A Game of Thrones and a Terrible Love of War

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Okay I will be honest – I hate watching violence in movies and on TV – I always have. I find the images too powerful and invasive. So why have I become hooked on Game of Thrones? Well for one reason, I was curious about why it was taking such a powerful hold on the North American psyche, so I thought I would check it out. Secondly, I had wanted to find something my husband and I could enjoy doing together, as I don’t like watching sports either. Of course I was quickly turned off by all of the graphic, and to me, gratuitous violence. The reality is that I watch very little TV, but from time to time, I do enjoy snuggling up with him on the couch when we can both agree on what to watch.

Anyway, because of all the violence, Game of Thrones was abandoned, at my request, for a long time. In addition to the problem of the violence, I was disappointed that it wasn’t more historically based, because I love historically based movies, books, biographies etc. But eventually, my curiosity about our culture and what is happening in the collective psyche made me realize that something was afoot here. What was actually at the heart of its widespread popularity? I began to see that Game of Thrones was actually quite mythic in nature. But what was it that was so appealing to popular culture? Why this fascination with warfare, power struggles and bloodshed? Would we never get away from it? I might not like it, but I realized there was an archetypal power here to be reckoned with. So in an effort to understand this, I turned back to Hillman and The Terrible Love of War, which I have written about in a previous blog.


To be honest about that too – I found this one of Hillman’s most challenging books to grapple with. The first chapter, War is Normal, put me off as well….the endless listing of all the wars and deaths and slaughter that humans indulge in felt like a very depressing read. But I slogged through it slowly, trusting that Hillman would bring me through to the other side – and he did!

When I began to understand the archetypal force of the Mars energy and its power and necessity in our lives, I felt I could open up to watching the Game of Thrones in a new way. For most of our history, the Mars energy has been a dominant force in the power dynamics played out everywhere, between individuals, groups and nations. We have a long, blood-soaked history with occasional islands of beauty and culture, as in the Greek Egyptian and Minoan civilizations – although we probably idealize even those and overlook their cruel underpinnings.

But as we teeter on the edge of wiping ourselves out, either because of warring political forces or environmental overload or both, we have to ask ourselves about the meaning of war, and if there is another way. I think one of the reasons Game of Thrones is so compelling is that we see the truth of our human nature as we watch it…..our cruelties to one another in the name of power, our lust for control and dominance over others, our ruthless disregard for life, and above all, our ability to justify wars and antagonisms based on our self-righteous beliefs that we are right, and that our religions are the only one true way. These beliefs sugarcoat and disguise the deep-seated power drives. In other words, what we have seen in much of our warring history is the archetype of Mars running amok. However, as Hillman points out, Mars can be a force on the side of civilization, but it is a force that if not retrained, easily takes on a life of its own once unleashed.

With this insight into The Game of Thrones I am compelled to continue watching in horrified fascination. I still often have to close my eyes, or even walk out of the room until the horror passes, but then I am drawn back in. The elements that give me hope in The Game of Thrones have to do with the rise of the feminine (my words). I see hope and new potential in the female characters of the young girl, Arya Stark, the warrior woman, Brienne of Tarth, the Dragon Lady, Daenerys Targaryen, and the Celtic warrior woman, as well as in in the male characters of the dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, the handicapped boy, Bran Stark, Jon Snow, the bastard son, and Samwell Tarly. Even though they too all have Mars at play in their fight for survival, it is mitigated and restrained by compassion.

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This is what Hillman is referring to in the final chapter of his book, The Terrible Love of War – the need for Mars to be restrained by Venus or Aphrodite. As he points out, this does not mean that love is an antidote of war in that it can cancel out that archetypal energy. Rather when Mars and Venus come together in a creative union, there is a fierce struggle yes, but it is a struggle that seeks an outlet in aesthetic expression – a dynamic outburst and flowering of culture, such as was seen in the Greek and Egyptian civilizations.

Through the dynamic interplay of Mars and Venus in the making of art, including films, (like the Game of Thrones) we are allowed to reflect on ourselves in a new way, perhaps even to question what we are up to. Imagine if we could shift away from the old paradigm of The Games of Thrones power struggles and endless bloodshed, and move towards a new dispensation that honours both Mars and Venus – giving birth to a new way of being in this world, with a flowering of culture, creative expression and beauty. We might have a way to co-create a new civilization.


2 thoughts on “A Game of Thrones and a Terrible Love of War

  1. Hi Margaret,
    I share your ambivalence in watching movie/tv violence, but like you have watched a few series that can be violent because of some importance to psyche. My husband would be thrilled if I would agree to watch Game of Thrones with him. He has read the books and loves the story. Something for me to think about!

    “Rather when Mars and Venus come together in a creative union, there is a fierce struggle yes, but it is a struggle that seeks an outlet in aesthetic expression – a dynamic outburst and flowering of culture, such as was seen in the Greek and Egyptian civilizations. ”

    Yes, well said. The struggle, which happens throughout the animal kingdom, does not have to end in the literal death of the enemy.

  2. Thanks Debra,

    You might want to give Game of Thrones a shot (no pun intended)! I think it is interesting from the point of view that it has grabbed the collective imagination, and as such is reflective of the Spirit of the Times – to use a phrase from Jung’s Red Book. THank you for reading!

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