Game of Thrones

Should a Christian Watch 'Game of Thrones?'

Photo by Helen Sloan/courtesy HBO

A scene with Catelyn Stark (l) played by Michelle Fairley from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Photo by Helen Sloan/courtesy HBO

Is there anything morally redeeming about Game of Thrones? Does the hit HBO series even have a moral vision?

The show is certainly entertaining, almost addictively so, and as Game of Thrones wraps up its third season on Sunday, the ratings reflect that popularity: a record of more than 5.5 million viewers have followed the ruthless struggles for power among the teeming clans of Westeros, the medieval-looking world created by fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin.

That success has also guaranteed that the show will be back for a fourth year of mayhem and passion, swords and sorcery, despite this season’s many violent endings. Or, as one tweet put it after the bloody penultimate episode: “Why doesn’t George R.R. Martin use twitter? Because he killed all 140 characters.”

But therein lies the moral problem for some: The appeal of the series seems bound up in the senseless violence and amoral machinations – not to mention the free-wheeling sex – that the writers use to dramatize this brutish world of shifting alliances and dalliances.

That, in turn, has prompted intense debates about whether Christians should watch Games of Thrones at all, or whether the show’s only possible virtue is depicting how the world would look if Christ had never been born – or what it could look like if Christianity disappeared tomorrow.

Stop Telling Me What Is Anti-Christian

Starbucks cup, by EgoAnt /

Starbucks cup, by EgoAnt /

Anyone who listens to our Homebrewed Christianity CultureCast knows that we love Game of Thrones. The writing is complex and dramatic, and the characters are fascinating. What’s more, after the recent “Red Wedding” episode, we’re all too aware that no character, no matter how important or beloved, is safe.

The series, set in a fictitious medieval Europe, is also dark, exploitive, highly sexualized at times, and one has to stretch to glean any moral redemption from the episodes. As such, there’s a debate swirling online about whether Christians can or should watch such a show. Where’s the Gospel? How can we justify all the sex and bloodshed? Do we watch with the (possibly deluded) hope that things will incline toward virtue, even though the series creator has suggested no such intention?

Or should we just turn it off?

Now, there’s a constituency of evangelicals and Tea Partiers who claim that, since the coffee super-chain Starbucks supports same-sex partner benefits, drinking their coffee (and therefore inadvertently supporting gay rights, I suppose) is anti-Christian. So sorry, followers of Jesus, but that favorite frappuccino you look forward to every afternoon is off the menu. If you don’t want to make Jesus cry, at least.