Michael Weingrad was one of millions who tuned in to watch the final episode of the television series Game of Thrones, which centers on a number of clans vying for the throne of a fantastical land of magic and dragons. Reflecting on what makes both the show and the books on which it is based so engaging, Weingrad arrives at some particularly Jewish thoughts:
At their most compelling, the books and the television series offer characters who see the world and themselves through commitments to family, clan, and nation, rather than our narrow, present-day lens of atomized individuals and their arbitrary desires. “Everything I did, I did for my house and my family,” says Jamie Lannister, an admission echoed at one time or another by most of the show’s characters. The evident fascination of so many readers and viewers with such thick social connections is worth noting. . . .
Unfortunately, the writers of the HBO series seem in the end to have been unable to sympathize with the possibility of a positive identity not reducible to a 21st-century self. . . . [T]he crown [is] finally awarded to Bran Stark, a character whose own sister points out that he is unable to have children. No problem, say the other characters, who suddenly forget that they are in a show precisely about the bloody consequences of uncertain succession and houses without issue.
[Instead], we are told that Bran will be king because he is the character with “the best story,” and “stories” are “what unite people.” We are reminded, moreover, that Bran possesses the gift of magical knowledge of the continent’s past, present, and perhaps even future. [However], Bran’s magical wisdom is isolated: he does not share it with anyone, and apparently will not bequeath it to anyone.
Real knowledge is what we receive from the generations before us, live out in our lives, and transmit to our children. The Passover we celebrated last month—a slave uprising accomplished without dragons—is the very embodiment of such a dynamic interaction among past, present, and future. So is the upcoming holiday of Shavuot that commemorates the giving of the law on Sinai. There is no religious observance I find more beautiful than the tikkun leyl Shavuot, the all-night study vigil that enacts the reception of that revelation in real time today. Whenever possible, I try to be in Jerusalem for the holiday, where the streets are thronged at 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning with thousands of Jews walking excitedly from class to class, lecture to lecture, discussion to discussion. That night, we are truly the chosen people, choosing our tradition, winning the crown of Torah. Binge-learning.