Worth Watching: Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (c) 2013 HBO, all rights reserved.

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Warning: Before writing what will generally be a positive review of HBO’s Game of Thrones, it’s necessary to make one thing clear. This series is not for children or those easily scandalized by violent and sexually explicit material. HBO apparently decided that the books weren’t explicit enough (they were) and that they needed to lure people to the show by appealing to baser appetites (they didn’t).

Now, with that out of the way…

Few current television shows capture the complexity of human beings as brilliantly as Game of Thrones.  The series is set in an alternate world with many fantasy elements, but that’s really just gravy. What makes the show enthralling isn’t its swordplay and magic so much as its too-relatable characters and many, unpredictable tragedies.

Take Ned Stark, with the simple, down to earth honesty of the soldiers he leads. The unflinching loyalty he shows to his friends and country only ever earns him betrayal and suffering. Though Ned is the closest thing to a Good Guy the series has, even his image is tarnished by the existence of his bastard son. One of the most powerful scenes in the show to date aired only in this, the third season. Ned’s wife is praying for the safety of her sons when she bares her soul to another woman, including the heart-wrenching confession that she blames herself for the evil that has befallen her family. She’s convinced that it’s all because of her inability to keep her promise to the gods to “love a motherless child,” her husband’s bastard son.

Then there’s Tyrion Lannister (masterfully portrayed by Peter Dinklage), whose desire for unforthcoming affection from his father drives him to the apex of valor and cleverness. Or Theon Greyjoy, whose similarly desperate need for paternal affirmation leads him to his nadir of depravity and stupidity. My personal favorite so far is the recently-introduced Lady Olenna, her quick wit and brutally accurate evaluations of everything (and everybody) around her happily bringing Downton’s Dowager Countess to mind.

Given its more objectionable elements (see warning above), I thought hard about whether to watch the show at all. But I’ve decided it’s not so strange that I’m attracted to Game of Thrones. My life is shaped by relationships – whether with Jesus Christ or others – more than by narratives. In other words, it makes sense that I’d be attracted to strongly character-oriented programs, perhaps especially to those in which sinfulness is so evident. So long as the story evokes a sense of empathy and tragedy in me, rather than lust or schadenfreude, I think I’m in the clear.

If you too find yourself attracted to character-driven content and can get past the show’s less commendable elements, I recommend giving Game of Thrones a shot. I’ve listed only a very few of the story’s innumerable compelling personalities. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below; but for the sake of those who haven’t seen the show, no spoilers, please!

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