Game of Thrones— Season One

First of all let’s get the naked truth out of the way. Full disclosure about full disclosure. This series is not for children. It is also not for the faint of heart. It is about the cut throat imaginary world (medieval in character, but without Christianity at all) of George R.R. Martin. And yes there is from time to time various parts of the human anatomy on display which one will not see in a PG or PG 13 movie or ever on regular network television. If this is a deal breaker for you, then no need to avert your eyes, you can move on to some other show or film.

Why, you might ask, would a seminary professor watch and review such a show? Does it have any redeeming social or artistic value? Actually, the answer is yes. It does, but you have to be willing to bear with some nudity and violence along the way. You could call it a more pagan version of Lord of the Rings, though not without honor, and love, and family loyalty and other redeeming qualities.

The world in which the story is told involves wildlings, and a smart dwarf, and a dead people who yet live, and a dragon queen, and even eventually some dragons (cue the preview of the Hobbit part one). It also involves seasons like summer and winter that last for a long, long, long time. And winter is coming. The stories about the Lanisters and the Starks and others is complex and rich, with strong characters trying to survive and thrive in a dangerous world. This is not Richard Harris’ Camelot not Cadfael’s Shrewsbury, but it is recognizably a world whose canopy and scope bears a remarkable resemblance to Great Britain with: 1) King’s Landing being London in the south, and 2) Winterfell being Durham or York in the north, and 3) the Wall being Hadrian’s Wall to keep out the barbarians from the north, and so on. This is not Middle Earth, more like the U.K. as we never knew it.

The acting in this series is good, though the propensity to kill off some of the better characters is worrying. Yet we are now already 3 episodes into season Two. The first season garnered the Dwarf an Emmy, but it deserved more than one for the cinematography, costumes, etc.

What is on offer in this series is a revelation of an honor and shame, reciprocity, dyadic personality, limited good, patriarchal culture….. very much like most ancient cultures of the Biblical world. It is a world where obtaining honor and avoiding shame is a higher value for the noble characters in the film than life and death. Indeed, it is even a higher value than telling the truth or avoiding falsehood. This too is like the ANE and the Greco-Roman world. Along the way there are good people and there is love even in the midst of the carnage and human fallenness, and their are lessons to be learned about persons who are born out of wedlock who must learn to live with and over come that stigma.

Humanity, reduced to its lowest common denominator seems to prove Darwin right— we are little better than animals, and the world is a place for the survival of the fittest, or the fastest, or the bravest, or the most clever. And yet the qualities of honor and mercy and love are interwoven in the story in ways that humanizes the tale despite all the fusing and fighting.

One of the lessons one can learn from watching this series is an answer to the question— ‘What would the western world have been like if it remained pagan and was never under the influence of Christianity?’ I submit it would be very much like ‘Game of Thrones’ depicts it, minus the dragons and the zombies.

Herein lies an inverse apologetic for Christianity and the way it can change people, cultures, nations for the better. In other words, if you’d rather not live in that world, what might make the world a better place? Not a dragon queen who could not be burned on a funeral pyre, but a phoenix, who rose from the ashes, rose from the dead on Easter.

  • Jordan Litchfield

    Dr. Witherington,

    I have a few questions related tot he above post, if you don’t mind. Please do not feel like this is judgmental in any way – I am simply seeking to broaden my understanding and reduce my ignorance.

    Due to the elements of nudity which you acknowledged to be in this movie, I’m curious as to your interpretation of the following verses and how you feel they do/do not apply to this situation. Again, I want to stress this is for the sake of understanding and not in judgment!

    I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me. (Psa 101:3 NIV)

    Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. (Eph 5:11-12 NIV)

    Jesus’ statement in Matt. 5:28 is referring to the purpose of looking (i.e. lust/covetousness), and not to the actual seeing of nudity. However, due to men’s strong sexual drive and response to sight I struggle to see how Christian men feel comfortable watching such things for entertainment. Furthermore, due to the prominence of your posts about these movies and the possibility of the ‘weak’ deciding to go and watch the movie as a result and then fall into sin, I would think that Paul’s exhortation about avoiding what would cause others to stumble is applicable here.

