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Posts Tagged ‘Song of Ice and Fire’

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Here is the second in a series of posts on HBO’s fantasy/adventure series “Game of Thrones” (third, if you count the introductory post, which I don’t).  Anyone interested in reading the first post can access it here: https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/kingship-and-power-in-game-of-thrones-robert-baratheon/

Please note that there are some spoilers here.

This installment will focus on the contrast in leadership between Eddard “Ned” Stark (Sean Bean), the main character of Season 1, and Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), the young usurper of the High King’s throne.

In contrast to Robert Baratheon with his lazy egotism, Ned Stark shows us the qualities of a good king (even though he himself is only a lord).

Ned
In the show’s first episode, it falls to Ned to execute a criminal.  We can see that he does not enjoy this task, but he does it without wavering.

We might be forgiven for wondering, however, why he did not assign the task to an executioner.  Immediately after the execution, he explains to his young son, Bran, that a man must never pass any sentence unless he is willing to carry that sentence out himself.

joffrey-baratheon-1024Contrast him with Joffrey, who orders a minstrel’s tongue to be torn out after he sings a comedic song in which Joffrey’s mother, Queen Cersei, comes across badly.  Does Joffrey do the honors himself?  Nope.  He has his soldiers do it.

Ned's Execution

And then of course there is the scene in which he has Ned executed.  Joffrey gives the order, but the executioner does the honors.

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It’s possible to interpret these instances in terms of regal propriety, but I think any such delusions are dispelled when we see Joffrey with his new queen, 13-year-old Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner).  Sansa makes the mistake of offending him at one point, and he remarks that it would be improper for a king to strike his queen.

So he turns to the guard accompanying them, and the guard promptly strikes Sansa on Joffrey’s behalf.

Obviously, a lot more could be said about both Ned and Joffrey.  But I wanted to start with this detail because it is particularly important when it comes to authority.  What makes the difference between a good leader and a bad leader here is the willingness to assume the greatest burdens of responsibility oneself.

It is, no doubt, hard to give an order of execution, but it is even harder to be the executioner.  I think this is just one instance of how Ned, as a good leader, ensures that the worst burdens of government fall on him rather than on his subordinates.  Joffrey, meanwhile, dispenses sentences of capital punishment very lightly (which I think is another mark of bad kingship — I’ll revisit that in Part 2), but apparently has no courage to take the burden of delivery upon himself.*

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Ned’s model of kingship reflects the kingship of Christ, who went even further than carrying out the sentence due to mankind’s sins by actually submitting Himself to that sentence.  As the “Lamb of God,” He takes the sins of the world on Himself and becomes the living sacrifice, the offerer and the victim…the Priest of the human race.

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Joffrey’s brand of authority, on the other hand, more closely resembles Satan’s.  Like Joffrey, Satan uses others to execute his enemies — he uses the authorities in Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, and the Roman soldiers to kill Jesus.

“Rulers” such as Joffrey and Satan, for all their pomp and show of muscle, are cowards at heart.  The magnanimity of one like Ned Stark shows us what a true leader looks like.

*To be fair, I must restate that I have only seen the first season.

Images of “Christ Carrying the Cross” by El Greco and “Depiction of Satan” by Gustave Doré from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search.

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Game-of-Thrones

For those who have not seen this series or read the books, please be aware that there are some spoilers in this post.

Before I begin, the first thing I want to comment on with regard to royalty and its attendant power in “Game of Thrones” is the Iron Throne itself, the seat of the High King, for which the great houses of the Seven Kingdoms vie passionately and furiously.

The Iron Throne, as “Ice and Fire” aficionados well know, is made from the weapons of vanquished enemies.  This, of course, brings to mind the throne from which Jesus Christ reigns: the Cross.  The Cross was the weapon of the worldly powers that put Him to death and, moreover, is permanently symbolic of the weapon wielded by the ultimate enemy (Satan) — namely, death itself.

As King of the New Creation, Christ has transformed the cross from a symbol of fear and death into a symbol of hope, and death itself from the end of life into the beginning of new and eternal life.  How’s that for taking the weapon of a vanquished enemy and making a throne out of it?

Now that I’ve given my $0.02 on that, let’s take a look at how different individuals take on the role of kingly leadership in “Game of Thrones.”

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First, we have Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), who we meet at the beginning of the series.  Robert has reigned as High King over the Seven Kingdoms for fifteen years.  We get the impression that he was once a great and noble warrior, but has since grown fat, lazy, and lecherous.  We might say that he has become far too comfortable with the privileges and luxuries of kingship.

