ask ITW Members Frank Zafiro, R. J. Pineiro, Gerald Dean Rice, Lee Murray and J. H. Bográn what lessons can we glean from the fans’ backlash to the finale of Game of Thrones? Don’t forget to scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. This might be more exciting than the last episode!


Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy, and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows), and a two-time Bram Stoker nominee. Her works include the Taine McKenna military thriller series (Severed), and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra co-authored with Dan Rabarts (RDSP). Lee lives with her family in New Zealand where she conjures up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock.


Born in Cuba and raised in Central America, R. J. Pineiro spent several years in the midst of civil wars before migrating to the United States in the late 1970s, first to Florida to attend Florida Air Academy in Melbourne. There, R. J. earned a pilot’s license and high school diploma in 1979 before heading to Louisiana for college. R. J. earned a degree in electrical engineering from Louisiana State University in 1983 and joined the high-tech industry in Austin Texas, working in computer chip design, test, and manufacturing. R. J. is married to L. M. Pineiro, an artist and jewelry designer. They have one son, Cameron & daughter-in-law Sarah, and two crazy dogs, Coco and Zea.


Gerald Dean Rice is hard at work on something right now. Whether it’s vampires, zombies, or something you’ve never seen before, he’s always dedicated to writing something unique. He’s the author of numerous short stories, including the Halloween eBook “The Best Night of the Year”, the YA book “Vamp-Hire,” the anthology Anything but Zombies, and the upcoming fantasy thriller The Bureau of Retired Spells and Broken Magic.


J. H. Bográn is an international author of novels, short stories and scripts for television and film. He’s the son of a journalist, but ironically prefers to write fiction rather than facts. His genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. He currently divides his time as resource development manager for Habitat for Humanity Honduras, teaching classes at a local university, and writing his next project. He lives in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with his wife, three sons and a “Lucky” dog. His motto is “I never tell lies, I only write them!”


Frank Zafiro is a retired police captain who writes procedurals, hard-boiled crime, PI mysteries, and more. He has teamed up with other writers such as Eric Beetner, Colin Conway, Lawrence Kelter, B. R. Paulson, and Jim Wilsky. He hosts the podcast Wrong Place, Write Crime, which features mystery authors. He is a big fan of Bruce Springsteen, hockey, and The Wire. He currently lives in Oregon, where he is also a tortured guitarist.



  1. All that kickback reminded me of some of the input I received when I linked the first 3 books in my 6-book series THE SOUTH SHORES NOVELS. That is, I had ‘cliffhanger’ endings in the first two which spilled over into the next book. The plotline demanded that, but some vocal readers were not thrilled, even though those first 3 books were were published close together. It really fit that storyline, but I may not try that continued action plotting again. I love cliffhangers at the end of chapters too, so I may just stick to those instead of facing reader anger.

  2. In the midst of what was significant negativity, I think we can draw something positive from it – that readers care. They care about the characters, they care about the story, and most of all, they care about both being treated with a sense of fairness and even responsibility. This level of emotional commitment is a powerful thing, and if it exists, then the writer has done some things very right.

    I think we also learned that if the reader feels like you’re ‘mailing it in’ or that s/he cares more about the book than you do, then you will most certainly hear about it – and with a loud, righteous anger.

    But we already knew these things, didn’t we? GoT just showed us how true they are.

    1. Yes, readers care so much they appropriate the characters, make them their own and would hurt anybody, even the original character’s creator, if harm comes to them! Didn’t Stephen King write a novel about such a devoted fan?

  3. KAREN, that’s an interesting comparison. There were certainly some unresolved story points in GoT — at least you wrapped yours up, even if you made the reader wait.

    I actually like the format you described. As long as there is some movement and some small resolutions, pushing the final climax into the next book or beyond would seem like it builds significant tension.

    Of course, then the pressure is on when it comes times to resolve it all, right?

  4. Hello Karen. Hi Frank! Sorry to arrive late to the party. I’ve just arrived back from a weekend at our New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy conference, relevant to this conversation because GRR Martin will be the Master of Ceremonies at our next New Zealand SFF convention which also happens to be ConZealand to be held in August 2020.

