Eight years ago, I tried to watch Game of Thrones: Season 1. A few episodes in, I put the DVDs back in the case and returned them. I had seen enough. Besides being disturbed by the nihilistic violence and rape, I felt the story of Westeros wasn’t going anywhere meaningful, and I was right. Over the years I have followed the show in the news and observed people’s reaction to it. It’s hard to ignore a piece of culture that has sparked so many interesting conversations between believers and non-believers alike. As our culture collectively obsesses over the airing of the final season, it’s apparent to me the story still hasn’t gone anywhere and has nowhere satisfying to go. Unless the show’s creators pull a rabbit out of a hat, I sense that millions of GoT viewers will be left with an empty feeling in the pits of their stomachs after the final episode airs. They will find themselves yearning for a deeper meaning that will never come.
George R. R. Martin, the brilliant writer of the books that inspired the show, is a self-proclaimed atheist. He set out to write an “anti-Tolkien” fantasy tale—a more realistic one—where evil often wins and heroic character arcs get inexplicably cut short by rape and murder. The entire series reads like a case against mankind and the evils we commit against each other. True to his atheistic beliefs, Martin completely excludes any hint of a true God that imbues everything with meaning and hope of redemption. The show has hints of a moral conscience but denies the source of that conscience. In doing so, it cuts itself off from the truth that makes every story worth telling. R. R. Martin denies he’s a Nihilist, but he’s not being honest with himself. Any honest person who cuts himself off from the truth of God must admit that nihilism is the necessary end. There is nowhere else to go, no matter how stubbornly one tries to maintain pretensions of good and evil.
The result, as Game of Thrones has shown us, is truly ugly. Children are burned alive by their own parents, women are raped for sport, and sons are cannibalized and fed to their fathers. Power is an end unto itself, and religion is just another political tool. It’s life in the state of nature: “nasty, brutish and short.” In R. R. Martin’s universe, human beings are just another animal. Just like worms, wolves and fish, they are in an endless cycle of living, eating, mating, fighting, and dying that will continue for eons until the nearest star runs out of fuel. In his universe, the moral conscience isn’t a gift from God; it’s just a biological product that only serves to make the life/death cycle sting more. In the words of R. R. Martin in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, “If there is a benevolent loving God, why is the world full of rape and torture? Why do we even have pain?” Game of Thrones is Martin’s case against God.
The Whole Truth
Unfortunately, you can’t build a good case without the whole truth. Proverbs 9:10 tells us “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” It is here, in the denial of his Creator, where the brilliant George R. R. Martin becomes a fool. The engagingly written and beautifully shot Game of Thrones becomes a pointless non-story. While it may be Martin’s case against God, Game of Thrones also unwittingly becomes a case against those who reject God. The show that prides itself in truthful realism becomes an utter sham. Ephesians 4:18 says “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” In stubborn adherence to ignorance and darkness, even the most talented writers will only muster a half-truth. The result is, in the words of MacBeth- “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Even now, as the final episodes unfold, angry fans fume over what “ought” to be–an impulse that comes straight from our Creator. Yet, who is to say what ought to be in the world of Westeros? There is no "oughtness"; there is only what "is." That's been R. R. Martin's central thesis from the beginning, he's been telling us since season 1!
We in the church need to pray earnestly for George R. R. Martin. We need to cry out to God to reveal his truth to darkened hearts, just like he has for unworthy beggars like you and me. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
We should also pray for God to use this show in the hearts of unbelievers who watch it. We know that what man often means for evil, God uses for good (Gen 50:20). I suspect some viewers will see the hopelessness and evil portrayed in Game of Thrones and thirst for redemption. The Spirit will begin to speak to them and lead them to the truth that brings hope, a truth that R. R. Martin is stubbornly suppressing. But just like Jesus in the tomb, the truth cannot be suppressed very long. Let us hope that R.R. Martin, and all who watch his show, will discover what we already know. There is a transcendent Creator who revealed his moral heart to an ancient tribe on Mt. Sinai thousands of years ago. There is a humble servant Son who became sin for us and ended the hopeless cycle of death when he walked out of the grave. There is a Spirit who has filled his people with the comfort of a higher plane and truth that shines a light on our existence. Because of these gifts, we see Game of Thrones as the colorful half-truth that it is and beckon the rest of the world to meet the Truth who sets us free.
Joel Berry is a pro-life activist, businessman, busy father, and Aaron's cooler older brother. He loves talking politics, culture, and philosophy from a Christian perspective. Joel lives in Toledo, Ohio with his wife and four children.
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