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    ‘Game of Thrones’ Finale Becomes Latest Trade War Casualty

    The beloved fantasy show’s last episode managed to disappoint Chinese fans even before they started watching it.
    May 23, 2019#TV & film

    Warning: This post is dark and full of spoilers.

    In Chinese, the word lanwei — meaning “unfinished” or “incomplete” — is commonly used to describe construction projects. This week, however, the term’s alternative and slightly more modern meaning of “crap ending” was in vogue following the debacle that was the “Game of Thrones” series finale.

    The last episode of the wildly popular HBO fantasy series had been scheduled to air in China Monday morning exclusively on Tencent Video — albeit with some of the sexier and more violent bits redacted. But when the appointed time came, fans were distraught to discover that the episode had not been released. The delay, Tencent explained via one of its Weibo microblog accounts, was due to “transmission medium problems.”

    After Tencent’s announcement, however, a spokesman for HBO confirmed fans’ worst fears: Tencent had been blocked from broadcasting the show because of the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China. As of Wednesday afternoon, the program still wasn’t available on Tencent Video.

    When more resourceful netizens were able to watch the show’s 73rd episode by other means, such as torrents or cloud downloads, many cursed what they saw as a terrible ending to a season rife with pacing issues and head-scratching plot twists — like beatific teenager Bran Stark’s ultimate ascent to the throne.

    A review with 5,000 likes posted Tuesday on the IMDb-like platform Douban suggested that the only way Bran could have accomplished such a feat was by telepathically possessing Daenerys Targaryen, her dragons, and even the show’s two screenwriters, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff.

    The demise of Daenerys — or “Dragon-Mother,” as she’s known to Chinese fans of the show — at the blade of her trusted lover, Jon Snow, was painful for both her and viewers. Despite having massacred throngs of innocents in the previous episode, the fiery character and the actress who played her, Emilia Clarke, were still fan favorites. Daenerys’ cold-blooded betrayal was made all the worse by its timing: Monday — when the show aired in China due to time zones — was May 20, a sort of newly minted Valentine’s Day in the country.

    “Jon Snow really gave the sincerest profession of love this May 20,” read one comment with over 500 likes under a review of the episode. “A man who genuinely loves you will tolerate your mistakes,” commented another user. “But a trash guy — apart from saying a few sweet things — will use you to fight zombies, deplete your armies, become a stumbling block in your road to power, and finally stab you to death.”

    Under the same review, another user drew parallels between the show’s ending, rendered flaccid by the screenwriters, and the Chinese literary masterpiece “Dream of the Red Chamber,” which was not completed by Cao Xueqin, the author who wrote the bulk of it, but by someone else. Season 8, the user wrote, was the hypothetical equivalent of Guo Jingming — a particularly polarizing pop novelist — completing Cao’s opus.

    “Game of Thrones” has enjoyed a dedicated following in China since before it was even legally viewable in the country. On Tencent Video, the first five episodes of Season 8 have been viewed close to 600 million times, with countless other fans opting to watch via unauthorized channels. On the often-unforgiving review website Douban, every season has received over 100,000 user reviews, and each of the previous seven seasons has a score of at least 9 out of 10. After each episode airs in the U.S., online fan groups spring to action, frantically writing subtitles in Chinese until the wee hours of the morning.

    Like their counterparts abroad, Chinese fans enjoy discussing plots, making memes, and cracking jokes that tie the show into their own culture. When the so-called master of whispers, Lord Varys, was executed for plotting against Daenerys because he saw another leader as better for the future of the realm, netizens hailed him as a revolutionary martyr for putting the interests of the people above his own life. One image shows him edited onto the party’s red hammer-and-sickle flag. Meanwhile, a top Douban review joked that the Night King was the real hero of the series for creating jobs without showing the slightest discrimination, even taking in orphans.

    Before the “Game of Thrones” finale, many Chinese fans were determined not to let one bad season mar the show’s reputation, especially since netizens had begun calling on Douban users to review-bomb the recent episodes in protest.

    “In the end, no matter how much Season 8 disappoints people, I still hope we won’t forget the wonderful memories that ‘Game of Thrones’ has given us,” wrote one Douban user. “No matter what, I hope that people can remember the brilliance and excellence of the previous seasons. Let’s stop the criticizing and just love each other, guys.”

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: A still frame from the hit fantasy series “Game of Thrones.” From HBO’s website)