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‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and the Calm Before the Climax

I never finished The Wire. It’s not that I didn’t like the show. Quite the opposite; rich with complex characters navigating complicated situations, The Wire is every bit as great as it’s legend suggests. That’s why, a few episodes into its fourth season, I decided to stop watching. For some (obviously silly) reason, it’s comforting to know that I still have more episodes to eventually watch. Quite simply, I don’t want it to end.

Again, this is admittedly childish and absurd. Outside of the odd book or two I haven’t gotten around to finishing, The Wire is the only piece of art I’ve abandoned out of love. But with Game of Thrones in its final stretch of episodes and Avengers: Endgame coming out Thursday night, the series popped into my mind. For this short period, we’re in that tantalizing, ambiguous space of undiluted anticipation.

Endgame of Thrones

In fact, the second episode of Game of Thrones‘ final season was something of a meta meditation on this phenomena. Outside of a handful of Cersei Lannister loyalists, the entire menagerie of characters were together at Winterfell. This set up an episode built almost entirely around introductions and reconnections colored by queasy anticipation for the imminent battle against the Army of the Dead.

The show is often celebrated (and rightly so) for its epic battle sequences and world-class visual effects. But episodes like “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” are why viewers across the globe have become so emotionally invested in Game of Thrones: the writing and performances. If GOT fans come for the story and stay for the fights, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was a shining example of what’s great about the series.

The opening scene, in which various characters vouch for Jaime Lannister’s honor before a skeptical and vengeful Daenerys Targaryen, acknowledged his character’s growth in a way that felt organic rather than expository.

Down to its title, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” also presented an intimate final look at the characters and their individual journeys throughout the series. Brienne finally becomes a knight. Sansa is now stern and mistrustful, rather than innocent and naive. Jon Snow comes to terms with his lineage and tells Dany the hard truth. Arya is a grown woman who wants to get laid.

Phase Out

If this episode of Game of Thrones was about reiterating the characters and their arcs ahead of a perilous final battle, we can expect something similar in Avengers: Endgame. Over the course of 21 films, Marvel has created an interconnected universe that has reimagined movies as a long, serialized story. Functionally, this is exactly how comic books have always worked. But practically speaking, it feels more akin to a television series, with each movie acting as something like an extended episode.

Like Game of Thrones, the chief appeal of the MCU isn’t the fight sequences, no matter how fantastic they look. What sets Marvel apart from its many imitators is the character-first focus. Appearing in multiple movies across different franchises, we’ve seen heroes like Iron Man and Captain America evolve on a scale that’s never been attempted before.

Because actors’ contracts are now spoilers, we know Endgame is likely to be the final bow of Chris Evans’ Captain America, and possibly Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. The filmmakers have already promised that Endgame will serve as an “epic conclusion” to the MCU saga thus far. At three hours, we can expect the movie to feature plenty of emotional character moments for the original Avengers (we’ve already glimpsed one in Tony and Cap’s long-anticipated reunion in the ads).

Delayed Gratification

This brings us back to that ticklish, fleeting feeling of expectation. In less than a week, we’ll know how the Endgame plays out; in less than a month, we’ll know who comes out on top in Game of Thrones. Both HBO and Marvel have done a magnificent job of protecting the plots, thereby maximizing anticipation.

We should embrace it while we can. To quote the great Pusha T, “If you know, you know.” Once we’ve seen the ending of Endgame or find out who sits atop the Iron Throne, we can never go back. Even if it’s satisfying, this knowledge is a curse; it’s like trying to remember what it was like before you learned to read.

So savor this brief temporal window. Speculate on dumb theories that will come crashing down like the ice wall. ‘Ship for Arya and Gendry, or even Jaime and Brienne. Cross your fingers that Jon “Aegon Targaryen” Snow and Dany wind up ruling the Seven Kingdoms. Let your imagination dance with dragons. Because soon enough – May 19 to be exact – we’ll be Bran Stark: The three-eyed raven who knows all.