When will Jesus show up?

I tried watching Game of Thrones when it started, I really did. My roommate loves swords and dragons, and our apartment is not very big. But by the third incest plotline, I started trying to avoid the show. Every time I happened on a scene, someone was being viciously murdered or raped or tortured or someone was revelling in having murdered, tortured, or raped someone else. It’s like a high-budget Thomas Hobbes simulation but with magic.

Based on some articles that people who care about this show have written, Game of Thrones is based on the actual War of the Roses, where two royal families did some really messed up stuff to each other. If I made some objection like, ‘Hey, there is too much incest on this show. It makes me really uncomfortable’, a strawman fan (strawfan?) might say, ‘Actually, that really happened. Jon Snow rules.’ But the frost zombies are definitely fake, so I’m going to reject all the pseudo-historical defences on magic fairy grounds.

At very least, the choice of historical inspiration is suspect. Brutal moments from the past are overrepresented on television: there’s a Manson murders show, a Hatfields-and-McCoys show, and angry history-inspired action-sex dramas set in a lot of different time periods. If an alien tried to understand human history based on our cable shows, they would probably think we have spent most of our time on top of this planet trying to hurt one another. We do not seem like a very cool species.

‘But wait!’ the Hobbesian strawfan interrupts. ‘That stuff really happened! People are vicious, and you can’t blame George RR Martin for what you see in the mirror.’ And while it’s true that humans have at one time or another demonstrated themselves capable of all the non-magic cruelty depicted on the show, it’s not what we usually do. It’s one thing to depict torture as a specific criticism of government policy, but it’s quite another to suggest that torture is some constant of human interaction. In reality, most people go their whole lives without torturing anyone. We are underrepresented on television.

There are lots of things that many humans actually do that never show up on Game of Thrones. Menstruation is a much more common way for people to bleed than getting stabbed a bunch of times, for example. I feel comfortable saying you’re more likely to murder someone on television than care for a child, which would leave the proverbial alien very confused about our persistence on this planet. Smiling is seriously underrepresented on GoT, as are jokes, games, songs, and horseplay that doesn’t end in bloodshed.

People forgive each other much more often than they take vengeance. You wouldn’t know it from television, where there’s a Newtonian calculus to each harm done. At the end of the last season of Game of Thrones, there’s a princess for whom the royal arranged marriage system worked out. Even though her parents are siblings, she’s happy with her nice new husband, far away from the creepy palace intrigue in a new country where the king is not so worried about fighting everyone all the time. But then, of course, she’s murdered, because someone killed someone else some other time. In the new season, the one relaxed king is also killed, and none of his subjects even cares because he wasn’t out starting wars so they didn’t like him anyway. As if peasants have traditionally hectored their royal leadership for more wars. It’s all kill and/or be killed.

Even if Game of Thrones wanted to depict humans as essentially evil — a popular position about humanity — does every other force in the universe have to be evil too? The dragons are mean, the frost zombies are mean, the witches are mean, the magic assassin guys are mean, everything is mean. Why can’t something in the world be predisposed to kindness or generosity? Why does consciousness have to equal cruelty? Where is Steve, the friendly talking badger?

As I’ve sneaked peeks at Game of Thrones, it has occurred to me that Martin could be playing a fantastic trick. If you were a hardline Christian, Game of Thrones would be a perfect depiction of what life was like before the arrival of Jesus Christ on earth. Everyone was bathed in sin (and only sin) at all times. Selfishness wasn’t just the way things were done, it was the only way people could possibly imagine acting toward one another. The idea of self-sacrifice had yet to occur to humanity. If someone came to Westeros to preach universal brotherhood, loving thy enemies, and turning the other cheek, it really would be a revelation.

What a beautiful condemnation of the whole show the arrival of Jesus would be. They finish crucifying the strange preacher, and suddenly the Old Gods pale in comparison. What good is all the magic in the world if it can’t make people treat each other well? Everlasting brotherhood in Christ sounds pretty great compared to the nasty, brutish, and short Game of Thrones lifestyle.

So call me when Jesus shows up, God knows they need him. And so do all of you sicko fans.

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Malcolm Harris

Malcolm Harris is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, and an editor at The New Inquiry. He recommends the adapted television series Rush Hour.

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  1. Should we go back to reading Walter Scott novels that romanticised and whitewashed the Middle Ages? Those were a big hit with Confederate landowners.

    1. I dunno about Game of Thrones but I love Walter Scott’s writing, I wouldn’t agree with you that he ‘romanticised and whitewashed’ the Middle Ages. His writing was more complex than that – he was undoubtedly susceptible to the prejudices of his time but he won worldwide fame precisely because he looked at peoples and historical epochs in ways that no-one had ever done before.

      I’m more inclined to the view that writers and artists generally these days delight in satirising and demythologising what they see as the pious rectitudes of the Middle Ages. I’m reading a book at the moment set in the 1400s that’s full of buggery and murder and monks and nuns getting up to funny business underneath one another’s habits. The idea seems to very much be to indicate to the reader, ‘hey, they weren’t so straight laced and goody two shoes and, well, downright Christian as we think they were!’ I suspect similar intentions on GRR Martin’s part but, yeah, as I said – dunno about GoT, haven’t read them (or seen them).

      But anyway. Walter Scott. He’s the shizznit. Get into him.

  2. But isn’t the point that all that shit actually did happen in the Middle Ages under Christendom? The Gospels or Christianity don’t argue that things magically became wonderful after Christ, they argue that people are and remain fundamentally corrupt.

  3. I’m showing my colours here as an extreme ‘Game of Thrones’ nerd, but there is a fan theory that the series will indeed introduce a Christ-like figure. The faith of R’hllor, the Lord of Light, is kind of a mix between Christianity and Zoroastrianism in that it arose far to the east, is evangelised by missionary priests and priestesses (some of whom possess the power of resurrection), and preaches a dualistic conflict between good and evil, light and darkness.

    Followers of this faith believe in a prophecy that a Christ-like Messiah figure called Azor Ahai will be reborn amid salt and smoke and wield a flaming sword called Lightbringer to defeat the cold forces of darkness. Various characters on the show have been proposed as candidates for this figure.

    1. Wow that’s really cool, will look it up! After the last episode, do we have a Christ figure already?

  4. I think the one thing that annoys me most about GoT is that while it’s supposedly a story that belongs to the “fantasy” genre, there is too much within the plotline that is derived from actual history, right down to how the lands are mapped.

    (I’m an ambivalent fan)

  5. If you take TV this seriously then your reality is maladjusted. I stopped watching stuff when my TV blew up in 05. Books are better.

  6. “Why can’t something in the world be predisposed to kindness or generosity?”

    You need look no further than Hodor and Meera who have dedicated themselves to protecting Bran and dragging him across the land north of the wall to Castle Black.

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