Ending the Game of Thrones Wars

Christians have debated the HBO series Game of Thrones since it began in 2011. What is the deeper issue at work in these arguments?

Topics: Entertainment

Right now Game of Thrones is all the craze, but in Christian circles, it’s all the controversy. Technically, this debate has been going on since the 2011 inception of the popular HBO series based on George R.R. Martin’s successful fantasy novels. With the show as popular as ever, though, the controversy has reemerged, and everyone is yelling at each other because, well, that’s what we do. But don’t worry: I’m not writing to convince you to spend your Sunday nights elsewhere, though I have my concerns about the show; I’m writing because I see a deeper issue amid all this yelling.

Generally speaking, the debate tends to go something like this: “Christians shouldn’t watch Game of Thrones because of the sex and nudity, and we are called to be holy.” Or, on the other hand, “Christians can watch Game of Thrones because we have that freedom, and it’s a well-made show with a great story.”

I’ll admit, right out of the gate, that I don’t watch Game of Thrones and struggle with the show not only for its sexuality, nudity and depiction of women but also its graphic violence. From what I know of the show, it’s hard for me to see how Game of Thrones is “beneficial” (1 Cor. 10:23). When I consider being conformed into the image of the Son and I think about the tastes of the Son, I struggle to imagine Jesus Christ having such tastes that would see and appreciate the series as true, good and beautiful, which creates a tension in me as I think about what waters I should and shouldn’t wade into when it comes to culture. Yet, I have plenty of good, faithful, Christian friends who have thought through all these things and have come to a different conclusion. They argue that the benefits of the show come from its poignant themes and the conversations it can lead to.

That said, in spite of the problems I see with Game of Thrones, I’m even more concerned with the number of Christians who have essentially condemned fellow brothers and sisters for watching it—something I’ve been guilty of myself. There is nothing wrong with critiquing Game of Thrones—or any other show—or even arguing against watching it. But the key phrase here is, “or any other show.” I’m afraid that many of us are guilty of “cultural cherry picking.” We take a particular aspect of culture, like Game of Thrones, that has the appearance of evil and elevate it as “other.” We create a caricature, often without knowing much about the thing itself, talking about it as if it were one of the seven deadly sins. We make the assumption that if something has sex and nudity it’s bad and if it doesn’t—and not too much profanity, mind you—it’s good. But culture just isn’t that simple. Nothing is neutral. Every story comes loaded with a vision of “the good life,” an allegiance to a particular kingdom.

Instead of getting on a moral high horse, we need to think deeper about the things we’re watching, reading and listening to on a daily and weekly basis.

As believers, we are called to be different, being “in the world but not of the world.” We are called to guard our hearts and minds, abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good (Rom. 12:9). Yet, in keeping with this standard, I’d argue that there are dozens of TV shows—along with movies and sports—that we watch and don’t bat an eye about that are just as troubling and damaging to us personally and to our culture at large as Game of Thrones. As an example, several years ago I made the case that Parenthood is potentially more dangerous than Game of Thrones because it has the appearance of good but at its core communicates a view of life and family that runs contrary to the gospel. Another example is The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise: Why are Christians often against Game of Thrones but okay with a show that essentially treats men and women not as humans created in the image of God but as mere meat or objects of desire and undermines a biblical view of love, beauty and romance?

Instead of getting on a moral high horse, we need to think deeper about the things we’re watching, reading and listening to on a daily and weekly basis, asking questions like: Does this story reflect or oppose the one true story of the world—the gospel? What is the telos—the aim—of this particular cultural artifact? How does it portray God and His creation? What does it deem to be true, good and beautiful? Does that line up with a biblical view? How is this thing shaping and forming me—further away or further toward the image of the Son?

I think it’s pivotal that we ask hard questions, shepherding and pushing one another to pursue holiness and righteousness in every aspect of our lives and holding one another accountable for our choices. That’s what the Church—and true, gospel-centered community—is all about. We just need to be careful, especially when it comes to a show like Game of Thrones, that we’re being consistent about our own art and entertainment choices and not asking other Christians to live up to a standard that we’re unwilling to adhere to ourselves. We need to first consider the log in our own eye before trying to remove the supposed speck from that of our fellow brothers and sisters. If we do this, I’m convinced that these Game of Thrones wars might come to an end.

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