‘Game of Thrones’: What If HBO’s Sexy, Violent Fantasy Is Your Only View of Faith?

“Game of Thrones” fans have kept the faith, but what about the show?

The social media world was abuzz on Sunday, July 16, with the long awaited premiere of the 7th season of Game of Thrones. While many Catholics, Protestants and other faithful question the morality of even watching the show, which is known for its graphic violence, sex and language, one fact that can’t be ignored is that millions of people watch each episode.

For example, from TechCrunch:

In total, the season 7 premiere reached a combined audience of 16.1 million viewers across its linear TV airing, same day DVR playback, and streaming via HBO GO and HBO NOW. That’s a 50 percent increase over the season 6 premiere last year, HBO says.

One things the show is not known for but is very much a part of series is religion. In fact, rather than being godless, the universe of Game of Thrones has too many gods. There are the Old Gods, symbolized by the Werewoods, trees with the faces of humans carved in them. This faith is vaguely pagan and has some of the trappings of Celtic Druids. Then, there are the New Gods, also known as The Seven, but they are 7 faces of 1 God. As many mainstream Christians might figure out, this is much like the concept of the Holy Trinity, 3 persons in 1 God.

The religion of the New Gods has definite connections to Medieval Christianity, especially since the religious of this faith wear clothes strongly reminiscent of nuns’ habits and monks’ robes. Sadly, the show depicts the hierarchy of this faith as righteous bullies who, in seeking the truth and talking about mercy, really focus on shame and power. The evil queen Cersei famously blows up their Great Sept (cathedral) with the High Sparrow (Pope or Patriarch) inside it after he threatens her rule.

A third religion follows the Lord of Light, R’hllor, who is a God of fire and the sun. This faith has the marking of Islam with R’hllor being a sometimes harsh god whose will is mysterious and is to be obeyed, not questioned. To the followers of R’hllor, all other religions are false and will ultimately need to be wiped out. Also, this Lord of Light occasionally demands that people be burned at the stake in sacrifice.

Lastly, there is the Faceless God, whose clergy are an assassin’s guild. This god is Death, the god that, according to his followers, everyone must eventually meet.

Why this matters is that since the show has 25 million viewers, and currently only 20% of the Catholic faithful actually attend Mass each week, there is a good chance more people watched Game of Thrones this past Sunday than the total number of Catholics who went to church in the entire nation. If this series has something to say about faith, be aware that it has a big audience listening. One interesting facet of the show is that it does indeed seem to have something say about faith.

A part of this first episode of the new season that didn’t get as much attention on Twitter is that the show brought up some pointed spiritual questions. These issues of faith came mostly through the character of Sandor Clegane, known as the Hound for his ferocity in battle and loyalty to the king.

He began the series as a notoriously violent, heartless, amoral and cynical character, who after being saved from grievous wounds by a septon (priest) of the New Gods – thankfully some followers of The Seven are shown as good – he seems to be undergoing a change of heart.

In this most recent episode, Sandor has joined a band of Robin Hood-style outlaws who are trying to fight for justice for the common people. The outlaws believe in the Lord of Light, whose followers often do good things when they’re not burning people at the stake. Sandor’s one great weakness is a fear of fire which has plagued him since childhood when he was badly burned as a boy. He makes the comment “Just my luck that I would fall in with a band of fire worshippers” to which the priest of the group replies to the atheistic Clegane, “Yes, it’s almost like divine justice.” This is not lost on Sandor.

The leader of the outlaws, Beric Dondarrion, is famous because he has been killed multiple times, but on each occasion, the priest has brought him back to life by the power of R’hllor. After coming across a cottage containing a dead peasant and his daughter, Sandor accosts Beric with a question “Why you [Beric]? Why does the Lord of Light bring you back to life but not these people? And not this little girl? You are no better than her.”

Now both of these statements make for a scenario to which most people, especially people of faith, can relate. Events happen in our lives – “coincidences”, or “divine providence” the faithful might say – that seem to clearly indicate God’s hand at work. Then, life moves in another direction and God is seemingly nowhere to be found. This ranges from terrorist attacks that kill innocents, to seemingly bad people having good jobs, positions of power, or the luxuries of life, while seemingly good people live in poverty, get passed over at work, or struggle with finances or health. We wonder why? Is God there, if so, does He care?

The key thing for us who believe in Christ is that Jesus helps us understand the answers to these questions. While in each individual case the answer may vary, the important thing is that we ultimately know that we have a good God who suffers with us, and who has suffered for us and, no matter the good or the bad, will never leave our side.

It is interesting to note that a show so popular is asking some of the big questions of life and ones that are very theological. Where interest needs to meet action is that we must take the challenge of getting to know our faith so we understand the answers to such questions and can give a better response than Beric’s, whose only reply to Clegane is “You’re right. I don’t know. I guess the Lord isn’t done with me yet.”

We need theses answers for ourselves… and just in case one of our friends, family or acquaintances happens to be one of those millions of viewers, especially if Game of Thrones is one of the only ways they encounter religion at all.

Tony Sands is the Senior Producer for Family Theater Productions

Image: Courtesy HBO

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