At the core of all the high-scale production and intense battle sequences, the show hinged on a central conflict.
As the final episode of Game of Thrones aired this week, emotions continue to run high. While some viewers are calling it as an ‘end of an era’, others feel betrayed by its shoddy climax of the suspense that it built since the first episode. At the core of all the high-scale production and intense battle sequences, the show hinged on a central conflict: ‘Who will sit on the Iron Throne?’ But as soon as the writers of the show deflected from the books by George R R Martin, it saw a downward spiral in writing which ultimately did gross injustice to the suspense that Martin had very craftily built. Although this is not the first time when a suspense-driven series has derailed by the time it reached its conclusion (Who can forget the disappointing last two seasons of How I Met Your Mother?).
Even though the genre of suspense and thrillers currently form the tapestries of TV and OTT platforms, a well-written and well-treated suspense is still hard to find. There’s no doubt that suspense is a genre hard to perfect, but if used with dexterity and treated with virtuosity, it can very well bring to fore vivid stories.
However, as the formats of storytelling have become diverse, the time and pace have come to play a big role while brewing suspense. Karan Anshuman of Mirzapur and Inside Edge fame highlights the role of time when he categorises the difference between thrillers in the form of movies, TV series, and anthology series.
“The time in movies is very limited, and so there are certain ways to deal with the suspense which have been explored over and over again. It’s almost like a formula now, and it’s very rare to find a film that works on the suspense in a different manner. The tropes and devices that people use to get it across already exist. But, you can decide how long you want to get that suspense going, either in an episodic arc or within an episode using red herring or other devices. There are longer arcs that you can work with, and of course you can have it across multiple seasons,” he explains.
But when it comes to developing an arc that spans through various seasons, the focus shifts from the formula of answering the question as there is more time available to experiment and develop non-linear storylines.
“In a show, you have to keep exploring different relationships and storylines. There are sides that can happen which, in a film, you don’t have the time to explore. You set up a question, but you can do so much more in terms of what goes into answering that question. You can basically digress into various aspects of characters, their journeys and their storylines. Also, the big advantage is that you can use so many more characters, which helps with the pacing of the series,” Karan says.
Although, Abhinay Deo who directed Blackmail and the Indian remake of the American TV series 24, reminds that in doing so, the makers should not underplay suspense.
He says, “Every episode should grasp people like the movie does. Every episode needs to have its own graph, and it needs to end on a cliff-hanger where you must give the audience a hook to come back to.”
There is no doubt that the viewers tend to get more involved in characters and stories in a bigger timeline, and consequently, it raises their expectations that have proven to be hard to match. Abhinay argues that it’s only natural for the expectations of the viewers to rise, but that should not affect the writers and their vision. Although, he goes on to point out that thrillers, due to its intrinsic nature, should not be stretched too long.
“In my opinion, suspense and thriller is a genre where you cannot stretch beyond its capacity. One element that defines a good writer from an average writer is the knowledge about when and how to stop. Because your show is raking in the money, you stretch it beyond its limit, and it will always leave the audience dissatisfied,” he reveals.
That could explain the successes of the anthology series like True Detective, Fargo, and American Crime Story where there was enough time for the audience to know the characters and also enjoy reasonable conclusions effectively.
Additionally, the dissatisfaction of viewers can also be attributed to the general misconception that the ending is supposed to be the most pivotal part of thrillers. Sujoy Ghosh, who can be easily given the moniker, ‘Bollywood’s M Night Shyamalan’ for the twist endings in his movies, clears the air when he says that the journey of the plot is the more important aspect.
Talking about it, the filmmaker who gave thrillers such as Kahaani and Badla says, “In The Sixth Sense, nobody is at all bothered about knowing the ending, so how does it matter? It’s the journey that you have to be happy about. If it were all about the climax, nobody would have watched Kahaani more than one time. It’s the journey and how much investment they (audience) have with those characters, will decide whether they would continue to watch or not.”
Adding further, he reveals his approach of writing thrillers, by saying, “If I was writing a thriller, I would lead the twist away. I would write the thriller and see if it’s holding on its own without the twist. If that journey was exciting, only then I would add the twist as a ‘thank you’.”