    What thrilled me about the televised Game of Thrones discussion is it proved that viewers and readers are engaged. When we, as writers, do our jobs well, then readers can become so invested in the characters and their narratives, that they want to chime in with their version of how they would have liked things to turn out. As Frank rightly says, readers care. And in GRR Martin’s case, his fans are so numerous that their comments nearly broke the internet. For a writer, surely this has to be the ultimate compliment. However, even those of us with less unwieldly readerships can see it occurring on a smaller scale. My Path of Ra co-author Dan Rabarts and I noted this in the comments about our supernatural crime-noir thriller series, for example. In several reviews of the first book HOUNDS OF THE UNDERWORLD, readers commented that they loved the way the two protagonists squabbled, disagreeing on how best to chase up the evidence, several readers citing the conflict between the brother-sister team as their favourite aspect of the book. Because of this feedback, we made sure that element continued in the second title TEETH OF THE WOLF, and while many readers appreciated that continuity, still others have decided it isn’t for them. And that’s fine because it’s the reader’s prerogative to read what resonates for them. However, we’ve continued that sparring in the third title (coming next year from Raw Dog Screaming Press) because as the creators of the work, it is our prerogative to determine the tone and direction of the narrative. Of course, the editor and publisher also have a say, but even those commercial decisions are made in conjunction with the creator of the work.

    Karen makes a great point about cliff-hanger endings and how they are effective in keeping readers desperate for the next section, chapter, book, or series. It’s a great way to keep readers invested, but it can backfire and upset readers if the book is delayed or if people aren’t interested in committing to a longer work. One way around this is to offer episodic thriller series involving the same key character(s), while at the same time offering a longer story arc which carries over the series and ties the books together. I’ve tried to achieve this in my Taine McKenna adventure series — INTO THE MIST, INTO THE SOUNDS, and most recently INTO THE ASHES — by introducing key characters to new settings and challenges in each book, but also including an overarching story thread. In this way, each book stands alone in its own right, yet readers who prefer a meatier read can dive straight into the next one. Examples of thriller authors who have nailed this system include Lee Child, Jonathan Maberry, David Wood and Sean Ellis, and Greig Beck.

  5. I confess to have jumped on the Game of Thrones wagon very late in the game. I started to watch the series in January, so I was caught up by the time season 8 premiered. Khaleesi´s seemingly abrupt change came under fire (pun definitely intended), however, since I had very recent memory of earlier episodes, as opposed to fans who grew fond of her over the course of years, I recalled clues into her final outcome so it didn’t come as a shock to me, more like “I knew it!”

    Upon witnessing the backlash I tweeted that I hadn’t see that much hate since the final episode of The Sopranos aired. Was it a coincidence that HBO also produced that series? Can you detect a pattern of spending years growing a devoted audience and then see them flip because of the finale?

    As Frank pointed out, there’s nothing better than to feel readers’ love towards the character one created. However, readers don’t like endings. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle suffered after The Final Problem was released and the people demanded he resurrected Sherlock Holmes. I remember reading J.K. Rowling once said her sister had threatened her if she dare kill Hagrid before the last Harry Potter book was released. Then again, that’s an example of a good ending that pleased the majority.


  6. JOSE,

    Great point on the HBO connection. I actually think the Sopranos ending is brilliant, and perfect. But it did take me a little reflection to get there. I initially thought my cable went out like millions of other people.


    I think you make a great point as well. As long as there is some payoff, some complete story arc (even if it is a smaller one and not the main plot), it is far easier to keep the readers from mutineeing on a cliffhanger.

    Great takes!

