The Problem of Unhappy Endings

Saw this on NPR today and while they are talking specifically about Game of Thrones, you have to know I was thinking about both the SVM books and True Blood in reading this article.

Talk of the Nation: Unhappy Endings: When Our TV Show Worlds Get Rocked


But I think that, you know, one of the things that sometimes leads to this is when there are expectations that are locked into certain kinds of genres. And when you approach a story that fits into a particular genre, there are some things we expect and some things we don’t expect. You know, when you go to a horror movie, you probably know by now that there may not be a happy ending. You know, there’s often that scene right at the end where you think the killer’s dead, but then it turns out that he’s not, and that will lead to the sequel. And so the unhappy ending is expected. But you know, for instance, I haven’t seen the new “Superman” movie, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to win in the end because that’s something we’ve come to expect from that genre.

And I agree, that was one of the problems with the SVM books: so many of us interpreted them as paranormal romance when they were really mysteries, where the genre rules are different.

I had to laugh because another listener had EXACTLY the same first disappointment in a story experience that I had as a young girl:

But Mitra writes: My first betrayal was by Louisa May Alcott in “Little Women.” My eight-year-old self was devastated that Joe turned Laurie down. I threw my book across the room and swore I wouldn’t finish it. It took me two years to pick it back up, and I’m still sad every time I read it or see the movie version. And I wonder what she thought when Amy later on ended up with Laurie.

I HATED Amy with a passion and I couldn’t even read the end of the book for some time because it was just too painful to watch Laurie fall in love with Amy after Jo rejected him. It is still hard to think about.  Glad to know I am not alone, though!

And here’s the guest’s original article, Game of Thrones and the Problem of Unhappy Endings, which goes into more detail about his theory about why these things hurt so much.


We know by now that in this world, not only do bad things happen to good people, but villainy frequently goes unpunished. And one of our central expectations of narrative is that eventually, even if it comes at the end of a long road, the bad guy will get his comeuppance. When that doesn’t happen, says Hornick, “there’s a sense of formal fairness that has been trespassed.” It isn’t that every story needs a happy ending, but if our emotional investment isn’t allowed to resolve in a satisfying way and if some measure of justice doesn’t prevail, it can be deeply disturbing. If you watch Game of Thrones, ask yourself this: aren’t you just dying to see someone run Joffrey through with a sword like he deserves, then stick his head on a pike? And how will you feel if it never happens?

Well, I think it will feel just about the way it did when I realized that after being subjected to the angst-inducing conversation between Freyda and Sookie in Deadlocked, Freyda was actually going to WIN.  I felt tortured by that previous scene and the only thing that kept me going was the thought that eventually Freyda was going to get what she deserved.  And then she DIDN’T.

Strangely, understanding the mechanics of why I feel disappointed in a story does seem to help.  What about you?


6 responses to “The Problem of Unhappy Endings

  1. No. I’m still disappointed. CH created a paranormal romance/’Mystery genre whether she intended to or not. She wrote a compelling pairing with Sookie/Eric and then took it in all different directions. The mechanics do not console me one bit because IMO she got sloppy in books 12 and 13

    • Oh, I still hate the ending with a fiery passion because I love love LOVE my Eric and Sookie! But it has been adding another level of hurt to continuously be told by those who are okay with the outcome that somehow there is something “wrong” with being disappointed. I appreciate that this validates why I feel the way I do for reasons beyond just being a disappointed fan girl, if that makes sense. At least that little bit of extra pain (of feeling like I must be stupid for being disappointed) is relieved.

      • I totally understand what you’re saying.
        There is nothing wrong with being disappointed with Sookie’s outcome.
        With GoT, the author kills off a lot of his characters so I don’t get emotionally invested knowing that.
        CH pulled a bait and switch and that’s why we’re unhappy

  2. Thank you for pointing me to this article. I do agree with a lot of what it says. Ned Stark’s death — against my “normal” expectations — at the end of the first season of GoT is why I never made it past season 1. (And the cold blooded murder of a baby with a sword, which I caught in passing during season 2, is what has kept me from going back!)

    I also agree that these expectations are much of the reason why so many of us were unsatisfied at best, devastated at worst, with DEA and the ending of the SVM series.

  3. I also hate the ending of the books series. And I guess it does have to deal with fairness and seeing the bad guy get what they deserve. Fredya should have died. If Eric and Sookie were not meant to be together like we all wished, at least she could have freed Eric from the contract (not add 100 years to it) and had them talk about their relationship like grown ups and decide to break up, since Sookie would never agree to be turned.

    Then have a new character come into town that was perfect for Sookie. (had chemistry, was a good guy, was smart enough to protect Sookie from Sups that want to take her and was strong enough to protect her.)

    Instead we get Sookie with someone who she had in the friend zone so long, that he had clearly entered the brother zone. He is someone who knows about the sup world, Yes, but shuns it and is ashamed to be a sup. He is some one who puts her down and even if he is always there. But he is always telling her how dumb she is and trying to control her and keep her from other sups, because he does not like other sups. She put Sookie with someone who is good in theory (On paper has all the right check marks) but horrible in reality. To me Sookie being with Sam is as gross and wrong as her ending up with Jason. Sam is in the brother zone.

    Because she picked one of the two people who I think is absolutely wrong for Sookie to be with (Bill or Sam or any relative), I will never read any of her other books.

    If she would have put her with anyone else, but Bill or Sam and freed Eric, I would have enjoyed the book. If I liked the ending of this series or thought it was ok or that it made a lick of sense, I would have still been her fan and bought all her other series, past, present and future. I would have even been fine, with Sookie deciding he didn’t need a man in her life to be happy and decide to college and move out of town. But she has lost me as a fan, putting her with Sam. This ending was horrible.

    • NCMiss12, beautiful articulation of many of the problems with Sam and Sookie ending up together. To me it just feels like the messages CH was trying to send are all about settling for less than you want just because it’s hard to achieve, giving up on passion and turning your back on anyone different from you because “you can be friends with ’em, but you shouldn’t marry ’em.” That is probably an unfair characterization, but that’s the vibe I get from the plot as I understand it and I’m just not interested in reading about that outlook on life. It’s sad, because I used to think of Sookie as someone who was stretching beyond the narrow-minded people she grew up with, and instead it sounds like she just turned into one of them. Ugh.

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