There are a few things to note as you read on.
First, I plan on keeping this spoiler free for those who have not watched the current season of Game Of Thrones, or even for those who might watch the show one day.
Second, this is not a review of Game Of Thrones. There are plenty of critics writing about the current season, and they have great observations. I’m looking at one episode and reflecting on the themes in that show.
Third, I hope to respond to some statements that Christians should or should not watch Game Of Thrones. For the record I have read three of the books and I’ve watched every episode of the show.
Last night’s finale was a “fan-happy” ending to an amazing season of Game Of Thrones. I am thrilled (mainly) with where they left us and I can’t wait for Season Eight, the final installment to A Song Of Ice And Fire. The HBO hit series has perfectly captured the American zeitgeist since it’s debut in 2011. With the writing of George R.R. Martin, major studio production, incredible graphics, beautiful locals, stunning cinematography and invested actors, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have given us an amazing world to get lost in every Sunday night. This is television at its highest most expensive form, Game Of Thrones is not cheap entertainment, it’s extravagant art! The creation of Westeros and the families that rule it is no small task. Martin gave us the history of power-hungry individuals that have sought to rule the Seven Kingdoms and the mystery of how it all began and who to pray to when all seems dark. (Sound familiar?)
But… I wasn’t always excited about Game Of Thrones. It has been bleak in previous seasons to the point where I stopped watching. Good grief, Season Five nearly did us all in and mockingly it was called “Game Of Groans”! The main reason I stopped watching in season five was because of the derogatory manner women were treated and I honestly found the story line depressing. (This is a stark contrast to how women are currently portrayed.) But something happened in Season Six and while there is evil and darkness unimaginable portrayed (Ramsay Bolton) there is also hope and light. Season Seven has been a fan’s dream! Stories are coming together, rabbit trails are avoided and the end is close. I have a dear friend that I text with and talk to on Sunday nights and we discuss what we think will happen and we fear whose “watch will end” each week. PS… It’s so much fun to watch a show with a buddy! As I have watched each episode this season I am increasingly convinced that this is a good story. I have hope that it will end well and last night’s finale solidified those thoughts. So I want to share with you about some of the themes that are in just one episode from the current season.
In Season Seven, Episode One, Dragonstone, Weiss and Benioff strategically position all the players for a beautiful game of “Who will sit on the Iron Throne?” While this is the overarching plot, there are multiple themes happening that are important. To set it up for you, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) is leading in the North and he has seen the the Army Of The Dead and Night King beyond the wall. They are the true enemy and he will do anything to defeat them. His buddy Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) is in the Citadel learning from the wise Maesters that keep a history of the Seven Kingdoms. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is still angry and on her mission of vengeance. She is heading south to King’s Landing. Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye), three unlikely companions, are heading north to fight off the Wights at the Wall. And Daenery Targaryen, (Emilia Clarke) the “Mother Of Dragons” and the “Breaker Of Chains” is finally on her way back to Dragonstone, the Targaryen castle in Westeros. With her are a slew of Unsullied fighters, a Dothraki horde, a trustworthy advisor named Tyrion Lannister (the brilliant Peter Dinklage) and three terrifying dragons! PS… thank you for letting me nerd out right now!
Game Of Thrones has repeatedly shown us how not to lead with characters like Joffrey Lannister, Robert Baratheon and King Aerys Targaryen. But we finally have leaders that are thinking more about the people under their rule than themselves. We see this hope in Daenerys, Jon Snow and Tyrion. In Dragonstone, Jon faces the challenge of how to treat the children of a betrayer. Are children held accountable for the sins of their fathers? Grace and mercy are given and an example is made for all the lords of the North. My friend Alexis Legate put it this way, “Jon’s willingness to extend mercy and a second chance inspires loyalty and love more so than an iron fist that dolls out punishment and retribution.” * We also see Jon’s eye focused on where the battle lies, beyond the Wall, and how to unite the people of Westeros to fight off the Wights and the Night King. Tyrion has always been clever, as a dwarf he has to be to outwit his enemies and taunters. But now we see him using his knowledge and cleverness to guide a queen who is in unfamiliar territory. Some people miss the old Tyrion from the earlier seasons that used his cleverness to promote laziness and debauchery, but I see a mature Tyrion making good decisions because of what he believes. He believes in Queen Daenerys! Daenerys has always led with her heart, freeing slaves and empowering the overlooked. Now we watch as she learns to trust and work with others to “break the wheel” of power that crushes those under it. This is part of that hope that I mentioned above. We have broken characters that are not entitled, struggling to figure out what is right and what is wrong, and somehow they care for others more than themselves. Solid!
Knowledge Is Power
Meanwhile back at the Citadel, Samwell, who has been a favorite for me since day one, is training to be a Maester. He’s new to this so he’s on that bottom rung, cleaning bedpans and serving up dinner to all the elderly Maesters. (PS… The montage of his daily routine is a hilarious and horrible sight to behold.) But he’s on a mission to research and discover a way to defeat the Wights and send word to Jon in the north. He has an interesting conversation about the daily journals of the Maesters and the importance of mundane information with Archmaester Ebrose (Jim Broadbent). Ebrose says that the journals are the difference between men and animals, without them we forget one day to the next living from meal to meal with no remembrance. And while he is right Sam sees that the knowledge is glorified and locked away and rarely used in the world. In multiple episodes we see Sam take that knowledge and put it to good use. The point, the knowledge and information must be shared, that’s where the value lies.
