Last February, the second season of Game of Thrones hit stores right before my husband and I left for a weekend getaway to the North shore of Lake Superior. We bought it immediately and devoured it in two nights at our hotel in the wilderness.
I’ll be honest: the boob situation is a little out of control. The amount of female nudity in Game of Thrones is on the fairly gratuitous side. When the scene cuts to another voluptuous, nude palace prostitute (as it so often does), I roll my eyes and Andrew ducks his head under the blanket on the couch.
The Christian Guide to Movies flipbook our church used to keep on the Welcome Desk – a freebie, I believe, from Focus on the Family – would have given Game of Thrones a big old thumbs down. Between the nudity and the violence, the HBO hit series sets itself staunchly against the Morals and Values that conservative Christian culture tends to hold up as paramount to a life of faith.
I understand all the reasons not to watch shows like these, and there is a deep truth to the work of guarding your mind, your heart. I think it’s a kind of wisdom and maturity to recognize that the way the things we take in change the way we see the world.
And yet, there is no television show I’ve ever watched that has impacted my perception of the Bible so powerfully.
I should tell you, first of all, that I grew up on Bible stories turned animation, turned catchy songs with hand-motions. It’s not that the hard, sad, scary parts of the Bible were edited out of those early renderings. But they were tamped down until they were small enough to fit in my child-sized heart.
Biblical villains became cartoons, caricatures, no more threatening than Jafar in Aladdin or Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Their role in the story was brief and inevitably doomed, and I understood that Pharaoh was never really dangerous – just the necessary counterbalance to the Israelites brave escape. We sang Pharaoh Pharaoh/Ohhhhhh baby, let my people go/ (Huh!)/Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah in in the sweaty, mosquito-filled summer camp amphitheater, knowing that he wouldn’t…but that it would be okay. It was always going to be okay.
In the world I grew up in, Veggie Tales reinvented Goliath as a giant pickle and the soldiers of the city of Jericho as French peas, and I’m not saying that this was necessarily a bad thing. I’m not saying it’s wrong to present the Bible in an entertaining way to children. I’m not even saying that I won’t end up showing movies like these to my own kids in a moment of desperation.
Still, I wonder if part of the reason why it’s hard to make sense of a world where evil is truly heinous, where bad things happen and are as horrible and life altering and as real as a body lying before you…has something to do with the fact that our concept of evil in the Biblical world was tempered, toned down, turned Technicolor.
Game of Thrones is unapologetically violent and gritty. Main characters die without warning. Injustices occur and are left unchecked by the corrupt powers in place. In Season 2 [SPOILER ALERT] the evil young son of the duplicitous queen takes the crown and has infants put to death who maybe could possibly end up being heirs to the throne.
The women are naked, and it’s because they’re property, because their value is tied up in their sexuality and their reproductive abilities. Armies clash, and would-be-kings race toward the capital city to claim the throne that they believe to be rightfully theirs, and sitting in my chair caught in the chaos and wonder of the story, I understand maybe for the first time the terrible drug of power. The fear it creates, the way it creeps down to the heart like a cancer and turns it altogether dark.
My husband and I watched Season 2 in one weekend of total television gluttony that February, and when I began reading through the life of Jesus in the Gospels later that spring for a Bible study, I was shocked to find it altogether changed for me.
I read the part about Herod, sending soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all infants age two and younger, and while this had always troubled me, while I’d understood it intellectually, I finally could see it. I could see the child-king in Game of Thrones, mad with fear and power issuing the edict with the casual sweep of a hand.
I read, and I saw the world into which Christ was born not as a cartoon construction, but as a real place that was easily as corrupt and dangerous as the fiction world in which the HBO series unfolds. Jesus is born not into a friendly world but into another game of thrones, born King of Kings in a land where lesser, unkind kings held white-knuckled to their crowns.
And when his disciples kept waiting for him to defeat the empire, to take the throne, it wasn’t some kind of flimsy wish—it was desperation, and exhaustion, and fear, and being so close to change that they could almost taste it.
I think of the invisible, upside-down kingdom that Jesus offered to the hungry crowds on mountainsides. I get teary when I dare to imagine myself as a woman caught in the current of a power and corruption, being offered the entire world by a King who looks out into the crowd and sees me.
And really, nothing has changed, has it? Even in the dressed-up politeness of democracy, this is still the truth. It will always be the truth.
Season 3 of Game of Thrones comes out on February 18th, and you can bet we’ll be picking it up, sitting in the basement, turning our heads when the nudity is too much. We’ll find ourselves back in the middle of a story about power and corruption of goodness, and we’ll be captivated by the story.
But also, maybe, a little part of us will become even more captivated by the wonder of The Story – the one Jesus told when he was born into a game of thrones and changed the whole thing forever.