In a battle between Avengers Endgame and Game of Thrones, there was one clear winner
This past week has been monumental for pop-culture. In the span of a few days, fans bid farewell to their favourite Marvel superheroes in Avengers: Endgame, and prepared themselves for another farewell in about three weeks’ time, when Game of Thrones concludes its historic run.
It’s serendipitous that the two series chose the summer of 2019 to say goodbye. They began within a few years of each other – the Marvel Cinematic Universe started in 2008, and Game of Thrones premiered in 2011. Both have been helped in no small part by the internet, whose ubiquitous rise has mirrored that of the MCU and GoT.
For the first time ever, fans could react to their favourite stories in real time, with a good chance of their opinions actually being heard by the creators. Just this week, the director of the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog movie tweeted that the overwhelming criticism surrounding the film’s trailer had been registered, and that the filmmakers had made the decision to go back to the drawing board and redesign the title character. How cool is that?
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Make no mistake, similar decisions were almost definitely taken on both Game of Thrones and the Marvel movies. It’s no coincidence that cinematographer Fabian Wagner has defended his work after the lighting in the most recent episode was criticised by fans for being too dark. He heard your complaints. And as far as Marvel is concerned, do you honestly think Kevin Feige and company didn’t take into consideration your absolute apathy about Captain America and Sharon Carter’s love story?
It’s fairly common for television shows to take decisions after carefully considering the audiences’ sentiments. Lost creator Damon Lindelof has admitted that Twitter played a major role in informing their decision to axe certain characters on the show. Similarly, the internet was instrumental in ‘saving’ Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. The character was destined to die at the end of season one.
And since the MCU is an honorary television show itself, it would make sense for them to operate in a similar fashion.
Both Avengers: Endgame and The Long Night (episode three of Game of Thrones’ final season), dabbled a fair bit in fan service, with both Marvel and HBO making the laudable decision to not get distracted by the pressure to pander to the masses, and focused instead on creating the best experience for longtime fans.
This has, naturally, opened Endgame and Thrones to criticism. How can something that relies so heavily on past memory function independently? The simple answer: it can’t. It isn’t meant to. You’re expected to have done your homework before making the pilgrimage to the theatre, or settling into your couch (and complaining about the darkness). To fully understand the significance of the several tiny moments upon which both GoT and Endgame rests, one must be minutely attuned to two decades’ worth of storytelling.
But despite all this, one clearly pulled it off better than the other. While both Avengers: Endgame and The Long Night, at their core, are about final stands, it doesn’t take an expert to tell you which of the two is a more well-rounded experience.
One of the basic requirements of any major cinematic battle sequence is that it must be peppered with several smaller moments in between. These moments almost function as palate cleansers, because no one can consume course after course of monotonous action. It is through these scenes that we renegotiate our deals with the characters. Should we remain invested in their stories? Should we root for one over the other? Will we care if they die?
There are very few filmmakers – at least today – that have the ability to stage effective large scale battle sequences. Perhaps Ridley Scott, and, regardless of what you think about him, Michael Bay – largely because they know what it is like to work with huge sets and hundreds of extras, aren’t overly reliant on green screens. Justin Lin is quite excellent as well, as are David Yates and Zhang Yimou. But the Russo Brothers are on a whole new level – they’ve not only broken the glass ceiling as far as scope is concerned, but are in the process of creating new benchmarks.
Unfortunately, despite all the resources at his disposal, Miguel Sapochnik isn’t nearly as instinctive. Moaning about the visuals is the easiest thing to do, but also unfair, because Endgame and GoT aren’t operating on the same scale. I won’t be making those comparisons here. We must instead focus on how well they balanced tones, if they were successful in capturing the essence of the characters despite limited screen time; and most importantly, whether or not they able to invoke subtle nostalgia amid the noisy chaos.
I’d argue that besides Arya Stark (for obvious reasons) and Jon Snow, The Long Night didn’t quite know what to do with the rest of its sprawling cast of characters. Daenerys was nowhere to be seen (quite literally, in certain moments), and the Sansa-Tyrion reunion almost made me scream at them to do something instead of simply resigning to their fate. And spare a thought for the poor Night King, who must’ve been under the impression that he is a big deal. Obviously not.
On the other hand, notice how even tertiary characters such as Pepper Potts to Happy Hogan got their due in Endgame, in what I’d argue were some of the movie’s most affecting scenes. Notice how the film gave fans the emotional release that they didn’t even know was building up inside them. This is a sign of confidence, and an indication of just how accurately Marvel understands its audience.
They know you remember Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Mjolnir scene, and they are certain you understand the significance of the words, ‘On your left’. They use this knowledge to manipulate you, and on a subconscious level, you allow it. You surrender yourself and your emotions, and despite your pride, you submit.
The climactic battle in Endgame was full of such moments, because at the end of the day, when the dust has settled, we won’t remember how many punches from Captain Marvel it took to bring Thanos to his knees, but we will remember Tony hugging Peter Parker. And we will remember that iconic shot of all the female superheroes lining up in support of each other, because, as we all know, the most empowering thing to do is to take control of your own destiny.
Theon died, but he didn’t have to. But the moment Nat and Clint landed on Vormir, we knew deep down in our hearts what was about to happen; what needed to happen. Of course, it’s completely understandable for the more passionate GoT fans to make the same points about Endgame, and point out its less than generous treatment of Carol Danvers, and its iffy grasp of time travel. But let this not distract from the fact that we’ve lived through a very special moment in pop-culture history, and it would help if you treat this more as a celebration of Endgame, and not as a criticism of GoT.