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.