I once called Game of Thrones “torture porn” and refused to watch it. I had tried, several times, to watch it and it was filled with blood, gore, nudity, and sex — not something a Christian should engage with. The first time I tried to watch it I was on an airplane. I had it on my iPad and became mindful of a kid in the aisle seat one row back and across watching what I was watching. I had to turn it off. I was certain it was bad for my sanctification.
Last April, when I was in the hospital trying not to die, I got moved out of the ICU and placed on the cardiac floor. By at least 30 years I had to be the youngest person on the floor and the late twenty-something nurse at night decided I needed to stay up and watch Game of Thrones with him. I had been staying up watching Adult Swim. Despite protesting, the nurse turned it on and I was soon drawn into the show. Though there was a good bit of violence, the nudity had largely been left behind in the first season or so and we were beyond that.
With the run up to the premiere of season seven of Game of Thrones, I have seen several friends circulate this rather convicting piece from John Piper on watching Game of Thrones. And he largely leaves no room except to conclude that one should not watch it — at least had I started watching in Season 1.
Coming from a position of thinking it rather hard for a Christian to watch something like this, I have arrived at the position that I think it depends on why one is watching. Surely if one is watching for the nudity or violence then it would be terrible for one’s sanctification. Even now I watch Game of Thrones on a delay so I can fast forward through anything I think inappropriate.
The reason I watch Game of Thrones now is that I think it is probably the best scripted show on television. Daredevil Season 1 comes close to really capturing humanity in a similar way, but I see in Game of Thrones a lot of great morality tales woven together into a larger theme.
The good guy does not always win. The saint is often martyred while the sinner prevails. Evil marches ever closer and infiltrates while people deny it even exists. But there is a long running, simmering view that the bad will one day get their due. It is not just winter coming, but judgment.
Most shows on television foundationally believe in good people sometimes doing bad things. Game of Thrones had a lot of bad people often doing good things for bad reasons. It has good people doing bad things. And often it has the best people doing the best things only to wind up dead. There is a realism in the fantastic that more accurately captures the depraved nature of man than most shows. I cannot emphasize enough how well written the show is and how well the characters have developed over time.
I agree completely that watching Game of Thrones is not for everyone. I know people who at one time were obsessed with pornography and it has been a slow climb out of the sewer for them. I do not recommend they watch it. I know others who cannot take the sight of blood at all and I do not recommend they watch it. And I know Christians who are convinced watching Game of Thrones will send them straight to hell. I disagree, but I do not encourage them to watch it.
Were Game of Thrones to keep up the nudity and violence of the first season, I have no doubt I would not have been able to get into watching it. But the show changed over time as did my opinion of the show. Now I am excited to watch it and find that many of those most critical of it are people who have either never seen it or tuned out, like I did, in the first season unable to stomach it.
I see no harm in not watching it and see harm, with some, in watching it. But for many, even among Christians, I think they are on safe ground watching it if they are not just seeking the cheap thrills of violence and sex. Of course, your mileage may vary. But no, I do not think at this late stage in the great game it is bad for my sanctification. I think the show, at its core, is a good reminder that this world is fleeting, evil exists, and real redemption cannot come from man.