by John Ellis
Over the last few years, I’ve been disappointed by the number of Christians who believe that there is nothing wrong with watching Game of Thrones. Two years ago, I was astounded at the responses elicited by Kevin DeYoung’s article “I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones.” The article ran on The Gospel Coalition’s website, mind you, and not on a secular outlet. The vitriol poured out on DeYoung came largely from those who claim to be conservative evangelicals. TGC has since done away with comment sections on their website, so I can’t access the past comments to provide examples. What I remember, though, was a steady stream of accusations of things like legalism, conscience binding, prudery, and a general lack of understanding about art. In response, DeYoung doubled-down and wrote another article titled, “One More Time on ‘Game of Thrones.’”
With his second article, he took on some of the criticisms directed his way over his first GoT article. The responses to the second were generally no better than the responses to the first.
I’ve linked to both articles above (I encourage you to click over and read them), and I’m going to “borrow” liberally from DeYoung to make the brief case that Christians shouldn’t watch Game of Thrones before getting to why, after the show has ended its run, I feel compelled to wade into these waters.
DeYoung opened his first article with the line, “This will not be a long post. Because the issue doesn’t seem all that complicated.”
Apparently, though, for many, the issue is more complex than DeYoung realized. Or, rather, fans of the show appear unwilling to see the obvious point that he was making when he wrote:
But isn’t [GoT] full of sex? Like lots and lots of incredibly graphic sex? I did a Google search for “Game of Thrones sex” and found headlines (I avoided images and only read headlines) about sex scenes you can’t un-see and the best sex scenes of the series and why Game of Thrones is so committed to nudity and explicit (sometimes violent) sex. Unless I’m mistaken, the series hasn’t taken a turn toward modesty in recent months. It seems to me sensuality – of a very graphic nature – is a major part of the series.
He goes on to add:
I know some people will say it doesn’t bother their conscience or that it’s art or they can view sinful sex without participating in it themselves. But that doesn’t change what the Bible says about the importance of purity and the power of the eye. The fact is our consciences should be smitten; steamy sex scenes are not the kind of art for which we can give thanks; and it’s hard to imagine Paul would have been cool with the believers in Ephesus watching simulated sex for a fee each month, so long as they didn’t hook up in real life.
Good, succinct, Biblical, and uncomplicated points, in my estimation. However, as has already been noted, not everyone feels the same way about GoT as Kevin DeYoung and I do. I wonder, though, how those who took DeYoung to task in 2017 for his position that Christians shouldn’t watch Game of Thrones are responding to the statements GoT star Emilia Clarke made to Dax Shepherd while on his Armchair Expert podcast.
During the interview, Clarke admitted that going into filming she was unaware of the graphic nature of what she would be asked to do. Apparently, she arrived on set not realizing that she would be expected to strip nude in front of the cast and crew in order to act in a scene in which her character is violently raped; a scene she didn’t want to participate in, by the way. Only 23-years-old at the time, she said she went along with the nudity and graphic sex and rape scenes because she didn’t feel like she had a choice. Telling Dax that she had to drink vodka in order to get through the scenes, she confessed that she would lock herself in the bathroom and cry before filming her nude scenes. According to Clarke, her costar Jason Momoa struggled with the rape scenes because of her obvious discomfort. She told Dax, “[Momoa] was crying more than I was.” During later seasons, Clarke said that she pushed back on scenes that called for her to disrobe, but was told, “You don’t want to disappoint your Game of Throne fans.”
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: Emilia Clarke was exploited, abused, and, frankly, assaulted on the set for the enjoyment and entertainment of the Game of Throne fans. As a young, vulnerable woman attempting to break into a cutthroat industry, she was coerced (if not forced) to expose her body in ways she didn’t want and do things on camera that she didn’t want to do (imagine how people would respond if a manager of a bank told the female tellers to wear low cut tops so as not to disappoint the customers). This is eerily reminiscent of how Jennifer Lawrence admitted that she had to get drunk before filming her sex scenes with Chris Pratt while making Passengers. Lawrence also revealed to interviewers that she cried to her mother over the sex scenes.
Christian fans of Game of Thrones can attempt to excuse away watching nudity and graphic scenes of sexuality all they want. They can toss out words like “art” all they want. They can type “Christian liberty” all they want. But the reality still exists, as evidenced by Emilia Clarke’s admission, that the people involved in the film industry understand that what’s happening is actually happening. Being nude on screen is not a simulation. Acting out graphic sex scenes, even though penetration doesn’t happen, is still an immoral rejection of God’s parameters for sexual activity. Watching actresses and actors do those things is being a party to sin. To my great sadness, though, I understand, based on the past responses to Kevin DeYoung’s articles, that many simply refuse to recognize that Christians should not be watching shows like Game of Thrones that feature nudity and/or graphic sexuality. I wonder, though, how those who defend their “Christian liberty” feel knowing that they were party to the exploitation, abuse, and assault Emilia Clarke suffered.
Is that okay for them? Is their conscience still clear knowing that Clarke was crying in the bathroom before filming the scenes that they’ve defended watching? Do they believe that their “Christian liberty” extends to gawking at the nudity of a young lady who has confessed that she didn’t want to be naked in front of people and didn’t want to do those scenes but believed that she didn’t have a choice? When they stand before King Jesus one day, are they going to use the same arguments they directed at Kevin DeYoung to justify why they participated in the exploitation and degradation of a fellow Image Bearer?
As Kevin DeYoung noted in his initial article, this isn’t a complicated issue. My prayer is that Christians will listen to the words of Emilia Clarke and repent of watching Game of Thrones. I also pray that actresses and actors who have been exploited and abused will come to know the love of Jesus through faith, and will embrace the identity of the child of a King who is opposed to the degradation and abuse that others put them through for the sake of entertainment and dollars.