The Game of Thrones premiere airs Sunday!!! The anticipation in the air is palpable. GOT fans have waited two years for this moment, and boy is it exciting!
I recently told a friend that Game of Thrones and the Bible have a lot in common. They asked me how, and I explained. But, before I tell you what I said, here’s a little background on how I began watching the show.
A few years ago I was watching a behind the scenes story about GOT. I hadn’t watched a single episode of the show, but after watching that behind the scenes commentary I was hooked. I was drawn in by how they described the story arc, how the characters developed, and of course the dragons. THE FREAKING DRAGONS!!!
The idea that the dragons grew from babies to fully developed as the show progressed enthralled me. It seemed like a metaphor for the essence of the whole story, and I thought that was super cool. The story had drawn me in, the visuals intrigued me, and the characters left me desperate to know what would happen next. I so badly wanted to start watching the show! Then I remembered – I’m a Christian, and Christians don’t watch GOT.
In the couple of years that followed I would find myself frequently telling people: ” I would love to watch the show, but I’ve heard it’s way too graphic.”. People made suggestions for how I could get past my reluctance. “Read the book.” or “Just watch it on VidAngel.”
Neither of those sounded even remotely appealing. I would see commercials advertising the newest season, and see how big the dragons had gotten. Every time I would wonder what I was missing. Then one day a Christian friend and colleague told me they watched the show and put me up on “The Red Wedding.” I was all the more intrigued, but still not feeling like my conscious would allow me to watch the show. Until one day, it did.
My wife and I started watching a little over a year ago. We streamed it from HBO Go, not VidAngel. We talked about the boundaries we needed to have for the extreme visuals, and I asked lots of questions to make sure my wife was comfortable with us watching a show that was renowned for its depravity. We agreed to give it a shot, and after four weeks or so we had finished all seven seasons. After about three months, we watched them all again. We both loved the show. The story is remarkable, the visual effects are impeccable, and the character development is fantastic. However, none of that is the core reason why we enjoy it. It’s not the core reason why most Christians who watch it enjoy it. I asked a few of them. The reason any of us, Christian or Athiest, watch Game of Thrones is because of something much more profound. George R.R. Martin says it best:
The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.
Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?
We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.
That’s why I told my friend GOT and the Bible have a lot in common. I told them that the depiction of genuinely evil people contrasted with morally conflicted and virtuous people is potent in this fantasy world. The characters, grappling for power and justice struggle to know the difference between the two. You hope for the wicked to eventually get what they deserve and the righteous to rise to power and save the world. We watch the oppressed long for a savior and hope that savior is on the way. Sound familiar?
There are several scenes where I watched people in chains, cages, or under the power of an oppressor, and couldn’t help but think about the audience to whom the Bible writers wrote. I thought about how powerful it must have been for first Century Christians awaiting certain death in the Roman Collusiems to read about a Savior who had prepared a place for them where there was no more pain, oppression, or suffering.
Then there is the elephant in the room where Game of Thrones is concerned. You can’t have a conversation about the show without talking about it.
I won’t pretend that the sex scenes aren’t explicit, and at times far more graphic than necessary to tell the story. But, sex is an essential part of this story. Sex throughout history is used to gain or exert power. In GOT we see both uses, just as in the Bible. I believe every person of Faith who watches the show should be introspective about the possible adverse effects of taking in the graphic sex scenes of the early seasons.
One of the other ways Game of Thrones parallels the Bible is in the way good characters living in an unjust world struggle to define justice. We watch characters rise to power and ask themselves how they can be better than the oppressive rulers they just succeeded. The bible is laced with that same theme. Jewish people were rising and falling from power based on the way they lived out the answer to that question. The Jewish people would face exile over and over again because they failed to be better than oppressors around them.
Game of Thrones gives those of us who watch it a fantasy outlet for our tensions about virtue and evil. We hate the characters we hate because they are deplorably vile human beings and love other characters because we understand the pressures they face even if they don’t always take a straight line to good works.
I’m not recommending that all Christians or anyone else for that matter should watch Game of Thrones. They don’t pay me for that. Some people who are triggered by graphic images or violence should perhaps be cautious about watching it. I know some people who can’t watch Lord of the Rings without having nightmares.
If you’re a person who doesn’t get into it because you find graphic storytelling offensive, I legitimately wonder how you’ve stomached the majority of the Bible’s Old Testament. There are stories like the heroic tales of David who cuts off the head of a giant and walks around flaunting the severed head to show off what he’d done. Later in David’s story, he watches a woman bathing and brings her into his bed before having her husband killed to cover it up. There’s also that one time David collected ONE THOUSAND FORESKINS from the bodies of Philistine soldiers.
How would we view these stories if they weren’t in the Bible? Would we avoid them or learn from them despite the graphic nature of the tales? I’d guess, like the original readers of the Bible stories, we would see the value in what the stories mean. And we would see the graphic nature of the tales as a means of telling better stories.