Blog Post

Should Catholics Watch Game of Thrones?

We have had numerous questions from our readers about whether or not Catholics should watch the HBO hit series, Game of Thrones.

The series is based upon A Song of Ice and Fire which are fantasy novels written by George R. R. Martin. The story has several plot lines with the main story centering around the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the various conflicts among the noble families who are either vying for the throne or fighting for independence from it. Another plot line involves the last descendants of the realm’s deposed ruling dynasty who are plotting a return, such as the princess Daenerys, who is growing up on another continent. A third story line follows a special military order called the Night’s Watch which is dedicated to protecting the Seven Kingdoms from ancient threats.

The show has attracted record viewership on HBO for its complex characters and story line, but it frequently degenerates into gratuitous sex, nudity and violence that has caused considerable controversy.

According to critic Ryan Kraeger, in his article entitled, “Would Jesus Watch Game of Thrones?” and appearing on, he chose not to watch the show because he – and many others like him – knew that it would contain the usual HBO “shock” material such as graphic sex and violence.

“We were not wrong. In the show’s [first] four seasons 133 characters died on screen in graphic, gruesome and violent ways. Four seasons, ten episodes a season, you do the math," Kraeger writes. "According to IMDB there has been a scene of sex or nudity in every single episode in the first season, and between seven and nine out of ten of the more recent seasons.”

Some of this violence, such as a particularly gruesome rape scene, was so bad that Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill stopped watching the show. She had good reason. In the scene, the bride named Sansa (played by Sophie Turner) is sexually assaulted on her wedding night by her new husband Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) while another character named Theon (Alfie Allen) is forced to watch.

McCaskill tweeted “ . . . Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable.” She was joined by others who claim the show trivializes violence against women.

Jonathan Doyle, writing for Being Catholic, an e-journal for Catholic educators, believes watching shows with this kind of violence impacts us whether we realize it or not.

“We are sensory beings. What we see and hear has an impact upon our spiritual nature. And no, it does not matter whether you think it does or not. It just does. For example, there is a reason we have art galleries and a reason we have the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Beauty is an essential aspect of what it means to be human because beauty is one of the three transcendentals that constitute what is taking place in the heart of the Godhead. Within the very essence of the Trinity exist Truth, Beauty and Goodness in their ultimate and full expression. So, in this life the degree to which we expose ourselves to truth, beauty and goodness will strongly impact our relationship with God and our ability to experience him in daily life.You contemplate beauty you get closer to God…you watch Game of Thrones you get the opposite,” he writes.

“Game of Thrones strikes out on all three transcendentals. It is not true, in the sense that its depictions of sexuality and human intimacy do not conform to the truth of human sexuality as an exclusive gift by which spouses make a mutual self-donative gift of love in harmony with the self-giving essence of the Trinity. Game of Thrones is not beautiful and it ain’t got the market cornered on goodness either!”

But the criticism of the show goes even deeper than just the blatant depravity too often depicted on the screen and its effects on our psyche.

Daniel Stewart, writing for the Word on Fire Blog,  cites another problem with Game of Thrones that needs to be addressed – the way religion in general is presented in this story.

“For Martin, religion, like everything else, is about power. Religion is either another political power, bludgeoning its enemies or religion is the bludgeon being used by those in power. Practitioners of religion, according to Martin, are either violent fundamentalists or disgusting hypocrites,” Stewart writes.

This is especially true in his treatment of the Faith of the Seven.

“This ‘Faith’ is clearly meant to mirror the Catholicism of the Middle Ages. Martin gives us a thinly veiled Trinity, priests called septons, nun-like septas, monks, and an ecclesial hierarchy. This faith, like Christianity, conquered and replaced a once dominant paganism. However, Martin has such a low view of medieval Catholicism that his parody removes the one positive trait that he apparently thought it held: scholarship.”

In the Middle Ages, scholarship was synonymous with religious life, Steward writes. Monks recorded and preserved libraries; priests were responsible for advances in astronomy, medicine, mathematics, and other sciences; universities weren’t just run by Catholics, they were Catholic and were filled with priests and religious serving as doctors, teachers, and philosophers.

In other words, during the Middle Ages, the Church was the pillar of all learning in Europe.

“But Martin takes all of this away from his medieval ‘Faith’ and hands the duties off to the Maesters, a secular order of celibate men, in order to ensure that faith can never be construed as anything but a tool for the power-hungry,” Stewart writes.

In addition to stripping the true extent of the Church’s scholarship, Martin also strips any sort of positive figure from this story.

“All of his ecclesial authorities are depraved hypocrites or drunk fools, except for one who genuinely believes in his faith but practices torture as fervently as his prayers. And no secular ruler seems to have possessed any genuine faith except for Baelor the Blessed who refused to consummate his marriage and starved himself to death in an act of religious devotion.”

I could go on and on, but I think you get the message. Game of Thrones might be entertaining, but so are a lot of television shows with questionable content.

As Sophia Feingold wrote in the National Catholic Register, the question is not “May I Watch Game of Thrones?” but, more importantly, “What good does it do me to watch Game of Thrones?”

I think the answer to that important question is rather obvious.