Game of Thrones, Endowment effect and a Poetic Justice

No one is very happy, which means it’s a good compromise” – Tyrion Lannister

Perhaps the most magnificent saga of our generation, finally sunsetted with its finale leaving many wanting, nostalgic, confused, elated and mostly, leaving a big void in the lives of the fans! (I wonder what will we all do with so much freed time now).

But unlike all the other seasons where everyone was unanimously enchanted by anything and everything that unfolded in the show, the last season did not go down in the same way. Almost everyone has some pointers that they felt went unchecked. So much is the disappointment that it resulted in millions signing a petition to remake the whole season! So what happened? How can the directors and writers who have made seven flawless seasons fail to cast the same magic in their very swansong? I am reminded of a concept taught in B-schools to explain this predicament – The Endowment Effect

What is the Endowment Effect?

The Endowment effect is an emotional bias in us, due to which we tend to value something we own (or have a feeling of ownership) irrationally more than its objective value.
This Endowment effect is said to occur due to two main reasons:

  1. Loss Aversion – Where we feel the pain of loss, twice more than the pleasure of equal gain
  2. Ownership – We fall in love with what we already have and are prepared to pay much more in lieu of it (regardless its original cost)

(Read more about the Endowment Effect here)

Now, it can be said almost as an indisputable fact that the fans of GoT, have grown so much addicted to the series that it is not surprising if they feel a certain connection with the show- A connection much like what is felt when one owns something.
In addition to this, add another managerial/psychological theory to it known as the 9X effect

The 9X effect (read about it more, here) is something every product designer faces before any new product development. It states that in order to ensure that the new product is accepted in the market, it has to be better than the existing product by at least a factor of nine. But the problem here is that while developers (or producers) are already sold on their products and see them as essential, the consumers are reluctant to part with what they already have. This conflict results in a mismatch of nine to one between what innovators believe consumers want and what consumers truly desire.

Let us now try and put these effects to test against the backdrop of the show.
It can rather be easily established that all those years of devotedly watching the premiers and the re-runs of the show, reading about the possible plot-twist the next episode would take, and the inadvertent hide-and-seek with the dreaded spoilers made us all feel a kind of ownership with the show. We all connected so much so that all of us must have had narrowed a ‘theory’ about the aptest ending to the show. This lead to loss aversion, when we started feeling the pain of loss when things didn’t turn out the way we envisioned.

(I would like to take a detour here to say that the directors and team cannot be blamed too much as they could have had but only one ending to the show. And fortunately or unfortunately, unlike all the other seasons where they had the independence to show a climax where something unfair happens – and thus stun the audience with the unpredictability- in the last season, they could not have afforded so. For unlike in the other seasons where they could have always made the fan ‘hope’ that all good things are about to come next, they did not have the option here. Could they have come up with a better ‘good ending’, is obviously a matter of debate and one’s personal opinion)

So with all the ingredients of a strong Endowment effect, the pressure of the new product development, so to say, manifested in the form of the 9X effect. The producers and writers must have already been convinced that the “new product” (that is to say, the new season) is already thrice as better as the old one, as it made sense to them. For the fans (or the “consumers”), the older season was thrice as much better than what it actually was (Remember we tend to irrationally increase the value of the things we already possess). Therefore, in totality, for the new product to be successful, it had to be nine times as good as the last season. This eventually for many fans, turned out to be Herculean task for the writers to pull off.

But all said and done, as the title suggests, to me the finale did have some specks of what we can call a ‘Poetic Justice’.

  • Drogon burning the Iron Throne – Drogon saw that Danny had been stabbed by Jon Snow and had bled to death. But it knew that Jon wasn’t the one who really killed her. It was the throne. And hence it burnt the very thing that lead to its mother’s death.
  • The pen is always mightier than the sword – The swords made them win the war, usurp the throne (many times in the entire course of the saga), and even kill the Night King, but in the end, it was a (metaphorical) pen in the form of advice from Tyrion Lannister that brought peace. Without the words of wisdom, everything that they fought for, would have been undone as they would all unsurprisingly have kept on fighting one another.
  • There is seldom an absolute winner in a war. Everyone loses something – For example:- The Starks even though were made kings and queens of territories, lost what they cherished most- them living together as a family in harmony; Tyrion re-emerged as ‘The Hand’ but lost the love of his life, his brother, and his best friend. Besides, I also liked the subtle message all of this gave- that in spite of everything in the world, it is the sense of belonging, the warmth of being together and the feeling of home which is actually what makes life worth living

There is so much more to talk about the show, so much more to soak in. But perhaps some other day, in some other post. Until then I leave it at this.

Valar Morghulis!

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