Game of Thrones and Religion: A Reflection if Causes and Religion Dangerous to Modern Values?
What I like Game of Thrones is that its one of those few shows that can offer some insight into the social consciousness. Whether it’s what we hope for the future, what we despise about our past, or just intimate views into the complexity that is the human nature. One of the more unique aspects of this is how it presents religion and society.
When the series began six years ago, it was praised by many of its fans for its more practical view of the world. Yes, there had been dragons and there was a religious presence in the fictional world, but they were functional backdrops. Its role was similar to how The Godfather presented Catholicism in the mafia culture: important for its ritual and identity, but nothing more than that.
As the show continued though, this all gradually began to shift. With the return of dragons, the introduction of fanatical priestesses burning people at the stake, and even resurrections of the dead, religion and the supernatural began to take on a more prominent role. One example of this shift this past Sunday was when the recently resurrected, fan favorite (wasn’t sure if he was near death before though), the Hound, runs into a wandering religious cult called, the Brotherhood Without Banners.
After a darkly, humorous negation of the execution of some renegades who had disgraced them by murdering some settlers, they sit down to discuss the Hound’s potential role in the larger fate of Westeros. The brothers try to convince the former killer to join their ranks for a future war, to serve a cause that was much more than themselves. The Hound cynically replies,
“Half the horrible shit in this world gets done for something ‘larger than ourselves’.”
The irony of this statement is that the episode showed on the very day when a gunman killed over fifty people at a Gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Many have said the young man, Omar Mateen, became a radical Islamist terrorist, implying that the shooting was religiously motivated.
After executing some killers, the Hound 'discusses' his views on greater causes
What’s it All For?
Whether this is true or if Omar was just acting out of hatred for the Gay community, is still being debated. However, the timing of this parallel between a fantasy world where killings happen frequently from following crusades, and the real world where even in a modern and secularized age, such a mentality still exists. It’s a horrifying reminder that no matter how advance we become, there are still many in this world that for their values, will give their lives and take the lives of others who don’t fit in it.
The question this begs is that is it better to latch ourselves onto the ideals of a larger world, or if it is high time to leave “higher” revolutions in the past?
In a western environment, the answer maybe both yes, and somewhere in between. Game of Thrones was based on a real history where religion and higher ideologies were an essential part of both the community and individual identity. It’s most important role was being the glue that held that society together in times of crisis and a rallying cry to stand against threats. It appealed to a natural human need to feel like their lives were extension of a larger tapestry.
The modern age of the iphones, netflix, and more individual-centric frame of mind hold most of these roles in suspicion. We are trained sub-consciously to view these higher callings as potential threats that could try to control our lives: the past history of the social glue being no more than obedience under pain of shame or death. Calls to war that fifty years ago we would through our support behind are instead now greeted with calls of political bullshit, mishandling, and greed. The Hound spoke for our ambivalence when speaking of the horrors that crusades play in world events.
Just When We Thought We Were Out…
And yet, we still find ourselves coming together over them. It wouldn’t be a religion or crusade as we historically think of it. Our rallying cry now is to fight for a world where our lives are no longer threatened for our choices. It is to create a world where those tragedies of the past, rooted powerfully in their own beliefs of the time, do not repeat themselves. The threat being older world views that challenge our humanistic values with violence and prejudice.
Though this higher calling is only summoned up when needed, too often in times of crisis, it’s a calling nonetheless. Under the right set of circumstances, we will march to war with another nation, riot in our urban streets, and blow up the internet with digital fury and outrage.
And so we find ourselves, much like the Hound at the end of the yesterday’s Game of Thrones episode: suspicious of anymore calls to revolution, but becoming drawn into them somehow anyway.