    Obviously, this is a charged issue and hard to address without parties feeling condemned, but I don’t mean it that way and hope that you will freely respond to and critique my comments. I sincerely enjoy your posts – particularly on NT issues.


  • BW3

    Hi Jordan: Thanks for the questions, and I understand the concern. First of all, that verse from the Psalms probably has no reference to nudity per se. It has to do with the deeds of human beings makes clear. The human form, whether nude or clothed is not inherently a vile thing. For example, when you go to see Michaelangelo’s David, who has no clothes on, what you appreeciate is the beauty of the human form, and God’s artistry. The question is— what is the intent or context in which the human form is shown? Secondly, in regard to human fallen behavior, Christians do need to be able to distinguish it from godly behavior. They do need to know about it. This doesn’t mean they condone it or like it or endorse it. The question is about a show like Gane of Thrones does it have any artistic merit, does it has any worthwhile elements, and the answer is yes. It does. I agree with you that there are persons who have problems with lust who probably shouldn’t watch such a show. As Paul says, whatever you can’t do in faith, you shouldn’t do. Not all men are high testosterone people however, and not all the time either. Blessings Ben

  • David Hull

    I thoroughly enjoyed this series, and the book series by George Martin was one of the last that I read before coming to seminary. I think that he is a phenomenal writer, and rather than being bound to his own agendas or cultural mores (i.e. the good guys always have to win) he allows his characters as they develop to chart the course. As noted, this involves some of the key characters dying in surprise twists, which consistently keeps the reader/watcher on their toes as their expectations are dashed on the rocks. This series is a pretty faithful adaptation of the books, and part of the virtue of it, apart from “the a revelation of an honor and shame, reciprocity, dyadic personality, limited good, patriarchal culture” is that it fairly regularly slices through the delusive fantasy worlds that contemporary films present. I agree with you Dr. Witherington that throughout the series that there is an inherently human double helix of honor, love, mercy with capriciousness, violence, selfishness, and vainglory. It is a perfect picture of those created in the image of God who have been marred and distorted by the fall… every now and then there is an echo of Eden.

  • Dave H

    Nice analysis. I read the first three books back when I was in college, around the year 2000, and have eagerly awaited books four and five. Without giving anything away, I found books four and five to be quite a letdown compared to the first three as the story has seemed to slow and become meandering. It is almost as if what drew so many to the series in the beginning – it was different, Martin had no qualms about killing off characters you thought were safe – has become no longer enjoyable. What I mean is, it is almost as if Martin knows he gained a reputation by overturning accepted story-wisdom (you never kill the main character – Frodo, Bilbo, Luke Skywalker, etc.) and in working so hard to stay unpredictable the story has suffered.

    Anyway, it makes me wonder if the story is headed towards a resolution. If Martin really wants, in the end, to be unpredictable, there will be no good resolution. From a Christian perspective though, resolution (redemption, restoration) is what makes a story a story. In Lord of the Rings, as with many other great stories, there is a sense it is going somewhere, there is a sense of providence, that good will win out. Clearly this is a Christian thing with the Bible story as the prime example.

    If Martin’s story gives no resolution, would that not make it the ultimate sort of anti-Christian epic story – seven (or eight…or nine) books of epic fantasy that lead nowhere? Kind of like what you said above – a picture of the western world if Christianity had never entered the picture. It is interesting to be in such a story in season one or two when there is hope but when you get to seasons 7, 8, 9 the hope fades and becomes hopeless.

  • Tyrion

    What would humanity be without christianity?
    There would have been a lot less murders and atrocities comitted in the name of god. Maybe a little less children abused by frustrated priests.
    The Seven represent christianity in Westeros with 7 faces instead of the holy trinity, and althought a lot of people have or will die in Westeros because of the Seven, it’s still a far better religion than christianity in terms of body count.
    Christianity has killed more men in history than the whole population of Westeros, the seven have a long way to go before becoming a more hateful religion.

