**Disclaimer: This post discusses sex, pornography, and nudity as it relates to Game of Thrones. Use discretion.**
Last week, John Piper posted 12 questions that he suggested people should ask themselves before watching Game of Thrones, HBO’s popular fantasy drama, an adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series.
Amid his list of inquiries, Piper asks:
Do I Care About the Souls of the Nudes?
Does It Express or Advance My Holiness?
Am I Longing to See God?
Am I Compromising the Beauty of Sex?
Am I Recrucifying Christ?
I confess, I watch Game of Thrones. In fact, sometimes I watch the episodes twice because I either have to in order to fully understand the narrative or just because I want to re-experience its “magic.” But mostly it’s because I have to in order to capture the show’s subtle twists and turns. The plot lines of GoT are complex, riddled by magic, evil, politics, violence, power, fear, vengeance, and longing. And lasciviousness. There’s lots of lasciviousness happening among the residents of the Seven Kingdoms.
And while I have, on occasion, squinted or turned my head during the show’s most excessive scenes where flesh and/or blood abound, I’ve never once thought to define Game of Thrones by the cultural boundaries it pushes. That’s because, much like its tricky plots lines and subplot lines, so too is GoT filled up with an array of characters, most of whom are very complicated creatures. In many ways, these fictional characters are a lot like the characters we read about in the Bible, grandiose personalities made up of strengths, lusts, weaknesses, talents, faith, deviances, braveries, and other intricate human (and sometimes not so human) traits.
My love for the story, the themes, and it characters is why I decided to offer my response to Piper’s questions.
Do I care about the souls of the nudes? To be honest, I’ve never real thought about the souls of those who get naked on GoT. That said, I’ve not really thought about the souls of those who don’t get naked, either. Perhaps I should think about both. But if I’m honest, I don’t, at least, not in the same way that Piper seems to think I should. Honestly, I just don’t watch TV that way. I’m not sure I have ever pondered the souls of the actors on any television show that I watch. Maybe Dexter’s. But that’s it. I think this is true mostly because they’re acting. They’re playing roles and characters that are not representative of who they are as human beings. With that said, I must ask a few questions: Does not watching GoT suggest a deep concern for the souls of “the nudes”? I mean, by never seeing one episode of GoT is Piper showcasing concern for those who show their skin? And is nudity the requirement or the line at which one should begin thinking about a person’s soul? How about the souls of those who are partially nude? You know, the souls of Olympic divers, for instance? Do you ponder their souls? Or how about the souls of those gracing the pages of the underwear sections in the JCPenny sales flyers? Do you care about them? Forgive my snark, but this question feels ridiculous, in that it implies that nudity of any kind is evil. But in regards to GoT, the question implies that Piper believes the nudity and sex happening on GoT is equal to or similar to what happens in X X X films. Are some scenes over the top? Yes. And some, given the context of the story, are uncomfortable to watch, occasionally pushing me to use the fast-forward button on my remote. But the scenes are not the same as pornography. While the nudity in GoT might certainly trigger impulses in those with histories of sex/pornography addiction (and those people should certainly use discretion), to compare the two seems unfair and unwarranted. So no, I haven’t thought much about the souls of the nudes on GoT. But next season, I just might.
Does it express or advance my holiness? Probably not the same way that posing a question like that expresses or advances one’s holiness, but amid the richly difficult narrative of GoT are threads that indeed challenge me, bring tears to my eyes, make me acknowledge my own humanity, and cause me to consider the great risks that often come with being brave, strong, courageous, and faithful. Does that happen in every scene? Of course not. But HBO’s tendency to accentuate the more gratuitous elements of human sexuality hardly diminishes the power and passion of a good story. Besides, isn’t human holiness a reflection of who God is and what we believe God is doing as opposed to being a list of things of things we should or shouldn’t do?
Am I longing to see God? Yes. The best stories almost always lead us back to hoping that we experience the truths that define our lives. As a show, GoT often seems to be overrun with a deep hopelessness, requiring characters to make difficult decisions, hope for the best, and suffer the consequences of their mistakes. There’s rarely been an episode that, upon watching, hasn’t left my soul filled to the brim with wonder and hope, searching for the flicker of light amid the seemingly terminal darkness. The same is true for when we Christians read the stories of the men and women in the Bible. Most of us don’t let the fact that Esther was a victim of sex trafficking and prostitution prevent us from engaging the rest of the story. Most of us don’t allow the insanities found in the Book of Genesis keep us from gleaning truths from those stories. Because the majority of us Christians believe that God is not limited to being found in stories about purity and holiness. Most of us would never long for the presence of God if that were the case.
Am I compromising the beauty of sex? No. Just no.
Am I recrucifying Christ? This question is outright offensive, in that it only seems to diminish and undermine the power of the cross. And too, if this “recrucifying Christ” is truly a concern that Christians should be worried about, an HBO fantasy drama is the least of our worries.
As a GoT fan and a Christian, I think HBO’s depiction Martin’s epic is beautiful and raw, elaborate and gratuitous, inspiring and uncomfortable, dark and hopeful. But so is most of the Old Testament.
Should Christians watch Game of Thrones? That depends on the Christian. It’s certainly not a show for everybody. At times, it’s violent. Sometimes it’s dreadfully slow. On occasion, it’s sensationalizes the sexual deviance of its characters. And there are dragons. But it’s also quite self aware. Many of its protagonists are very much aware of their demons. Sometimes they fight them. Sometimes they let them have their way. It’s very much a story about humanity (with dragons and zombie-like creatures called white walkers). And like most stories about humanity, there’s a lot of chaos, and occasionally, in the middle of chaos, clothes are optional.
But chaos has its advantages, at least, according to the character Littlefinger (or Petyr Baelish), one of King’s Landing’s master manipulators, the owner of a brothel, a business he uses to wield information and power. In season 3, episode 6, while engaging in a conversation with Varys, a eunuch and “Masters of Whisperers,” Littlefinger says, “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”
The last question that Piper asks is this: Am I free from doubt? He explains, There is one biblical guideline that makes life very simple: “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:32). My paraphrase: If you doubt, don’t. That would alter the viewing habits of millions, and oh how sweetly they would sleep with their conscience.
And there’s nothing wrong with asking that question as long as it’s not rhetorical. And just as long as those who do have doubts about watching GoT are cool with those who watch GoT and then go to bed and sleep like babies.