After a short summer break, we’re happy to announce that our podcast, Pop Culture Coffee Hour, is back (with a new logo, too)!
To kick off our new season, Emma and I discussed Game of Thrones, which recently concluded its seventh season. You can listen to our conversation here.
Though incredibly popular, Game of Thrones can rub a lot of Christians the wrong way. Its episodes often include violent, sexual, or downright disturbing scenes. And it can seem that there’s no moral compass in the GoT universe: good characters die, bad characters thrive, and any good vs evil narrative seems cloudy, if not completely absent.
Emma and I push back on this take in our episode. Though GoT isn't appropriate for everyone (Christian and I talked about how to deal with things that are difficult or inappropriate to watch back in episode 6), we can find Christ at work even in the mixed-up world of Westeros. And we can identify some important themes that can offer a bit of encouragement and inspiration for every Christian who seeks the Kingdom.
To get the conversation started, here are three things Game of Thrones definitely gets right:
[Needless to say, spoilers ahead.]
1. Death is the Real Enemy
The title of Game of Thrones perfectly captures how the series started out: it was a gritty medieval fantasy that focused on the conflict between the great families of the land of Westeros. After the death of King Robert Baratheon upsets the tentative stability of the realm, intrigue and outright war commence. Established noble families and upstart schemers alike begin to play the “game of thrones” as they maneuver for power and, ultimately, the Iron Throne.
Yet, from the very beginning of the series, it’s clear that a malevolent force lurks in the north, beyond the Wall. While lords and ladies vie for power, the dead prepare to destroy mankind. As the seasons progress, characters like Jon Snow realize that even the winner of the “game of thrones” will ultimately lose when the White Walkers sweep south, killing all in their path.
As season 7 concludes, the warring powers face a choice: will they realize that their machinations and strategies have been distractions from the existential crisis that threatens them all?
As Snow says, “There is only one war that matters. The Great War. And it is here.”
Christians have a similar insight. Our sinful desires for fame or wealth are vain. Even a moralistic desire for good conduct, on its own, misses the mark. Our enemy is death, the oblivion that results from separation from God.
Yet the Son of God took on flesh and became human for us. He took on our pain and loneliness and anguish, even to the point of dying on the Cross, so that we could have the true life that is properly His.
God has already won the Great War. Christ is Risen!
2. Being Good Can Cost You Dearly, and That’s Okay
Many important characters have died in the last seven seasons. Yet Game of Thrones is haunted by the memory of one man in particular: Ned Stark.
Stark was the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. A great man and the head of one of Westeros’ most important and historic families, Ned Stark was nonetheless grounded by a firm sense of truth and justice. He consistently tried to make choices, not because they would advance his position, but because they were right.
In a dramatic turn at the end of season 1, Ned Stark is executed.
Ned is not the only Stark who is injured as a consequence of trying to do what’s right. His son, Robb Stark, chose to marry for love rather than political advantage. And it cost him his head.
Jon Snow, whom Ned Stark raised as his own son, is cut from the same cloth. He tells the truth even when it will backfire on him, he refuses to make a false oath even though it will be politically advantageous. As Snow reasoned late in season 7, “I'm not going to swear an oath I can't uphold. When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies.”
Christians take a similar stand. While others may tell lies, we speak God’s true word. While others may work violence, we resolve to turn the other cheek.
When faced with the ultimate choice, Christians will even choose death rather than deny their Lord. Because we have already died in the waters of baptism and risen into new life in Christ. Even the world’s worst is nothing to fear.
3. There's Hope for Everyone
In Game of Thrones, even a noble character like Ned Stark can have a tragic flaw that leads to his undoing. Similarly, even a villainous character can have a deeper complexity that leads to his redemption.
We meet many characters that are deeply unsympathetic. Tyrion Lannister, the despised son of a powerful nobleman, is a lecher and drunk. Sandor Clegane, a knight and bodyguard to royalty, is a violent and ruthless killer.
Yet, as the series progresses, we uncover the scars that shaped these broken men. Lannister, a man of short stature whose mother died while giving birth to him, is despised by his father. Clegane, a man who bears a terrible scar on his face, has also been psychologically scarred by the violence and depravity of his older brother.
And we soon find opportunities for these men to channel their pain into noble conduct. Lannister, an outcast who was arrested and almost killed by his family, becomes an advisor for Danaerys Targaryen, the “Breaker of Chains” and liberator of slaves. Clegane, himself the victim of abuse, becomes a protector of the downtrodden and even risks his life to help Jon Snow awaken Westeros to the dangers of the White Walkers.
There is hope for even the lost of Westeros. And often, this hope grows out of their deepest pain.
Christians have a similar hope. St. Paul the Apostles, once a zealous persecutor of the Church, became a zealous evangelist. St. Mary of Egypt, once overcome by her lust, developed a desire for the Lord that drove her into a lifetime of repentance. St. Moses the Black, once a violent thief, resolved to take the Kingdom of God by force as he threw himself into a life of ascetic struggle.
Game of Thrones may not be suitable for every viewer, but it does present us with a complex worldview that is not always found in fantasy stories or popular television series. Its complex worldview and unexpected twists have presented some powerful themes over the past seven seasons, themes which may even help us better appreciate the drama and power of the unfolding story of salvation.
If you’d like to listen to our podcast on Game of Thrones, click here.
Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.
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