USA Today posed the question of whether or not it is acceptable for Christians to watch the über popular HBO series of Game of Thrones. Which made me automatically think of the old Sunday School game of “What would Jesus do?” Because that is what it really boils down to here. The Game of Thrones, would Jesus watch it?
Considering that the show has more than 5.5 million viewers show that it must have a huge bit of redeeming values. Not to mention that the show is additively entertaining and that, despite an obvious lack of morality, there is the question of would it be acceptable for those of a more religious bent to watch.
This is a show that keeps fans gripped with it’s bloody, ruthless struggles for power between the Westeros clans and its medieval sword and fantasy setting from the A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series written by George R. R. Martin is, beyond a doubt, successful.
With the show’s season three finale airing on 9 June, just the viewer counts alone seem to guarantee that the series will run for at least another season. So fans can rest easy knowing that, if nothing else, the murder, mayhem, rampant sex, sword play and sorcery will be back, despite this season’s violent and deadly endings of so many character.
Someone on Twitter jokingly tweeted about the high body count, “Why doesn’t George R.R. Martin use twitter? Because he killed all 140 characters.”
But the show’s prevalent themes of sex, murder and mayhem are the very things that brought up the question of whether Christians should be watching the show. Game of Thrones is not an old fashioned type of morality tale. Where the villains get their comeuppance. It is a show where allegiances ebb and flow about as much as the sexual trists do.
It is a violent brutal world.
It is this brutality that has raised the debate of whether it is morally acceptable for Christians to watch. Some say that the show does have an interwoven redemptive message while others say it is only a good model of what the world would be like if Christianity disappeared “tomorrow.”
While the USA Today quotes quite heavily from Christian “experts” it doesn’t take an expert to see that there really shouldn’t be any moral questions of watching the show.
Any Christian or theology student will tell you that the Bible is full to the brim with, murder, sex, mayhem, scandalous dealings, and even magic, or sorcery if you’d rather use that term.
The “good book” as it is often referred to, has plenty of pretty brutal acts in it.
As to the question of would Jesus watch Game of Thrones or not, well, it stands to reason that the Big Guy’s offspring would probably get something from the show. He himself, loved a good parable – which in modern-day terminology is a story – and he told a lot of his own and repeated others that He thought people could learn something from.
The Christian guidebook aka the Bible gives us more than a passing nod to the evidence of sorcery and witchcraft. From the plain, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” to the more oblique, “the Egyptian King’s advisors practised magic, but [sic] it was not as strong as Moses’s God’s magic.”
Jesus himself, walked on water, turned water into wine and of course the real show stopper was his returning from the dead. So in modern parlance, you could say that he was a sorcerer or a magician of his time. But Game of Thrones doesn’t all revolve around magic. Nor does it rely too heavily on religion. Would Jesus watch it if, as we have just said, he did practice magic.
But don’t forget, he could be pretty brutal too.
Just ask the money dealers that he “whipped” out of the temple. Brutality aside, he could conjure up some other pretty amazing things, known as miracles in Christian circles; the fishes and loaves story and don’t forget Lazarus.
But let us not dwell on the mysteries of magic and “miracles,” and the very impressive rabbits that the Big Guy’s offspring could pull out of his metaphorical hat.
The Bible gives us much in the way of murder, genocide, war, cruelty, and the asking of a devout man to kill his own first-born child.
Subterfuge also played a bit part in this Christian guidebook. From Sampson’s gal Delilah who conned the strongman into divulging the secret of his strength, to a lambs fleece to fool a dying father about the identity of the son whom he wanted to bestow his blessing to.
And back to Sampson quickly, how many Philistines did he slay with the jaw of an ass? More than I can remember.
For those looking for some bit of redemption for the “good” characters of the Game of Thrones verse, don’t forget that even in the “good book” the righteous could also receive their fair share of downright unfair treatment.