  7. We’ve all heard the uproar. Even for those less than vocal about it, somebody has had some sort of complaint over the ending of GoT. I definitely was less than satisfied and had my own ideas about things that could have been done. But the truest disservice would be to pay fan service solely for fan service’s sake. While the final season would have been better served by being longer ultimately we were going to be unhappy on some level simply because everyone can’t be pleased by everything that happened. Sure, that one episode could have been better lit and Jamie hooking up with Breanne didn’t really make sense, but were there not Wow moments at all in any of the episodes? What if either of those things don’t happen the way they do but in exchange something you did like is different? What if the Hound doesn’t get to fight the Mountain? What if you don’t get that library scene with Arya hiding from the dead? You simply can’t write by committee. There are things I would have liked to have seen, but what we got was something I could live with. The show is really a victim of its own success. The last season was great when compared to the last season of just about any other show of its genre, it just wasn’t as great as the show overall.

    1. Gerald, I totally agree. The show is a victim of its own success, as you say. And perhaps this is indicative of the changing face of fandom in today’s hyper-connected world. In the past, people would have to get together around the water cooler to discuss last night’s episode of a TV show, or they might attend an annual fan convention to meet with other folk passionate about a series. These days though, fandom can be achieved at home and online. It takes no effort to punch out a comment on a social media thread. And the response can be instant and overwhelming. Fans don’t have to leave home. They don’t even have to get dressed! I think this manner in which we interact with movies and books, the rapidity and the frequency of the feedback, that exacerbates consumers’ feelings of cognitive dissonance.

  8. I’m reminded of King’s afterword to the Dark Tower, in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I don’t like this ending, either, but it IS the ending.”

    Being true to the characters and the story is the most important thing, and as all of you have pointed out, sometimes GoT did that, and occasionally (and more so recently), they did not. I think the fan backlash over that is legit. The “I wanted it to go this way and it didn’t” response is more of a tantrum, to my mind.

    LEE, you make a stellar point about the ease of connectivity and of being an involved fan. With that involvement comes investment, and that’s a two-edged sword.

  9. Fans are fans. We are not always going to love 100% of everything that happens because we are not robots. We each interpret things in different ways and we seek comfort and joy in things for various reasons.

    I’m Harry Potter obsessed. However, it’s not like witches, wizards, magic, and fairy tale creatures are anything new. J. K. Rowling simply made a story that sucked us in and made us feel we were reading things for the first time. Yet we are also intelligent beings who can critically analyse her work, character development, understand what we like and dislike – and STILL be a fan. I hated her last book in the series – It felt so damn rushed after plotting out an intricate story line that she built up over 6 books. Then we get the worst ending to the most powerful and feared wizard of all time???

    GoT was no different.

    Every season built each character up to a certain point – you want to be blown away by its ending, even if it shocks you. But Ayra’s character was built up to be trained as a skilled assassin and to kill everyone on her list. By the last season – She was a scared little girl who’s defining moment was she killed the head White Walker out of nowhere…WTF?? Where is the confident, trained, deadly assassin that killed Walder Frey and his men?

    Of all the characters who deserved to die, Cerci was the one we were all begging for. Ok, she got to die, but why was she given mercy? Why did she get to die in the arms of her loved one, especially after beheading Missandei and taking out a dragon to show her amount of power? It was the worst death in a show that is best known for its character deaths.

    The brutal turn in Daenerys was unnecessary. It wasn’t needed at all in order to show Jon she could not rule. Dany was already quite brutal with those who refused to bend the knee to her. They already showed how she wasn’t fit to rule, so the burning of innocents was a complete 360 on her entire character development that didn’t fit with the entire show.

    We basically got 7 seasons building up to to such a huge climatic end – but it was anything but climatic. It was more “Oh, is that it?”.

    I expected more – and didn’t get it. I invested my time and life and many discussions in something, only to be left disappointed.

    Even Jon’s character development was built up to be so much more. Yet all it came down to was to make Dany jealous?? Really??? All that back story and importance was to make Dany jealous? It wasn’t enough to make her turn though. So they added in more death to justify her turn in character. None of it made sense. And given that not everyone would have accepted Dany as their queen Jon is then banished to the the Wall that no longer has any importance and never allowed to marry or have children. Just….what the????

    Hopefully the book gives us a better ending?

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