Game of Thrones & Christians: What’s a Christ-Follower to Do?

Parody of the Season 1 poster for Game of Thrones

Parody of the Season 1 poster for Game of Thrones

A family member of mine sent me this article (“Can a Christian Watch Game of Thrones?“) and asked me to respond. The author argues that the show contains sex, violence and power struggles without the obvious good versus evil struggle contained in works like the blatantly Christian Lord of the Rings where the reader knows who will win. Ultimately, the author, David Gibson, concludes we will have to see how it ends to decide.

I would argue that Game of Thrones is a more realistic fantasy series than Tolkien’s work and should be taken seriously by Christians for a number of reasons.

1) Christians, like Game of Thrones fans, lost our hero in the beginning of the story. If one considers the lifespan of the Christian church, our hero, Jesus, dies before the end of the first act. Fans recoiled at (*spoiler alert*) Ned Stark’s beheading by a cruel king while two of his daughters watched. Similarly, Jesus was crucified by a historically terrible Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, while his mother Mary and close friend/Apostle to the Apostles Mary Magdalene stood by him. I think Christians can relate to this dark chapter.

2) Sex and gender relations in Game of Thrones are disturbing and complex, just like the real world. Yes, the show contains content that is at times graphic and unnecessary, but it underscores the unfair way women are treated in Westeros (and, thus, the Middles Ages that author George R. R. Martin based his story upon). Let us not forget that in the real world, millions of women are sold into slavery and abused. Read Half the Sky to begin to get an idea of the gender inequality that exists at present. It could be argued that fans of the series judge their loyalties to characters based on their interaction with women (Tyrion Lannister and Robb Stark being fan favorites). The empowered leader Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen is the one everyone wants to be queen, and the knight Brienne is beloved by devoted readers and watchers alike. Similarly, Jesus treated women well in a historically patriarchal era, bringing many into his fold and they, in turn, supported his ministry with their money (Luke 8:3). In addition, Jesus defends the adulteress against the religious leaders who would stone her (John 8:7) and women become important leaders in the fledging church (John 16:1-5). One more word on sex & Christianity: Roman leaders spread rumors that Christians were incestuous and participated in orgies (because they called each other brother and sister in Christ and exchanged the holy kiss) and accused them of cannibalism (eating the body and blood of Christ).

3) Life on Westeros and Earth can be unfair and violent, but ultimately good will prevail. The Red Wedding scene—(*spoiler alert*) how could so many beloved characters be slaughtered? How could the most seemingly moral family in the series lose so many? Individuals like the apostles, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and events like the My Lai Massacre, the Holocaust, and far too many other genocides and wars to count tell us that life can be brutal and unfair. Yet hope comes in the response. The world didn’t forget the Holocaust—it is taught in schools, in museums, and documentaries. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his ideals are well-known in households across America and the world despite his assassination. Christians and/or good people are not promised a good life because they are good. They are, however, part of the Kingdom of God because they are slowly bringing about God’s ideal of love on earth. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Because this is true for our world and George R. R. Martin is aiming for realism, I’m hopeful this series will tend toward justice in the end.

4) Game of Thrones, like the history of Christianity, is murky in the character of its heroes and villains. Fans spent several seasons hating the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister, only to begin to almost root for him during season three. In life, there are rarely all-bad or all-good people. In War and Genocide, one of the most chilling books I ever read during my college “Holocaust and the Human Image” class, the author recounts stories of SS troops in World War II and how they came to participate in the Holocaust. These were normal family men who were persuaded through propaganda and peer pressure to do atrocious things. What the author believed, and my professor who was the child of two Jewish Holocaust survivors taught, was that genocide could happen anywhere and we all need to be vigilant. Subsequently, the Church, Christians, and religious people aren’t always good. Any beginning student of history could see this through the Crusades, the Inquisition, atrocities during the Reformation, slavery in the American South, and various other social ills of which the Church and/or some Christians have fallen on the wrong side. The show depicts people as a whole, their good and their bad, just like in the real world.

5) Christians need to engage in pop culture. Far too often, fundamentalist Christians preach against something benign, like Disney, and bring scorn upon the entire religion as a consequence. Moderate and progressive Christians need to be louder about creating venues for discussion about pop culture and the ethics of what is portrayed on screen. If churches and, by association, Christians become insular communities who cannot relate to the surrounding culture, they ensure their own death.

These are just a few of the reasons why I’m a fan of Game of Thrones. I hope you’ll consider watching it so that we can have nerdy discussions together!

This post was originally published at The Winding Labyrinth. Game of Thrones will return to HBO for its fourth season on April 6.

Laura at ordinationLaura Barclay is an ordained minister and author. She holds an M.Div. from Wake Forest University School of Divinity and a B.A. from the University of Louisville. She spent five years working with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina as their Social Ministries Coordinator. Barclay is currently at the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship working on communications and networking. She is active at Highland Baptist Church, where she assists with adult education and children’s ministry. Her first book will soon be released soon by Smyth & Helwys entitled “With Us in the Wilderness”, and she blogs at The Winding Labyrinth. She is married to a fellow minister, Ryan Eller, a community organizer. She can frequently be found decked out in red and cheering for the Louisville Cardinals.

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