So the last season of GAME OF THRONES went sideways, according to All the Fans–and as somebody who’s now watched all three seasons of JESSICA JONES, the writers and showrunners make the same storytelling mistake with the ending.
And listen, the ending is everything.
How can a gritty, superhero series screw up in the same way as an epic with swords and dragons?
Here’s how. (Warning: this whole post is Spoily McSpoilerface.)
Reason No. 1: Always save the Big Bad Guy for the finale
For five-point-seven billion years, GAME OF THRONES built up the icy blue Avatar-looking guy, the Night King, as the Big Bad of the series.
At the same time, the show served up the Mother of Dragons and her cousin/boyfriend Jon Snow as heroes, as far as what passes for heroes go in a story where everybody is a murderous nutbag.
But there’s no real protagonist in this giant cast, and Ayra is the one who offs the Night King long before the final episode.
Same thing with the last season of JESSICA JONES.
For all of Season 3, the Big Bad was this serial killer known as Salinger.
But instead of saving a confrontation with the villain for the finale, we get meh from both series.
The Night King’s death should have been saved for the last episode, with the Mother of Dragons or Jon Snow being the fan favorites to sit on the Iron Throne.
Instead, the Night King got killed and the show became a hot mess. Nobody was aching to see Emilia lose it and have her dragon fry the city, or see Kit stab his former lover, or have Bron-whatever take the throne for some random reason after Tyrion goes all Jar-Jar in the Galactic Senate on us. No. Just no.
JESSICA JONES repeats the same mistake. Salinger gets offed before the final episode.
Reason No. 2: Once the Big Bad is dead, your momentum goes buh-bye.
Let’s talk about other movies we’ve all seen for a second and play this out.
RETURN OF THE JEDI — Instead of Vader tossing Emperor Wrinkly Face down the bottomless pit and the Death Star getting blown up, all that happens in Act 2, with the entirely of Act 3 all about how Luke has to hunt down and fight Han Solo after he went nuts and helped the Ewoks slaughter and barbeque 15,000 Imperial stormtrooper prisoners.
Terrible, right? This is much better.
You have to save the Big Bad for the final act, the final episode, the last thing. Anything else makes the story out of order and flat.
Reason No. 3: If you’re going for tragedy, you have to fully commit
A mixed ending can be amazing. Some of the best movies and books have mixed endings.
CASABLANCA has the hero giving up the girl for a greater cause–beating Hitler and winning World War II.
But a mixed ending is also tough to pull off.
When you get audience rooting for a character, and seeing them as a hero, it’s tough to see those character take a heel turn at the last minute.
In fact, audiences reject it.
This is why tragedies fully commit.
They show the full fall from grace, from beginning to end, with the protagonist serving as both hero and villain. And the protagonist falls due to their own hand, via hubris.
BREAKING BAD did this perfectly. Sure, you saw things from Walter White’s point-of-view, and rooted for him a lot of time, but his ending felt absolutely right. He’d definitely sinned, and his downfall was deserved.
If you’re going with a tragedy, do it from the beginning with the protagonist. Not a side character like Trish.
It can work for the main character hero to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a secondary character. That’s not a tragic ending; it’s noble and heroic. See PRIVATE RYAN and ARMAGEDDON and five zillion other movies.