We won’t even go into the story of Job. The poor guy was about as righteous as you could get. So much so that his “good” life was completely shattered because of a wage between the Big Guy and the Devil. How is that fair? And when the poor besieged fellow had a little moan, the Big Guy told him to quit his bitching and get on with it.
Lot is another one who got short shrift. While it was determined that him and his family were the only folks worthy of saving in the whole of Sodom and Gomorrah, his wife forgot to, “not look back” and got turned into a pillar of salt for her trouble.
I am not going so far as to try and paint a parallel between the television show and the Bible. Heavens no. So put away your tar and brush, thank you.
What I am doing is trying to show that despite the somewhat brutal nature of the show with its widespread copulation, bloody murder and double-crossing acts, is for all of that, not much different.
Just like the Sunday School game of “what would Jesus do?” If we look at it from a Christian “point of view,” we can do more than ask “would Jesus watch Game of Thrones” and ask instead, why wouldn’t he?
A Jonathan Ryan states in a Christianity Today essay which critiques the show, he calls Game of Thrones relentlessly grim. Well I’ve got news for Mr Ryan, so is the Bible. Underneath the whole, “believe in me and all will be well” message, there is another one, that is not so hopeful and is, indeed, pretty grim.
But the program and the books it is adapted from aren’t trying to copy the Bible, it is a different bit of lore that they are recreating. As the grand guignol of horror fiction, Stephen King once said, “[sic] a lot of fantasy authors are trying to recreate the wonderful world of J R R Tolkien and his ‘Rings’ sagas.”
The Lord of the Rings tales have many a Christian fan and that world also features a great many of the same things that Martin’s books do. Of course the main difference is that in Tolkien’s world, good triumphs, eventually, over evil.
Martin tells us that in his world, which let’s face it resembles real life to a huge degree, that evil isn’t always defeated by the forces of good. In fact, it looks like his message is just the opposite. In other words in the Game of Thrones, evil will, more often than not, take the brass ring and kick everyone else’s teeth in while doing so.
While Martin himself has said, in reference to his “similarity” to Tolkien’s world. “The sort of fantasy where all the people get together to fight the dark lord doesn’t interest me.”
The author told The New Republic, “We don’t tend to have wars or political controversies where one side is really ugly and wears dark clothing, where the other side wears white and has glowing magical swords.”
That the television show is adapted from, with a lot of help from the author himself, a fantasy verse that is dark and bloody and cruel is apparently the main draw of the show. It is enormously popular, so much so that it has spawned countless blogs, forums, and even a philosophy behind the show.
Martin himself appears to be asking us, “What constitutes good and what constitutes evil? What happens if our good intentions produce evil? Does the end justify the means?”
It looks like those very questions, fall into the arena of morality and its consequences. In a “though the mirror darkly” sort of way, it is reflecting the philosophy of Christianity and its belief system.
As Martin is presently adapting the fourth season of the Game of Thrones it seems that we will get another chance to see just how dark the verse can get. According to The Rev. Jim McDermott, a Jesuit priest who is studying screenwriting at the University of California in Los Angeles, that in the “Game of Thrones,” raw power and high birth provide no guarantee of protection. And, like the Bible, the series finds unlikely heroes among “the shattered, the shunned and the disregarded.”
The Rev McDermott believes that the realism in the show is proof positive that life is often hard and unfair — but everyone shares in that fate. Writing in America Magazine he said, “And salvation is not the purview of some elect, nor does grace inherently reside in a crown. As with horror, so hope springs from the most unexpected of quarters.”
But not necessarily. The story lines continue to unfold and evolve. Martin hasn’t finished the final book that will serve as the template for the rest of the series. Will there be a moment of final redemption? We don’t know.
Like the Bible, the question is not, “are we guaranteed salvation” but “do we believe enough in the message to try for salvation.”
It remains to be seen if the world of Game of Thrones will have a defining redemptive moment or not. But for the question of would Jesus watch it? I think he would, the chap who told so many great parables (stories) would most certainly appreciate a good tale from someone else. Especially one with so much drama.
By Michael Smith