The Revealing Darkness of Game of Thrones

Richard Braaksma

Sunday’s season finale for Game of Thrones included awful, consciousness-searing scenes I can never un-see. A dagger thrust into a chest. A forgiving embrace interrupted by a poisonous death. Misogyny in the name of religion. Suicide. It was a pretty typical episode. I can’t wait for Season 6.

As the show’s title suggests, Game of Thrones features kings and kingdoms vying for power and dominance in fictional Westoros. The series has been praised for complex characters who are good, needy, fragile, full of suffering and worthy of compassion. Those very same characters are deep wells of greed, power-lust, selfishness and violence that would churn the most sympathetic heart.

Game of Thrones is compelling not because of its shocks and violence, but because of its realism. In fact, the politicking, battling and posturing in GoT reminds me of the Bible. Have you heard about what the followers of Molek did? Have you ever read how Sennacherib displayed his victims? Can we fathom the frequency with which Rome put humans on crosses? 

In our time, we have ISIS executions, families destroyed by drone strikes and Boko Haram kidnapping Nigerian schoolgirls. Furthermore, it seems that on both sides of any given political/ideological fault line, the promise of power is enough to make narratives change, sins of omission abound and dehumanization result. Many of us are cushioned from the darkest manifestations of such sin, especially with regard to kings and kingdoms, leaders and nation states. I watch it fictionalized on GoT or lamented on the news and then write about it on my shiny laptop in my comfy chair. Yet while I am insulated, sin is writ large in our world. A show like GoT shines a light revealing the reality of sin and the plausible ways sin operates.

Hope leans into something greater and holds fast all the way to death.

Yet unlike Josh Pease, who wrote earlier on TC about his decision to give up Game of Thrones, I have found that the darkness does not extinguish hope. Hope is why I watch the next episode. Hope for newness, justice and for a savior to emerge. (Could it be Daenerys?) Hope is not optimism - a measured calculation and belief that things will work out. Hope leans into something greater and holds fast all the way to death. Like Abraham bringing Isaac up the mountain and like Job in his suffering, hope goes all the way to death. Ultimately, in Jesus, hope through death is the only path to resurrection.

Israel, in the time of the judges, wanted a king to “be like all the other nations.” I’ve heard “Saul” translated as, “You asked for it.” Israel got a bad king. Saul had his moments - it’s hard not to feel compassion for him - but he was a bad king, in a bad world, where bad things happen. 

Even so, Israel’s longing for grace, redemption, justice, security, flourishing and shalom – her longing for someone to restore this seemingly bad world to the way God intended it to be – that longing is right and righteous. The desperate, gloomy realism of Game of Thrones awakens a deep longing for that world. And it fills me with hope in this world for the true king who is all in all.

Topics: TV, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure