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On TV, How Dark Is Too Dark?


May 27 2014
Game of Thrones puts evil at its forefront.

If it's true that we crave stories where good triumphs over evil, then why are so many people watching Game of Thrones? In this sweeping fantasy with high production values and rich source material, that doesn't happen, and I hate to break it to you if you're behind in the books, but it looks like it never will.

In George R. R. Martin's fictional universe, bad things happen again and again. I'm not just talking about the explicit sex and violence that viewers should expect from a serial drama airing on HBO; bad things include heartless, gruesome storylines: an adopted son betraying the family that raised him, a brother selling his sister to a warlord in hope of gaining an army, an honorable man beheaded at the order of a spoiled child, and guests slaughtered at a wedding reception.

"[T]he true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves," the series' author, Martin, recently explained to The New York Times.

What Martin is describing sounds like a perspective of humanity rooted in an understanding of our sin nature. But I share a conviction with other Christians that where there is darkness, there must also be a source of redeeming light. That light doesn't seem to exist in the world of Game of Thrones.

Jonathan Ryan, in his commentary for Christianity Today, compared Martin's mythological fantasy world to that of J.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. However, he writes, "Martin's image focuses on the ruin, not the glory."

That is not to say that no character in the show shows virtue or seeks honor. But Ryan is correct in noting that even for characters who attempt to do the "right" thing, there is no reward, and it seems that "every good thing [is] corrupted at its heart."

Seeing justice — characters get what they deserve, good or bad— is a different (though no less fervent) craving than our longing for good to counterbalance, even redeem, evil. After all, as Christians we know that virtue cannot redeem us.

And the characters on Game of Thrones are certainly looking for redemption. For example (spoilers ahead!), Ned Stark, the lord of the North, lived by a code of honor that he also taught his sons. His honor didn't save him, and it led him to make bad decisions for his family. But it was an attempt to seek virtue and justify actions that included loyalty to a king who took the throne by force and marrying his daughter to a sociopath.

From: May 2014
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