Today, Game of Thrones will end, bringing to a close an eight-year televisual saga (and, depending on when you got into the books, a 23-year literary one).
On the 25th of April, Avengers Endgame brought an end to the 11-year Marvel Cinematic Universe (as we know it).
On the 20th of December, Star Wars Episode IX will bring an end to the four-year Star Wars sequel saga.
On the 21st of December, I'm going to wake up and have no idea what to do with myself.
Three giants of pop culture are coming to an end in 2019. Try as the Disney-Fox merger might, as the means by which we consume TV, films and the like becomes more fragmented – split over various screens and subscription streaming companies – the opportunities for era-dominating monoculture get smaller.
On one hand, this is a good thing: a world in which people can find their own niche art corners to learn and play in is great. On the other, a world in which I – and others like me – have fewer entries into a shared collective culture through talking about the same films and television shows that everyone else has watched is a sadder one.
Art's ability to give people meaning in times of crisis is debatable and hard to properly quantify.
According to statistics body NHS Digital, at any one time a sixth of the population in England aged 16 to 64 has a mental health problem. NHS defunding has left thousands of people seeking help while on waiting lists, as understaffing and a lottery-like approach for those who do eventually receive treatment has left a number of people vulnerable at times when they need help the most.
At a time when the Prime Minister believes that lighting Downing Street green for an evening is enough to mark Mental Health Awareness week – while her government's cuts systematically destroy the UK's mental health services – it feels especially important to say that watching television shows or films and then discussing them with people is not some sort of silver bullet for those living with mental health conditions.
However, as one of the one in six people in the UK living with a mental health condition, I can say that – sometimes – art helps get you through. Some days it's easy to feel tethered to the idea of being alive and happy; others, it's good to look to friends, family and (hopefully) trained professionals. Other days, you watch the trailer for the latest Star Wars film and sigh, "It'd be really nice to be around in December so I can see that."
The promise of two Marvel films and perhaps a Star Wars film every year is sometimes a more tangible thing for my brain to wrap itself around than the occasionally more nebulous "you are a person of value and people love you". As Anna Borges once wrote in this brilliant piece on how to live when you're not wholly attached to the idea of living: "They're shallow motivators, hardly anchors to life, but sometimes you just need something that will get you through the month. Or the week. Or the night."
Recent campaigns from mental health charities – such as CALM's #MarkYourMan project from the 2018 World Cup – have tapped into large cultural events as a means to get people in need around a table with people they love, who are better equipped to help them. Placing one's wellbeing in the hands of any form of entertainment is not recommended advice, but when at times when it can be hard to see the forest through the trees, a tiny neon sign flashing "that stuff you like over there" can help with orienteering.
While it can sometimes be hard to think on who you are and what you've done with your life, holding a ticket stub for Avengers: Endgame and thinking about where you were when you saw Avengers: Age of Ultron four years prior can help you appreciate where you've come.
Which at times makes me worried for the 21st of December, 2019, when it all ends. No more Monday morning Game of Thrones ice-breakers in the office. No more Captain America and Iron Man quotes to quietly mutter to yourself while struggling through another commute. No more Skywalkers.
Yes, earlier this May Disney announced their release slate up until 2027, so there will be plenty more to enjoy – but that tiny part of me that struggles to grasp "you are a person of value" over "stick around for Game of Thrones" worries that no one's going to gather around the water-cooler to talk about a show that's just a bit like Game of Thrones.
Of course, this is nonsense, and I know it – because this is not so much as the total ending of things, but a pronounced pause as we take stock and begin anew. Right at the end of Avengers: Endgame, when the evil has been defeated and the world rebooted anew, a character says, "Part of the journey is the end. What am I even tripping for? Everything's gonna workout exactly the way it's supposed to."
And they're right: one of the joys of hanging around for stilly, inconsequential things is that there is a never-ending supply of new inconsequential things to look out for. There's always going to be something trying to tether you back down to earth.