— By Carly Twehous —
[Heads up: Spoilers and content warning]
These days, Game of Thrones is everywhere. Its unprecedented popularity is the topic for discussion on news shows, media blogs, and even other fictional shows and movies. In fact, the Los Angeles transit service plasters White Walkers and the Iron Throne on the sides of their buses and trains in preparation for the season premiere and finale each year. Game of Thrones is a cultural phenomenon that has amassed fans from all around the world and has become a point of unparalleled financial success for HBO.
That being said, with its success, Game of Thrones has racked up a fair amount of backlash and controversy, particularly within the Christian community.
So, should a Christian watch Game of Thrones? Notorious for nudity and explicit sex scenes, Game of Thrones, at least for a Christian operating under some sense of morality, demands an honest and healthy discussion.
Without a doubt, there are some things in this show that should set people back on their heels. It can be gut-wrenchingly violent, there are entire scenes that take place exclusively in brothels (complete with naked prostitutes), and incredibly horrific rape scenes. That’s not to mention the incredibly disturbing incestuous relationship between the queen and her twin brother that permeates the entire show.
To say the very least, this is no place for children.
Many morally-conscious Christians who come down completely against shows like Game of Thrones will say things like, “All porn has plot, at least to some extent. Game of Thrones just has a whole lot more plot.” For them, that’s the end of the conversation.
There’s no denying there’s horrible and nasty things depicted in Game of Thrones, but that can’t be the end of the argument. It wouldn’t be fair to the brilliance of this story.
As Christians, we are certainly not called to abstain from any form of media that depicts immoral behavior. If we were, things as innocent as Disney movies would be completely out of the question, not to mention a vast majority of the stories in the Bible. Immorality, ever since that incident with the Apple in the Garden, has become a part of the human condition. A story without any struggle against immorality wouldn’t be honest. Therefore, immoral behavior alone is not enough to condemn Game of Thrones.
The central question, then, is whether or not Game of Thrones classifies as pornography and, thus, morally wrong to watch.
Matt Fradd, author of The Porn Myth and avid speaker on the dangers of pornography, makes an argument that watching pornography cannot always be classified as intrinsically evil. What of the policeman or the jury in charge of administering justice in a court case involving, God forbid, child pornography? Surely people such as these cannot be morally culpable of viewing the material.
Pornography, in its very definition, is sexually explicit material specifically meant to arouse. Fradd makes the distinction between watching and consuming pornography, specifically for this reason. Watching illicit material—as in the case of the policeman and jury—is passive. They are not actively seeking the material nor are they deriving any pleasure from it. Consuming, on the other hand, means typing the key words into a search box, with full knowledge of what the search will yield, and a freely chosen indulgence in the results.
In regards to watching a show such as Game of Thrones, the same standards have to apply. Ultimately, the argument comes down to the subjective intentions and moral temperament of those who choose to watch.
If one sets out to watch this show with full knowledge of its content—and maybe with the excuse that it isn’t mainstream pornography—in order to satisfy a craving for sexually explicit material, then there is a clear intention of arousal and, in such a case, viewership is certainly immoral. Likewise, if one has a prior history or current struggle against pornography, Game of Thrones would quickly become a trigger for a greater sin and should, no doubt, be avoided.
On the other hand, for those with a solid footing in their own code of ethics and who have the self-control to turn away or fast-forward when things get too racy, Game of Thrones can be a vastly entertaining, epic tale of bravery, betrayal, and the natural consequences of immoral choices. This show gives the audience characters that we love, characters we love to hate, and characters so vile that we’ve been calling for their heads since episode one.
For those who are comfortable enough in their moral footing to watch this show, the story almost entirely reconciles whatever immorality is portrayed in this show.
To demonstrate, HBO’s original selling point for Game of Thrones was, like the gripe of many Christians, sex as a lure in order to trap audiences into watching every Sunday night. To be perfectly honest, that lasted maybe all of one episode. The nudity and sex on Game of Thrones was so over-the-top, frequent, and unnecessary that even the secular audiences picked up on it and begin shouting war-cries. Audiences, as it turns out, are far more interested in the story and characters than the explicit material. Luckily, HBO listened to its audience; as the show progresses, sex scenes become few and far between in favor of the masterfully crafted plot.
If that’s not indicative of the redemptive powers of a good story, then I don’t know what is.
Game of Thrones has to be an acknowledgment of the brokenness portrayed on screen, an assessment of self, and, ultimately, a personal consideration on whether or not a story redeems itself amidst undeniable immorality. For some, the answer’s going to be a solid NO, for the same reason a recovering alcoholic refuses to walk into a bar. The proper temperament and force of will may not outweigh the undeniable lure of temptation. Further, in the same way that indulging in the occasional drink does not make an alcoholic, those that decide they’re in the proper state of mind to watch Game of Thrones should not be condemned for doing so, especially when the intention and focus on the story is clear.
Controversy aside, Game of Thrones is a masterfully crafted story and deserves so much more than blind condemnation.
If the story is not redemptive enough, surely the journey of introspection is.