Spoiler alert, obviously, but seriously it’s been like an eternity since the last season.
On April 14, the eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” will premiere on HBO. Since 2011, the fantasy epic has been serving devout fans an addictive combo of intricate mythology and real-world historical inspiration, shocking political intrigue, astonishing costumes, beautiful Icelandic, Irish, Spanish and Croatian locations, staggering CGI and deeply loved (and hated!) characters. To me, personally, the end of the series will be an emotional time, and I’ll probably have to sit shiva to get over it. What will I do without this show? Where will I find the perfect GIFs and story parallels to explain Jewish holidays like Purim and Yom Kippur in the future? In honor of the beginning of the end, let’s say a little Shehecheyanu for the premiere and dive into my list of eight Jewish things I love about “Game of Thrones.”
Quotes From Israeli Leaders
If you are a student of Westerosi and Israeli history, you might have noticed that some of the dialogue from the smartest, savviest characters on the show sounds a bit…familiar.
“If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies,” said Moshe Dayan, rephrased as, “We make peace with our enemies, not our friends,” by Tyrion Lannister.
“We’re a small nation, but strong,” Dayan said. “We are not a large house, but we’re a proud one,” echoed Lyanna Mormont.
“It doesn’t matter what the world says about Israel; it doesn’t matter what they say about us anywhere else,” said David Ben-Gurion. “People will whisper…let them. They’re all so small I can’t even see them. I only see what matters,” Cersei Lannister agreed.
“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not.” Remind me, was Tyrion saying this about Jon Snow, or was he talking to us Jews?
“To be or not to be is not a question of compromise. Either you be, or you don’t be. You are a dragon. Be a dragon!” Oopsie whoopsies! Now I’ve combined Golda Meir and Olenna Tyrell into the ultimate shrewd and badass lady.
The Creators of the Show Are Jewish! And So Is George R. R. Martin! (Well, a Bit.)
The Emmy-winning creators of the show, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, are both Jews. They’ve written the vast majority of the show’s episodes, garnering numerous awards—including Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series and Outstanding Drama Series. They’ve really brought us nerd Jews such nachas! George R. R. Martin, author of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the book series upon which the show is based, discovered he is a quarter Jewish earlier this year on the PBS celebrity genealogical show “Finding Your Roots.” But, come on—didn’t we all kind of guess he was? I’ve been calling him “Reb George” for many years, and now I feel vindicated.
Characters That Parallel Biblical Figures
The best thing about the series to me has always been the characters, and some bear a striking resemblance to Jewish figures in the Tanach. For example, just look at Daenerys Targaryen (The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons). Daenerys is pretty much Moses. Like Moses, as a baby she was separated from her people. Like Moses, she spends most of the story wandering in the desert, chilling in pyramids and freeing slaves.
She may not exactly split the Narrow Sea, but she does convince the Dothraki to cross it on ships when their ideology is firmly against any body of water their horses can’t drink, and that’s good enough for me. And, just like Moses, damn are her enemies sorry they crossed her!
Missandei is Aaron, helping Daenerys get her message across, and Jorah is Miriam (right down to the leprosy-like affliction).
Daenerys’s older brother is even more of a direct correlation to a figure from the Tanach: The Crown Prince, Rhaegar Targaryen, is remarkably similar to King David. Both King David and Rhaegar Targaryen played the harp, wrote music and had irresponsible sexual relationships that threatened the monarchy. One day, King David spotted Batsheva, a married woman. He slept with her, then sent her husband, Uriah, to die on the battlefield so he could marry her. Batsheva became the mother of the best Jewish king, King Solomon, but only after her first child by David died as punishment from God for David’s actions. Years later, the kingdom was plunged into civil war.