  • Patrick

    I would add if we had never seen Christ influencing history, human sacrifice would be a daily occurrence. It is surprising how widespread that was on all continents. From east Asia to the Americas and all in between.

  • Ben Witherington

    Hi Tyrion: I don’t know what world history books you’ve been reading, but clearly you don’t know your history very well. Apart from perhaps one of the crusades, there is just no evidence to support your contention that Christianity had anything to do with wars etc. Paganism, and the Roman Empire are different story, as is Islam for that matter. Part of the problem is, you seem to be unable to distinguish between people behaving badly, whilst claiming to be Christians, and actual Christian practice and teaching.

  • Oscar

    A note for Tyrion: Dear sir, if you add the millions killed by Hitler’s Nazis, and Stalin and Lenin in Russia, AND Mao’s wonderful ascent to power and domination you would have a total body count that exceeds the whole of human population before the Twentieth century. The common trait? NONE of them did it in the name of Christianity! So think first before blaming Christianity of untold atrocities.

  • David Hull

    @ Oscar… actually you might want to check up some of Hitler’s language in “Mein Kampf”… he declares that his actions were in line with the will of the Almighty creator along with many other quotes. He was probably a theist, not an atheist. That dos not mean that the God he worshipped was the God of the Bible as revealed in Jesus Christ, but it does mean to call him an atheist might be off base.

  • Sally D

    I was disappointed when I realised that this show wasn’t going to be acceptable for the kids. My two boys, advanced readers both and now aged 11 and 13, love Fantasy and I wanted them to be able to see something that went a bit deeper, made you think a bit more. After seeing the trailer I looked forward to it, but right from the get-go it was obvious that we couldn’t watch.

    The violence and nudity takes it out of range for them. So, a question: could the show have been done without these extremes? Kids these days can and do tolerate quite a bit of screen violence and romantic/erotic interaction – a conversation for another day perhaps – and mine are no exception. At their age I’d have been terrified by half the things they watch without turning a hair (LoTR, Narnia, Pirates etc).

    With Game of Thrones, I wondered whether maybe adults won’t watch because it’s fantasy (unlike popular series like Rome, The Borgias or The Tudors which are equally fantastic in their way but broadly based on real events), whereas young people who really love fantasy, can’t watch it because of the inappropriate content.

    We usually wait in vain for TV companies to produce series for young people who are sick of Miley Cyrus. The Eregon movies (and books) are so far the best we’ve come across, and the boys also enjoy Merlin. Intelligent productions that hold their attention and aren’t boring for parents to watch with them.

  • JW

    Jordan, I think you asked a great question. BW, I’m curious, you said “I agree with you that there are persons who have problems with lust ” . This seems to be a serious issue in our day, especially within the Church. Using your best critical thinking would you offer a rough percentage of the Christian population for which you think GOT would be appropriate considering its content?

  • Ben Witherington

    Joseph these things have no way of giving percentages. I think part of the whole reason we have problems with lust is precisely because we don’t take time to admire and appreciate the human form. I do not think this has to lead to lust at all, though it may. It’s precisely because we associate all nudity with lust or pornography or the like that we have such difficulties handling it when we see it the first place. Such a mistake, and a tragic one too. I would remind you that God created us naked and unashamed in the first place. We are of course now fallen creatures, but that does not mean that by God’s grace we cannot come to appreciate the human form again without overly sexualizing the whole deal. Take for example the case of an art class where a whole group of students are asked to paint a nude, with a live model as the example. Is this inherently lust-inducing? Well, it ought not to be, and if a person is that out of control with their emotions and hormones then the problem lies with the individual person’s self-control, not with the activity itself. So, once again I agree lust is a serious issue today, and I also agree with ‘whatever one can’t do in faith is a sin for you’, but I simply do not agree that any display of nudity should never be viewed by any and all Christians. Indeed I think this simply makes the situation worse because it prompts fantasy. Most human bodies are not that beautiful…frankly. They do not inspire lust. They may even inspire sympathy. BW3

  • JW

    I appreciate your thoughtful response and will have to chew on it. I think you raise good points but I’m not sure about the implications.