The Game of Thrones fandom toxicity is merely a part of a larger problem creeping up in everything from the CW’s superhero shows to franchises as universally beloved as Star Wars. HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones let down many of its fans during their final run. Some were so angry, that not only did they take to social media to vent their frustration, they started attacking other users who wrote positively about those final episodes. The vitriol from these so-called fans goes far beyond simple disappointment or anger. Storied franchises often suffer from failing to deliver a final installment that satisfies the story the fans already wrote for themselves. Lately, these fans (especially those who imbue political agendas to entire studios) go beyond even arguing to outright harassment. But one Reddit user might have figured out how to harness all that energy for “good.”
Game of Thrones Fandom Toxicity on Reddit
The rancor in fan community began not with critiques about the story, but rather spoilers. A group of fans wanted to talk about the sieve-like leaks coming from the sets and production offices. So, the sub-Reddit community r/Freefolk came to be. It was a place that adopted the language of the Wildlings characters, who bowed to no rulers. Yet, as spoilers for seasons seven and eight broke online, those fans became increasingly worried about how the story would go. Some fans chose not to believe the spoilers, while others resigned acceptance to the idea that the show “sucks now.” The disappointment everyone felt soon morphed into a larger Game of Thrones fandom toxicity that ruined all discussion of the show. While less focused on politics than other fandoms (even though the show, literally, is all about politics), elements of “identity politics” showed up to diminish the story choices.
The specific offense that so angered fans was that it was Arya Stark not Jon Snow who dispatched the Night King. Even though her entire story arc focused on her desire not to be a normal highborn lady but rather wanted to be warrior. Arya’s increasing lethality and possession of the Cat’s Paw Dagger, a “Chekov’s” weapon if there ever was one, points to her doing the deed. Yet, angry fans felt “robbed” by the writers who instead gave the kill to a woman for “social justice” reasons. Only, as the show continued, so did the disappointment. Ultimately, it led to a “statement” petition signed by more than 1.5 million people saying the final season of Game of Thrones needed a redo.
Sending a Clear Message to the Actors
Much of the ire fans felt directed itself at the show-runners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. The perception was that in order to get busy
ruining writing their Star Wars trilogy, they rushed production the show. Fans felt they could have promoted some producers to continue the series for ten seasons as both HBO and George R.R. Martin wanted. The “bad writing” for the series fell squarely on their heads, but since they have no social media presence, people couldn’t yell at them. Thus, the Game of Thrones fandom toxicity could only fester in the online communities, poisoning the experience for anyone who didn’t feel the season was a total travesty. This backlash made its way back to the actors and Martin, all who defended the show’s right to tell the story they wanted to tell.
Yet, both Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke expressed some disappointment with the show and their characters’ fates. This is understandable. Mark Hamill also had doubts about Luke Skywalker’s direction in The Last Jedi (but his ideas aren’t always great). The angry fans felt vindicated by this, using those moments from the actors to justify their hatred. Still, even if the individual actors were disappointed in their characters’ fates, that doesn’t mean that they think their fellow cast and crew were “incompetent.” Despite the Game of Thrones fandom toxicity, many disappointed fans realized they felt that way, too. The cinematography, costumes, effects, and acting were all of incredibly high quality. So, one fan came up with an idea to send a message that the fandom wasn’t as toxic as everyone thought.
Emilia Clarke’s SameYou Charity Gets Over $130,000
A Reddit user who goes by the name Elle Elaria started a fundraising drive for a charity supported by Clarke. The gesture was meant as thanks to Clarke for her stunning portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen, no matter what atrocities her character committed in the denouement of the series. Clarke revealed that she struggled with two brain aneurysms, so she helped found the SameYou charity which focuses on rehabilitation for brain injury and stroke patients. Elaria started a thread on Reddit asking if anyone would be interested in donating to the charity to show support for the actress. As of this writing, the campaign raised more than $137,000 from 5,786 people. Touched by this gesture, Clarke took to social media to thank the entire Reddit community.
Even though the Game of Thrones fandom toxicity reached a fever pitch, all but a few trolls supported the campaign. In the comments of the post announcing it, fellow ‘Redditors’ helped edit the text for the fundraising page. Others posted links to charities supported by the other actors. So, the most caustic of the series’ sub-Reddits (there are at least four separate ones) made headlines not for fandom toxicity but for actively supporting a cause that makes people’s lives better. Instead of focusing all the attention on what they hated, they instead directed that energy to support something they loved. It’s the kind of message that entitled trolls actively mock but is perhaps more right than they realize.
Kit Harington’s Mencap Charity Gets More Than $65,000
Shortly after the campaign for Clarke’s charity, Kit Harington checked himself into a rehabilitation and wellness center. The ending of series, which took up a significant part of his adult life, affected him in a lot of ways. Because of the Game of Thrones fandom toxicity level, some folks took this as an opportunity to say that Benioff and Weiss were at fault for this. Other Redditors recognized that addiction and mental illness and injury can affect anyone. They only felt sympathy for Harington, another actor who did his job in an exemplary fashion. So, the forum decided to repeat their fundraising effort for Harington’s preferred charity, Mencap.
Mencap is a charity that helps children with disabilities, specifically learning disabilities in the UK. Harington posted a letter and video to declare his support in the name of his cousin Laurent and his struggles with learning disability. This fundraising drive, started by Steven Garner, is also meant as a message to Kit that despite the Game of Thrones fandom toxicity online, almost all of the fans enjoyed his contribution. With him away working on his own health, making headlines was the only way to get his attention. Not only did Harington notice and say thanks to the fans in a letter but donated more than $7,500 to the campaign himself. At the time of this writing, the campaign raised more than $65,000 for Mencap. Both fundraising pages are still open to donations.
Fandom Toxicity Isn’t Going Anywhere
No franchise is perfect (well, except maybe one), so there will always be fans disappointed by finales or character turns or anything that doesn’t match their own “head-canon.” Social media, and the anonymity it provides, also means that those angry fans can be as obscene and offensive as they want. The Game of Thrones fandom toxicity is not exclusive to that franchise, and the general trend seems poised to continue, especially as franchises recognize that diversity is an asset. While no one is entitled to a story, people are supposed to feel things as a result of art. Arguably, any piece of art that inspire such an intense reaction is a success of some kind. Yet, when angry “fans” harass the storytellers or actors to the point where the leave social media, it becomes a much greater problem.
That’s the true gift that Elle Elaria gave to her community. Instead of just stewing in their rage at the show’s producers, they were able to focus on the parts of the thing they still loved. In supporting both Clarke and Harington, they also supported charities doing important work to better the lives of people whose names they don’t know. A “horrible” story doesn’t justify being a horrible person, and Elle Elaria figured out a way to (subtly) straddle the line that so many angry fans fail to do. How much better would the world be, if every angry Star Wars, DC, and other genre-franchise fan took their anger at something they didn’t like and channeled it towards something positive instead? Hopefully, we’ll find out.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments or by sharing the article on social media!
Featured image via HBO
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.