One day, Rhaegar Targaryen spotted Lyanna Stark, who was engaged to Lord Robert Baratheon, at a tournament at Harrenhal. Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia of Dorne annulled, and married Lyanna. Rhaegar was killed by Robert, leading to the downfall of the Targaryen dynasty, and Lyanna died in childbirth giving birth to the best Westerosi king, Jon Snow, after Rhaegar’s children by Elia were killed on the order of Tywin Lannister. Westeros was plunged into civil war.
There are many other parallel characters—Littlefinger is clearly the snake from the Garden of Eden, obviously.
I’d also argue, for those interested in a truly deep cut of Jewish history a tad more recent than biblical times, that Stannis Baratheon is 17th-century false messiah Shabbetai Tzvi, and Melisandre is Abraham Yachini. Discuss.
Some Real Jewish Values
In the Torah, the mitzvah (commandment) mentioned most often is “welcoming the stranger.” Now, I’m not referring to “The Stranger,” one of the seven “new” gods worshipped in Westeros, but rather refugees and those in need of help. Jon Snow does this mitzvah as lord commander of the Night’s Watch, tasked with guarding the 700-foot-high wall of ice that protects Westeros’s northern border. Knowing that the Wildlings who live on the “wrong” side of the wall will be killed and reanimated as an undead army by the supernatural White Walkers if he doesn’t help them, Jon ignores the historical precedent of previous lord commanders to do what he knows is right. He lets the Wildlings past the wall and settles them in the North. Jon then gets (briefly) murdered by the Night’s Watch for this “betrayal.” What an act of mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice)! You simply can’t find more of a mensch on this show than Jon.
Gematria is a Jewish numerological system in which numbers correspond to Hebrew letters. It has been used as a tool for interpreting and gaining insight into the Tanach throughout Jewish history. It’s also super fun to apply this wisdom to significant numbers in “Game of Thrones.” Let’s take the number 14, as in, “The season premiere will air on April 14!” The number 14 can mean “strong hand” (in control of the TV remote). Or the number seven, as in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros: The number seven corresponds to the letter zayin in Hebrew, which represents a crown—very fitting for this show. Then there’s three, like the number of Daenerys’s dragon children and the three-headed dragon sigil of House Targaryen. The third letter in Hebrew is gimel, which represents justice, which is definitely something Westeros is in short supply of that hopefully Daenerys and Jon will bring to this party. One is the aleph, the first letter. In Judaism, aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew word emet, or truth, as in the truth is that I don’t know what is going to happen this season and I’m freaking out! Oy vey!
Sigils That Are Just Like the Flags of the Tribes of Israel
All the major houses in Westeros have their own sigils. House Stark is a direwolf, Baratheon a stag, Lannister a lion. The tribes of Israel also have their own sigils: The tribe of Benjamin is a wolf, Naphtali a deer and Judah a lion, no less. However, none of the sigils of the tribes are as hideous as the flayed man of House Bolton.
The “Great War” Between the Yetzer Hara and Yetzer Tov
In Judaism, each one of us has within us a voice that urges us to do good, known as the yetzer tov, and a corresponding voice, the yetzer hara, that pulls us to make selfish, bad choices.
The best characters on “Game of Thrones” are constantly struggling to overcome the yetzer hara. Who knew, when we all saw incestuous twin Jaime Lannister push young Bran Stark out a window way back in Episode 1, that he would grow to become a nuanced and even, I’ll say it, good guy?
Theon Greyjoy had a more, ahem, challenging journey away from the egotistical, weak mindset that led him to murder children so as to save face with his people. And if you can find a more complex, gruff, violent and beloved example of the struggle between the yetzer hara and the yetzer tov than Sandor Clegane, The Hound, I’ll buy you a chicken.
That Time Jaime and Brienne Went to the Mikveh
Yes, yes, I know. It wasn’t really a mikveh—there was no source of “living” water in that Harrenhal tub and you’re supposed to wash the dirt off before you immerse. But, narratively speaking, Jaime did undergo quite an emotional change during that bath. Brienne was the shomeret (guardian). Don’t @ me.
And baruch Hashem—we still have one more season to go before our watch has truly ended.