February 22, 2020

‘Game of Thrones’ and Sefirat Ha-Omer’s End

The Iron Throne is seen on the set of the television series Game of Thrones in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast, Northern... Phil Noble April 14, 2019

Classic storytelling often begins with “Once upon a time” and concludes with “The End.” Over the past two decades, Hollywood has serialized and franchised movies and television shows with cliffhangers and teasers, keeping viewers hooked for the next installment. This unwittingly has created an audience desperate for stories to end.

I recently was counting sefirat ha-Omer when it hit me: We’re in the endgame now. The final season of “Game of Thrones” on HBO was the most popular ever of the award-winning show. Similarly, “Avengers: Endgame” is the finale of a 21-film Marvel Cinematic Universe cycle and the movie fastest to exceed $2 billion in ticket sales. It likely will overtake “Avatar” as the highest-grossing film of all time. Everyone wants to see how it ends. 

But what does this have to do with sefirat ha-Omer?

Hollywood is concerned with developing the next gateway drug into a new endless entertainment universe. It has audiences addicted to anticipation. Viewers never want a story to end; whenever it feels like it has ended, we want a taste of the next thing. Anticipation generates billions of entertainment dollars. But the incredible reaction to the final season of “Game of Thrones” and “Avengers: Endgame” conveys an important message: Fans are grateful when their favorite shows and movies end gracefully.

It turns out everyone — especially millennials who came of age in the era of serialized entertainment — needs things to end. Thanks to technology, the professional 9-to-5 workday and five-day workweek are quaint relics of a not-so-distant past. Our workday never ends. Our workweek never ends. The 24-hour cable news cycle and its evil sibling, Twitter, create a false sense of urgency to make sure there is no “end of the day.” The news is always on, always breaking. There is no time for anything to end.

This frantic 21st-century life has made us desperate for a breath of fresh air without teasers, notifications and breaking-news alerts. We need things to end.

Seven is a meaningful number in “Game of Thrones.” There are seven kingdoms, but more importantly, the primary practiced religion is the “Faith of the Seven” — a single deity with seven faces or aspects.

Shabbat reminds us to end our week and breathe. Celebrating Shabbat means the week actually ends on the weekend.

In Judaism, the number seven also is significant. In the creation story, the physical world was made in six days; on the seventh day, God rested. This is what Shabbat is about. We live in the physical world for six days and on the seventh day, we take a break from the physical world. We rest. Shabbat reminds us to end our week and breathe. Celebrating Shabbat means the week ends on the weekend.

Sefirat ha-Omer is the lesson of seven squared. We count seven days for seven weeks because a one-week cycle with a beginning and an end is part of another, even bigger cycle with a beginning and an end. The Jewish calendar is a never-ending cycle of beginnings and endings because it is so important for people to have endings. We are meant to use these ending moments for reflection and meditation on the times and experiences that brought us to these moments. This is the secret of Shabbat and sefirat ha-Omer.

Our world needs more endings. Life in 2019 is relentless. We need more opportunities to breathe, more moments to reflect. Hollywood had been working under the assumption that things always begin with excitement. However, enthusiasm tapers off as time passes. Hollywood solved this “problem” with intoxicating anticipation. But now there seems to be a shift.

The end of things is even more popular than the beginning and those tantalizing teasers that follow. “Game of Thrones” has never been more popular. “Avengers: Endgame” already is one of the most popular movies of all time. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a societal correction that makes time for things to end, so we can breathe.

Eli Fink is a rabbi and writer.