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It may surprise many people, but a Biblical parallel to Robert Baratheon is King David, the prototype of Israelite monarchs himself.  The Second Book of Samuel portrays David as growing lax amid the comfort and security of his kingship, having been granted the throne of Israel and protection from his enemies by God:

At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaign, David sent out Joab along with his officers and the army of Israel, and they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. David, however, remained in JerusalemOne evening David rose from his siesta and strolled about on the roof of the palace.

-2 Samuel 11:1-2 (italics mine)

David’s “stroll” is immediately followed by the beginning of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, which in turn leads to the murder of her husband, Uriah.  David let his guard down against sin, and he is chastised for his resultant actions almost immediately:

Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house…

-2 Samuel 12:10

The situation in which Robert Baratheon finds himself has some similarities to the consequences that follow David’s sin.

Joffrey

In his son, Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), we have a sort of Absalom-like figure whose spirit of treason and rebellion threatens to undermine his father’s authority.

Jaime-Cersei-jaime-lannister-23339624-1226-816Also, Robert misses an incestuous relationship going on more or less right under his nose.  His Queen, Cersei (Lena Headey) — formerly of House Lannister — is having an affair with her twin brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).  Broadly speaking, this bears some similarity to an incident that occurs between two of King David’s children (David’s son, Amnon, rapes his daughter, Tamar).

Whatever similarities and differences there are, I think we can say this: The smugness and laxity that characterize the reigns of both King Robert and King David lead to and reinforce a sort of powerlessness on their parts.  Ultimately, this powerlessness leads to ruin (although there is redemption in David’s case).

Though this particular “flavor” of bad leadership differs from the raw and driven lust for power and domination that one sees in a Hitler or a Stalin, both derive from the same thing: The ego.

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A sad and telling aspect of King Robert’s brand of egotism is his paranoia with regard to any perceived threat to the security of his throne, which comes across most clearly in his fanatical obsession with finding and killing Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke).  Daenerys, by the way, is the exiled daughter of the former High King, from whom Robert won the crown by conquest.  When his loyal friend, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), tries to talk sense to him, he writes him off as a traitor.

That’s the ego for you.  The ego would prefer to remain comfortably ensconced in its position of security, comfort, and/or power.  As such, it is hostile to any “outsiders” who might reach out to it, anyone or anything it perceives as a threat to its insulated existence.

For Robert, I think we can say that this insulated existence comes in the form of kingship.  And when this self-obsessed form of egotism is elevated to a high level of authority…well, let’s just say that in Robert’s case it is arguable that this becomes the catalyst for the upheaval that will soon overtake the Seven Kingdoms.

Stay tuned for reflections on more kingly figures from the world of Westeros.

Image of Paolo Veronese’s “Bathsheba at her Bath” from http://www.wikipedia.org.  Remaining images obtained through a Google image search.

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Game-of-ThronesI have been meaning for a while to begin a series of reflections on the popular HBO fantasy/drama “Game of Thrones.”  Some of you will remember me offering some passing thoughts in my Nov. 26 post, “Why ‘Into the Dance?'” (www.intothedance.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/why-into-the-dance/).  But there is a lot more to be said about the philosophical and, indeed, religious implications of this rather estimable saga.

George_R_R_Martin_2011_ShankboneFirst, some clarification: I am not presuming to suggest that George R.R. Martin, the author of the series of novels on which “Game of Thrones” is based, intends to use this story to make converts to Catholicism.  In an interview from a year or so ago, Martin described himself as a “very lapsed” Catholic.

But one thing I think one can see very consistently with artists, philosophers, and others who were raised Catholic is that even when they break away from the practice and beliefs of their faith, in a certain sense they remain Catholic in their imaginations.  The richly textured worldview of their native Catholicism in some way informs their work.  Perhaps this happens subconsciously in some cases, but it does happen.

“Game of Thrones” is not without its problems (what work of art is?).  But God is always soliciting man to draw near to Him, and man is always seeking Him…even if he often does so in the wrong way (that is to say, he often transfers his infinite desire for Got to the pursuit of finite goods).

As the great fourth-century theologian St. Augustine of Hippo famously said:

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.

I think that in “Game of Thrones,” as anywhere, one can see “Seeds of the Word,” which speak everywhere of both God and humankind.  My hope is to explore some of these “seeds” in this popular contemporary phenomenon as they suggest themselves to me, and hopefully to engage in discussion with someone about them.  As I have said before, disagreements are welcome, provided they are accompanied by civility.

Now, I must confess that I have thus far only seen the show’s first season.  So obviously, my perspective on the series is limited.  That said, I think this is a great opportunity to explore one of the terrains where faith and culture meet.  Whatever comes of it, I look forward to the adventure (call it the “dance,” if you like).

Top image obtained through a Google image search.  Picture of George R.R. Martin obtained from http://www.wikipedia.org.

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