In the finale of season six, the popular HBO series Game of Thrones added a touch of Biblical spice to its usual fare of blood and intrigue when the second part of a three-part prophecy tragically came true. The outcome of the series may now depend on whether or not the writers adhere to the Biblical concept of prophecy.
For those who are unfamiliar with the series, Game of Thrones is a fantasy television show, based on George R. R. Martin’s book series “A Song of Fire and Ice”, which depicts powerful families vying for control of the fictional land of Westeros. It is the most popular series in HBO’s history with more than 18 million viewers. The show is infamous for its violence and sexuality, making it difficult for religious viewers to watch. Nonetheless, few Bible readers could fail to discern the Biblical themes in Game of Thrones.
The finale last week delved into prophecy, a realm of Biblical narrative rarely dealt with in pop culture. In season five, a flashback showed a young Cersei Lannister, the future queen of Westeros, receiving a prophecy from a fortune teller. Three events were prophesied: Cersei would marry the king; she would see all of her children die; and she would be killed by her own brother.
Game of Thrones shows the first two prophecies fulfilled. Cersei marries the king. Her firstborn son is killed by poison, rendering her inconsolable. Several seasons later, she mourns the death of her daughter, also poisoned, leaving her one remaining son.
But the acid test for Game of Thrones’s concept of prophecy and fate comes when Cersei’s last child commits suicide in the finale. Upon seeing his body, Cersei orders it burned and his ashes spread over the remains of the Sept, a place of worship. She is tearless and unemotional, seemingly unaffected by the death of her son.
Fans of the series explain her equanimity as a sign that she has finally come to terms with the inevitability of the prophecy she received. The prophecy is irrevocable and nothing she does will change the future outcome.
Rabbi Natan Greenberg, head of Bat Ayin Yeshiva, explained that the Jewish concept of prophecy is very different.
“Prophecy doesn’t work that way,” he said. “The sages taught that a good prophecy will happen, but a difficult prophecy is dependant on repentance.”
“Prophecy is like a person who goes to a doctor. The doctor gives a diagnosis, but then says, ‘if you change, lose weight, stop smoking, eat right, the diagnosis will change’,” Rabbi Trugman said. “If you stay on the same bad track, then bad things will certainly happen.”
Aside from prophecy, there is a strong connection between the series and Biblical themes both in specific character arcs and larger thematic elements. Following the finale, an article in Tablet Magazine compellingly compared a Game of Thrones character to King David, pointing out the parallels between the Biblical King and the character of Jon Snow, a bastard son declared “King of the North” in the finale.
Both come from ambiguous and mysterious birth, making them unlikely kings; both have to prove themselves on the battlefield; both are plagued by forbidden love; and both have half-siblings who are natural heirs to their thrones but who choose to step aside.
The similarities are so prevalent that Playbuzz, a digital publishing platform, featured a quiz, challenging people to identify whether a certain shocking storyline originated in the Bible or in Game of Thrones.
Breaking Israel News asked Rabbi Greenberg about the role of secular stories in religion. Rabbi Greenberg is a follower of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, an 18th century Hasidic master who used secular parables and stories as part of his teachings.
“Rabbi Nachman taught that every story, even children’s stories, can reflect the truth, bringing deep spiritual principles. It’s certainly relevant to look for a hidden truth in Game of Thrones,” he asserted.
“Japheth, from yofi (beauty), was blessed but was told he should retain his connection with Shem, who is the name, or the name of God.” Rabbi Trugman explained, “Beauty has a truth, but it loses its significance if it comes at the expense of the spiritual.”
Overarching Biblical themes of good and evil are clearly a major element for the author of the series. Martin, when asked about this in an interview with New Republic, indicated that Game of Thrones is an attempt to question the entire dichotomy, delving into an almost theological debate.
“What constitutes good and what constitutes evil?” Martin said. “What happens if our good intentions produce evil? Does the end justify the means?”
Fans may ponder these spiritual questions while waiting for the next season to begin.