So there was a fair bit of excitement across the internet this week about the re-commencement of HBO’s immensely popular TV series Game of Thrones. I must admit I hadn't really heard too much about the show until about 6 months ago when it appeared in an article I read claiming that it was “the most popular TV series among men”! This sparked my interest because I was interested in what captivated men in today’s society. So I read a good number of reviews and articles about the show and even watched a few episodes to see what all the hype was about. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when my research uncovered that it was full of blood-thirsty battles, betrayal, powerful rulers and of course sex.
After I got over my initial sadness that we men are so easily enticed by the stereotypical blood and flesh, I came to understand what I am led to believe is one of the key themes of the story. Based on a series of books by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones is set in a mythical land in times gone by when numerous ruling families and their kingdoms are all struggling against one another for the right to rule on the throne that rules all thrones. Each family has their own strengths and weaknesses expressed mainly through their family motto; a governing principle by which they stand and fall. So through deceit, manipulation, allegiances and the military they each make a play for ultimate power. “Nothing new here” I hear you say, but from all accounts the plot is compelling, the twists are intriguing and viewers are emotionally drawn into the “game”.
But while each family lives by their motto, there is an overarching principle which governs the behaviour of virtually all the main players. It is expressed best by something that one of the characters says: “When you play the game of thrones you win… or you die!” It doesn't matter whether their means and motives are seemingly pure or obviously evil; everyone is sold out on a quest for power and glory. This thirst rears its head in their heartless disregard for life, their sinister schemes and manipulations and the way they treat women as objects of conquest. The main players will give everything, befriend anyone and compromise anything to sit on the iron throne. For them victory is the ultimate. They are happy to face the prospect of death because if they do not have the throne they might as well be dead.
I think part of the reason Game of Thrones is so compelling for us is because it plumbs the depth of human character and shows us glimpses of ourselves. Albeit in an extreme and concentrated version the “game” is a heck of a lot like the world we live in. We might not be all fighting each other for the one throne, but we all long to have our own personal seat of authority. We want to reign over our own lives and take the spoils of victory whatever that might look like to each of us. Money, sex and power are just the beginning, we all have something that if we fail to achieve or attain we feel as though we might as well be dead.
Two of Jesus’ disciples once showed what was really in their hearts when they asked for thrones of power and authority. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They showed that they were not following Jesus for who He was but because of what He was able to give them, namely power and glory. They showed themselves to be no better than a player in the game of thrones; sucking up to the one they thought was the surest bet for victory and trying to ride His coattails to glory.
Jesus’ response to them not only turned their world upside down but completely blows apart the governing principle of the game of thrones. He said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Jesus speaks here of His imminent suffering and death and asks the would-be rulers if they were prepared to take on shame, mockery and crucifixion. Jesus basically says that life is not a case of “you win or you die” but rather “in order to win you have to die”.
Jesus did not gain His seat on the throne that rules all thrones through military might, manipulation, treachery or deceit. Jesus was crowned King of kings because He laid down His life and paid the price for all of our manipulation, treachery and deceit; for all the times we ignored His rightful reign and made a play for the “thrones” of this world. And then He calls His disciples to do the same. To lay down their lives and denounce any claim to the throne… to cast aside our heartless pursuit of money, sex and power… and to display selfless love to the world rather than treachery.
So for all the fans out there who have been frantically downloading torrents to keep up with the latest installment, please remember something. The beauty of the “game” for followers of Jesus is that it has already been won. His banner flies high above the throne of thrones and He is the undisputed King. This world will tell you that if you don't win the game you might as well die… but Jesus claim is stunning in contrast: “The game of thrones was won BY the one who died!”