The soul-sucking garbage that is Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones character, Catelyn Stark, is just about to get her throat slit and have her body dumped into a river after watching her son, daughter-in-law and unborn grandchild get stabbed to death at her brother’s wedding.

I used to be a big Game of Thrones fan. I took a couple-years hiatus after the shocking brutality of season 3’s The Red Wedding but I eventually allowed myself to get sucked back in — and paid a price for it.

Fans of the show like making the case that the show’s fantasy arc, featuring the Night King, his White Walker generals and the army of the dead, are one giant metaphor for how death is the real enemy to be destroyed. That it’s not really about the politicking, the betrayals, the literal back-stabbings, the ‘game of thrones’ as the show’s namesake suggests. Jon Snow, one of the last remaining protagonists (until he’ll be killed off for being the only character with virtue), says as much in season 7 when he proclaims “…the Army of the Dead is real. The white walkers are real. The Night King is real. I’ve seen them. If they get past the Wall and we’re squabbling amongst ourselves… we’re finished.”

The show’s single redeeming message is the choice we make to willingly putting aside our differences, to forgive one another, of making allies out of enemies, aligning together to focus on a life-saving mission, of beating a common enemy that threatens us all.

Last week’s episode reverses all of this when the Night King is killed and the threat of the Dead is extinguished so suddenly. As if the fantasy arc never even existed, things return back to exactly the way it was before The Long Night: graphic violence, gratuitous brutality and carnage.

Those same fans are now changing their tune. Game of Thrones, they say, is actually a reflection of the human condition: that humans are predisposed to kill each other for power and that our violence knows no bounds, that what we can do to each other is worse than Death itself.

This, my friends, is a fallacy. By perverting their own message, the show writers unwittingly reveal this — that the show has no meaning at all.

It exists to portray a depressingly nihilistic approach to life like the show’s commonly repeated (and useless) mantra that “all men must die”. Millions of fans spend hours a week (me included) watching mundane YouTube commentators trying to derive some esoteric meaning from the show and identify easter eggs we missed that must hold deep, wisdom-filled revelations about life, love and power. But with a predilection towards Hollywood-esque surprise twists that do not add to character development or advance the plot line, the creators prove that the show lacks any meaning at all. They’re after shock value, not quality storytelling.

No, what’s unsettling is what our obsession with Game of Thrones reveals about us.

The show’s most vulnerable characters, the children, are routinely brutalized. Bran Stark is pitilessly pushed out of a window to be crippled the rest of his life; Talisa Stark’s unborn child is stabbed to death in the womb; Princess Shireen is burned at the stake as a child sacrifice while her parents look on; Sansa Stark is raped on her wedding night by a sadist and psychopath; Arya Stark is turned into a faceless assassin whose insatiable blood-lust compels her to massacre an entire House, baking the remains of her victims into a pie; Joffrey Baratheon, a child king, is heinously evil and makes viewers wish a terrible death upon him — sickly, we get out wish when he is poisoned at his wedding reception while his mother, Queen Cersei, watches in horror. We’re even forced to witness the suicide of the younger bother, child King Tommen Baratheon, when he leaps to his death in the season 6 finale. And lest we forget the incessant pornography.

Even the show’s mythical creatures, dragons and direwolves, that we loved because of their innocence and loyalty, are brutally murdered. We loved them because they offered respite from the scenes of depravity and yet the show writers love turning even these moment of fleeting happiness into moments of utter misery.

People used to watch television mostly because of the humor and comfort it offered by seeing real-life families deal with real-life things; think Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Family Matters. Every Sunday night for the last four weeks of Season 8, I’ve left my family’s house feeling anxious and dejected as if suffering from PTSD. The last couple weeks especially, I’ve even dreaded watching the show. I’m disturbed that a television show has the power to affect me so much. I’ll admit, I’m a total softie, but there’s something more at play— the show is impacting us on a deeper, spiritual level because of its level of mindless obscenity.

How is it that we can be such fascists about what we eat, being disciplined about the bad foods we put in our bodies but having no discipline about the bad content we put in our mind? If we adhere by the commonly held adage “you are what you eat” then what does what we watch say about the state of inner consciousness?

Here’s a novel idea: why don’t we start producing and consuming content that contain no rapes, no decapitations, no merciless savagery. I understand there is a simple supply issue here; television networks like HBO and fiction authors like George R.R. Martin have consistently peddled and pumped out banal content to positive reception because of the lack of any good, new storytelling out there. But by being viewers of the show, we are affirming to TV and the publishing industry’s top content creators that we enjoy incest and barbarity, that they provide entertainment value for us.

I regret the time I wasted on this show. Most of all, I wish I could un-see all the traumatic crap I subjected myself to. The show thankfully comes to an end soon. Even though I’ve explained my reasoning, my friends are perplexed why I’m walking away now, especially since it’s been almost ten years now since it’s debut. What’s the harm, they say, there’s only a couple of hours of showtime remaining.

Indeed, what’s the harm of ingesting a stinking, heaping pile of trash?

‘el·pis’: the ancient Coptic word (ἐλπίς ) for hope, the confident expectation of good to come. email me: nadatadros@gmail.com

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