Monday, June 24, 2013

Is Game of Thrones Jewish?

AS ONE OF THE 5.2 MILLION Americans who spurned “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” to make HBO’s “Game of Thrones” the most-watched show on cable in early June, I admit that I was transfixed by the bloodbath that took out many of the show’s most prominent figures. But as a Jew — and a soon-to-be rabbi — I had to ask myself: What does it say about me that I enjoy this sort of thing?

As someone who has been following the swordplay, the intrigue and the moral vagaries of Westeros (the fictional continent and battlefield in “Game of Thrones”) for three years now, I still found the penultimate episode of the season to be shocking, grisly and deeply disturbing, even by HBO standards. In a horrific scene that ABC News called “the most violent five minutes ever shown on television,” a pregnant woman was stabbed in the stomach, dozens of throats were slit and a beloved dog was slaughtered. The finale was somewhat more sedate in comparison, yet still managed to show the head of that dog stitched to the headless body of his former master.

There is something disquieting about the show’s enormous popularity — particularly if we consider it in the context of HBO’s other offerings. From “The Sopranos” to “The Wire” to “Game of Thrones,” HBO has made a name for itself largely by depicting the violent, morally ambiguous and, often enough, patently misogynistic aspects of human culture.