In the beginning there was Saul. He was a pretty okay king who wanted to unite the 12 tribes of Israel into the kingdom of Judah. But then he went to the prophet Samuel, who spoke for their god, and Samuel said “lol you’re an okay king. Plz commit genocide. Thanks.”
Like his Biblical counterpart, Of Kings and Prophet’s Saul (played by Ray Winstone) is not particularly keen on committing genocide. But his fave concubine helps convince him to do it so he can be “Saul the Deliverer.” She then gives Saul a blowjob (the results of which you can see above!) which presumably helps seal the deal.
Welcome to the Bible in a Game of Thrones world. Biblical kings get laid, blood spills, bodies get dragged, and everyone speaks with a vaguely British accent.
Of Kings and Prophets is based on the Book of Samuel, which chronicles the fall of Saul and the path of David from shepherd to giant killer to king. Prophets starts halfway through the book with Saul already being kingly and Samuel being pissy and David being shepherd-y. They’re ripped straight out of the Bible and sexed up for your viewing pleasure; other minor Bible characters are expanded on and then sexed up, such as Saul’s concubine and potential betrayer Rizpah, and Saul’s betrothed daughter, Merav, who is carrying on with Saul’s trusted lieutenant in a graphic fashion.
The first episode follows the major break between Saul and Samuel, after Saul is commanded by Samuel (and presumably God) to commit the aforementioned genocide. According to the Bible, this is something that actually happened—just like Samuel really did demand the deaths of a whole kingdom of people (the Amalekites) and Saul really did feel conflicted by that command. And in both the Bible and the show, Saul ultimately obeyed, sparing only the Amalekite king, and Samuel really did get pissed off and left to search for another, more obedient king.
The Book of Samuel is already full of political machinations and forbidden loves and war. (It’s why Xena ripped it off for a whole series of episodes about Biblical giants—remember when she was BFFs with Goliath and had to save Isaac from an evil Ishmael as played by Karl Urban?—and why the very excellent Kings even existed a few years ago.) This shit, when executed well, is entertaining.
But Of Gods and Prophets is too obsessed with the gratuitous excess and rote world-building that would be more at home on MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles to trust its source material. The fun moments are never from the cool stuff in the Bible; instead, it’s in Ray Winstone’s ridiculous “O” face and that dead animal someone put on the head of David (Olly Rix) and called “hair.”
Of Kings and Prophets is also deeply, profoundly, confusing from a “what is the point of this” perspective. This is a sexed-and-violenced-up Bible story (though the Bible already has sex and violence in spades), presumably because it’s hoping people hungry for some more sexed and violenced up Game of Thrones will watch a show about that other book they might have read.
And that’s totally valid. I know plenty of people who won’t touch fantasy with a 10-foot pole, but have leapt with abandon into Game of Thrones binges because everyone else they know won’t shut up about it. But often those same people go to church on Sunday and passionately—fervently—believe in the text of the Bible. So they might, you know, take offense at their faith being treated as just another fantasy setting.
Which is something this show likes to do. A lot.
God’s an unseen but major character here, like Melisandre’s R’hllor in Game or Thrones, or Superman in Supergirl. Hisfingerprints are all over the DNA of the characters, guiding them on their paths to glory and ruin. That’s some heavy duty Calvinist predestination stuff (i.e., that’s the concept that free will is, like, a design of God). But treating God as a character doesn’t have to be as unnerving as Of Kings and Prophets makes it. Plenty of shows handle religion like fantasy, but they soften it by pulling from more than one piece of source material to keep things more general.
Of Kings and Prophets doesn’t have that luxury. All their mythical lore is pulled directly from a “greatest hits of Israel” compilation assembled over a few centuries and revered as the literal word of a deity by a whole mess of folks. So when Saul fervently says that having God on his side will help him win a war, I’m not seeing a fascinating fantasy character subject to the machinations of a mystical prophet and his unseen (and perhaps non-existent) god—I’m seeing those dudes that get Bible quotes inscribed on their AR-15s.
Of Gods and Prophets wants to be another Game of Thrones, full of network-approved levels of sex and violence, but it also wants to appeal to Bible fanboys and fangirls—people who take their favorite literature a little more seriously than the Game of Thrones reddit. In its inaugural episode, it doesn’t do either of these things particular well... although at least its not as bad as David’s hair (pretty sure he and Trump are long-lost hair twins).
- David is a shitty, shitty shepherd. The show starts with him being asleep while a lion slaughters his entire flock. Like, David. You have one job. You keep the sheep alive. That is ALL you have to do in life. Sheep live and your father can afford taxes and all the neighbors in your little town of Bethlehem will not be flogged into oblivion. We’re supposed to believe you’d be a great future King of Judah when you can’t even stay awake for your entire watch over the flock?
- Olly Rix and Ray Winstone are notably the only two white guys in the primary cast. They’re also playing the only characters who will be the rulers of all of Judah. Most of the people of color seem relegated to the role of extra.
- This was the first time I realized that the story of David is the story of Arthur is the story of Luke Skywalker. Pro-tip for dudes looking to save the world: Go into agriculture.