“Where I Lay My Head Is Home” (Not True Metallica)
In Dragonstone we also see the importance of “Home” and knowing where you belong. What does “Home” mean to someone who has lived in exile all their lives, to someone who feels all alone? Or imagine going back to your childhood home and the safety you would feel. The familiarity and the memories would be a balm to the wounds of the exile, a burden would ease. You would be known again! What if you knew someone was there waiting for you? Would that entice you to go back to see family, to see someone that loves you. Over the seasons Game Of Thrones has used the theme of “Home” to propel the characters. Sansa, Arya and Daenerys are all on journeys this season, and they all long for home! For Daenerys it’s the promise of what her families home at Dragonstone means as a ruler. For the Stark ladies, Winterfell means safety and being known and loved. The fact that brother Jon Snow is back in Winterfell literally changes Arya’s physical direction. Home is powerful, we all want a place where we belong. Sometimes as exiles and refugees we make new homes and families, and those families are life. But we long for the homeland, where we are not strangers, where we are understood and have commonalities.
Faith Is The Substance Of Things Hoped For
The last theme I want to discuss from Dragonstone is on faith. The conversation of gods and if they are good and what to believe happens between Beric, Thoros and Sandor Clegane. Sandor or “The Hound” wonders why the Lord of Light allows Beric to come back from the dead again and again yet a small girl and her father starve to death in a cold cabin alone. Why aren’t the gods fair, where is the justice in this world, what purpose do we have here anyway? He also wonders why anyone would believe in anything other than themselves. Nothing Beric or Thoros can say will convince him that the Lord of Light is anything more than smoke and mirrors. But when he encounters the Lord Of Light he cannot deny the power and he is forced to live in that mysterious state of knowing what is true but not understanding. So in Game Of Thrones Martin, Benioff and Weiss not only give us the struggles of revenge and power and family ties but the ultimate struggle of who or what made us and why. It’s the question we all want answered.
Good Grief, I’m 1500 words in!
And all these thoughts are coming from one episode. Sure there are other parts to the show, and evil is a prominent part of the story. Cercei Lannister (Lena Headey) is still up to no good and in an incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) is on the high seas of Westeros causing constant chaos and destruction. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) is lying and manipulating his way into power in the north. There is the destruction of war and don’t forget that death in the form of Wights, White Walkers and the Night King is heading towards the Wall.
To Watch Or Not To Watch… That Is The Question
What do we make of all the articles in the past months on whether or not Christians should watch Game Of Thrones? First of all I would say not everyone should watch Game Of Thrones. It is violent and dark and again there is season five that made me stop watching. The language is crude, derogatory and there is a ton of swearing. But I think the main reason that many Christian avoid it or label Game Of Thrones as taboo is because of the sex scenes. And yep, there are a few of them, and some of them are rape scenes! YES! IT IS DARK! You have to know yourself and what you can observe and how that will affect your mind and thoughts afterwards. Personally, I do not have a hard time with darker themed dramas. I have binge-watched through House Of Cards, Mad Men and Narcos, all dark and filled with the same kind of scenes you will see on Game Of Thrones. I do have a problem with films that portray demons and demonic activity and oddly enough romantic comedies. (The demons are too real and keep me awake at night and the rom-coms make me wish I was married and go down a pity trail that is not healthy.) So, there are probably many peeps that watch it and have a hard time, or they don’t watch Game Of Thrones at all. And that is a-okay. But all that said, is it bad and should you write it off completely? Absolutely not.
There are a number of folks that have labeled Game Of Thrones as sinful without reading the books, knowing the story or watching the show. I do not agree with this position. To say that you personally cannot watch it I get, but to write off an entire story without any knowledge sends a odd message to Christians and the world. To observe or at least investigate the art that the world is creating is important. It gives you access to their hopes and fears and how they view the human story. Based on just Dragonstone we can see that Game Of Thrones is speaking into faith, knowledge, family and leadership vs. power. Those themes are not chump change nor are they wrong. As the season continues you see sacrifices made, grace given, reconciliation within families, redemption, mercy shown and a major fight against evil. Those are all incredible stories to witness and there is much to glean. My hope with Game Of Thrones is that the darkness has a purpose and that in the end the light will prevail.
My last thought is a question to you, how do you consume television, movies, theater, concerts and art in general? That question is broader and a little more telling than “Is Game Of Thrones wrong to watch?” Are we gobbling up something because it’s hot and there’s a ton of hype? Are we struggling with something like sex or violence and we succumb to those desires and watch alone and in shame? Do you know what you struggle with visually? Are you engaging with the the story and with others around you? Personally, I do this poorly a chunk of the time, but these are good questions to ask when you hold that remote in your hand, when you tune in to watch a pay-per-view boxing match and when you download a hit single. Like Beric and Thoros I can’t tell you what to believe or convince you of what is right. But I can happily say that the art of television, and yes television is art, is multifaceted and a beautiful gift for story-telling. And I am thankful for this gift. Keep asking questions buddies and enjoy good stories where ever they are!
*Special Thanks to my dear friend and GOT mentor Alexis Legate for helping keep all my facts straight, for proof reading this monster and for being my go to TV and movie friend! Everyone should have a buddy like Alexis.