On Sunday night, I will be watching the premiere of the last season of Game of Thrones. The story of rivalry in Westeros has captured imaginations since George R. R. Martin released the first of his “Song of Fire and Ice” novels. The collection is seven books, the first of which gives the name to the HBO series.
Games of Thrones, the television series, made Martin’s world come alive for millions of people, some of whom, like me, never got around to reading the books. I spent four years refusing to watch the series. When Game of Thrones first came out, it received widespread and deserved criticism in faith communities for its gratuitous sex and violence. It seemingly blended sexual porn and torture porn into one series. Popular American theologian John Piper penned a piece suggesting Christians avoid the series.
A few years after its release, I was struck by several of my good Christian friends loving the series and decided to take a look for myself. I tried twice. Both times I never made it through the first episode. The blood and gore alone stopped me. But in 2016, I was given no choice but to watch Game of Thrones.
Alone in the hospital, the only non-senior citizen in the cardiac ward as I recovered from blood clots in my lungs, the young nurse on the hall came in to check on me. I was up watching Adult Swim cartoons. He commandeered the remote and flipped the TV to HBO despite my protests. He told me he was making me watch Game of Thrones with him. He would do his rounds and come back to catch up as HBO was showing the series in the run up to a new season of shows.
I got hooked. Half way through the series, the show had found its pacing, the violence and nudity had been reduced, the red wedding had passed, and Jon Snow commanded the Night’s Watch. To those who know nothing about the series, none of that makes sense I realize, but bear with me here for the larger point.
The show is about a civil war between several noble houses, some of which covet sitting on the Iron Throne, a throne put together by the fire of a dragon and the swords of the conquered making a very distinctive throne. Without a doubt, Game of Thrones is the best written, most compelling program on television, though I will not recommend it to you because of the first few years of sex and violence some of you may have no stomach for.
All of the above is to get to this and why this last season of the show has historic significance. When Game of Thrones premiered in 2011, on-demand streaming services with unique content were not really a thing. As a result, hundreds of millions of people around the world fell in love with a single television show. As social media grew, their conversations with each other grew. Some media experts think upwards of a billion people will ultimately watch Game of Thrones. That makes it the last of its kind.
We now live in a fractured world. Digital content makes it likely we will never again see a television show in which so many people all invest their time at the same time. Game of Thrones will be our last shared bit of TV watching as a country and we will divide even more when it concludes. Winter is coming to our union in more ways than one.