Reoters: [Dayton, Ohio] Dr. Harold Finnegan says he’s cleared his calendar on Monday and Tuesday as HBO has called him and 27 other local colleagues to be ready for distraught fans of the hit HBO TV series.
“We’ve sorta been warned,” he told us over the phone. “We’ve each received The Fax,” he said. He says it like you’d expect someone to talk about a subpoena.
The Fax: Sent by showrunners DB Weiss and Daniel Benioff, the Fax contains what is going to happen on Sunday night’s Finale episode and includes deaths, violence, even the words to “The Rains of Castamere”. They sent this fax to major cities around the US to prepare for the unprecedented outpouring of grief for at least two beloved characters on the show (and several not so beloved ones). We were not able to see the Fax ourselves.
“Cincinnati and Columbus and Toledo and Cleveland are prepared as well,” he told us. “There are hundreds of us who were asked to clear calendars for the whole week. I was able to ask other clients who had lost loved ones to hold off for another week or so and allow me to take Monday and Tuesday, at the very least, and reserve them exclusively for the fans of this show.
“It’s important, I think, to do this,” he went on. “Game of Thrones, unlike most television, is rather abusive to its fans. One moment offering a treat–a good character; the next moment killing them off. It can be maddening. You never know when someone you love will die. Some will need to break the cycle of abuse—others will just need to grieve. We want to be there for our citizens; we’ve even reserved some spots for rural fans who need to drive into Dayton and see us. We’re also going to–and this is big for us–counsel whole office complexes. I know that Premier Health Partners has already scheduled a Monday at 3:00pm mass counseling session. I’m talking about the possibility of hundreds of fans grieving at one time.”
According to Finnegan, the empathy and connection one develops with a character in a TV show is similar to a familial connection. You see them as often as you do your own family, often more, and their struggles become your struggles. They are not a nameless face on the TV–someone who died thousands of miles away. They had a story, goals, revenge mantras. They mattered, and the resulting death is a sort of abandonment.
Human grief over the death of a TV or book character is not unprecedented. “We had a flood of clients after the death of Dumbledore. We were just overrun,” he says, his voice breaking. “So this time we’re glad to be more prepared.”
Finnegan said he received a similar Fax just before the deaths of Robb and Catelyn Stark, the infamous “Red Wedding” on Game of Thrones, season 3. “We were prepared. Many, many fans were beside themselves. Several of them promised violence towards themselves and to George RR Martin and the showrunners. We talked many fans down from their ledges and from their own planned Revenge Red Weddings.”
What kinds of grief does he as a counselor prepare for on a night like Sunday night? “Basic grief. The death of a fictional loved one can be traumatic. One may have altered one’s appearance or life to model oneself after a character. The death of that character can spin someone into an identity crisis. Fantasies that may have been developed involving sexual liasons with a character can implode when a character dies, leaving the bereaved sexually impotent, or sexually co-dependent on a stranger who may look like the character who’s been killed. We’ve seen that. Rage, so much rage can also happen–people harm those closest to them– physically, on the couch. Also, many fans have been living vicariously through a character who has given them many more adventures and excitement than they have in their own lives. The loss of that character seems like the loss of Life Itself. As you can probably tell, one session is usually not enough to help someone through a crisis of this psychological magnitude.”
Does he have any advice for those who might not be able to get to a counselor after the Finale of Game of Thrones, or for those who need to prepare for Sunday?
“It’s going to be bad. I won’t sugarcoat it. Someone you love will die. Die horribly. We know that. People have to steel themselves. We’re suggesting practicing inserting names into the sentence ‘___________ is dead. How do I feel?’ and doing this on Friday and Saturday and Sunday leading up to the episode. Do it as a group. Do not do it alone. And, most importantly, do not leave anyone off this list.”
“Anyone. People need to say the names — Tyrion and Daenarys and Jon Snow and everyone else that you care about — so that your mind has time to cope with the possibility of their death. Sometimes writing the fictional character a goodbye letter can help. Or coming up with what you might say at their eulogy,” Finnegan suggests. “You might also use humor. Think of the funniest ways that characters might die: shadow babies, leeches, zombie attacks, yes, but also having legs and arms sliced off, being split up the middle, inhaling flame and boiling from the inside, being dropped from a flying dragon at 10,000 feet, death by ice cream and eating too many ravens–that kind of thing.”
HBO confirmed that there were more than 15,000 professional grief counselors across the country waiting for fans to call on Sunday night and especially Monday morning.
“The upside–and there is an upside to this,” Finnegan told us. “the upside is that so many people watch Game of Thrones that, if they can create empathy for characters on the show, they should be able to transfer that empathy to others who are grieving for their characters too. This show creates a community. They will be there for you too on Sunday night. But, if not, or if you want someone who will let you use puppets or crayons, we are there for you.”
Finnegan understands the bereavement that only true fans can have. He related his own trauma at the death of Star Trek The Next Generation‘s Tasha Yar almost twenty years ago. “She didn’t have to be enveloped by that black goo. She didn’t have to die. It was very difficult for me. A dark time. And I had no one—except other fans. They got me to keep going. We watched as the characters on the show dealt with her death. How Data nearly coddled that hologram talking statue she left him. That helped a lot too. They showed me how to grieve.”
Sunday night’s finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones, entitled “Mother’s Mercy,” begins at 9 eastern, and Finnegan believes it will set off a wave of calls from East to West that night. He’s prepared, though. He even has a small statue of Tasha Yar sitting by his phone to remind him what it means to truly grieve.
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