Why You Need to Watch “Resurrection: Ertugrul”

When I came home for winter break just a little under a month ago, I saw my parents had started watching a new series, a Turkish historical drama called Resurrection: Ertugrul. My dad has been giving foreign shows and movies a chance lately and I think that is what he did with this one. I decided to sit down and watch it with them one night and I was immediately hooked.

The main focus of Resurrection: Ertugrul is on the 13th century bey Ertugrul Gazi, the son of Suleyman Shah and father of Osman I, who would go on to found the Ottoman dynasty. He is a bey of the nomadic Kayi tribe of Oghuz Turks and the show’s main protagonist. The plot of season 1 can be summarized as Ertugrul and his loyal Alps rescuing a handful of Seljuk prisoners from the Knights Templar while on a hunt, leading to various trials and tribulations both within the Kayi tribe and with the Templars who want to take control of the area. This is a very short summary that does not do the show justice. It is full of intrigue, family drama, battles, and treachery.

As far as the quality of the show goes, it is very high. The cinematography is solid, with good camera angles and transitions. The costumes of the show are very nice, especially those of the Kayi tribe women (which are very colorful and elaborate) and the main characters, although the Templar costumes are a little lacking at times. The main characters have a few costumes they cycle though, while secondary and minor characters usually only have one costume, though I think this creates a clear identity for each character. The battle scenes are well choreographed, albeit a little over the top at times. All scenes are shot on location or on set and very little CGI is used. In fact, the only CGI I know of are the blood and wounds in certain battles and faraway landscape shots. All this makes the show seem more “real” inasmuch as it seems like the characters are real people in a real environment doing real things.

Character development is done incredibly well, with each character having a distinct personality, shown through their mannerisms, speech, inclinations, morals, and even facial expressions. Suleyman Shah, for instance, is the wise and honorable ruler of his tribe, righteous and just, though he suffers from a physical ailment. Ertugrul, like his father, is morally upright and always seeking justice. He is very intelligent and skilled at combat but can often be too hasty in both his words and actions. His brother Gundogdu has a kind heart but is reserved, jealous, and easily swayed by others. Ertugrul’s Alps, Turgut, Bamsi, and Dogan, are the classic loyal warriors who are perfectly trustworthy, very strong, and have a brother-like relationship with one another. They are often a source of comedic relief. Selcan Hatun, one of my favorite characters, is extremely complex and undergoes a lot of change in seasons one and two. Mother Hayme is the strong matriarch of the family and is constantly by her husband’s side. Titus, the leader of the Templar Knights, is a cruel, crafty, and skillful fighter. After watching the show for a while, you really learn each character inside and out, which in turn makes each plot and piece of drama all the more intriguing, as you analyze who is doing what and how each character will act. My dad and I often find ourselves cheering on certain characters, deriding others, discussing the events of the show while we watch, making comments on who says what and what it means and what the other character might do. You get pulled into the plot and develop an attachment to certain characters and hatred towards others. This is exactly what a good TV show should do.

As for the drama, it is the kind that puts you on the edge of your seat. The show handles the plots and drama in a slow, meticulous, and gradual way. This may annoy the impatient viewer with a low attention span, but for anyone who cares about small details and enjoys seeing things play out in a methodical way, it is a beauty to behold. Dramatic irony is used extensively. As the viewer, you will often see both sides’ plans against each other, though the show does leave you in the dark at times for effect. The dramatic irony allows you to analyze each character’s actions and will inevitably cause you to start trying to talk to the TV to convince a character to make a better decision. Having watched Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I see a lot of parallels in the two shows, especially where dialogue is concerned. Dialogue carries this show, as characters are constantly in conversation with one another, and the conversations are usually very relevant to the plot or to character development. Some people may not appreciate the dialogue driven plot, but I do.

From left to right: Mother Hayme, Selcan Hatun, Aykiz Hatun, and Gocke Hatun

There is much more to Resurrection: Ertugrul than just quality production, though. After all, there are many shows with these elements. Having good dialogue is not unique, nor are good costumes or fight scenes. Other shows have drama, and there are other historical dramas out there that share some of the qualities that Resurrection: Ertugrul has. What makes this show special is actually its themes and the values it puts forth. More important than any of the cinematography, choreography, sets, and writing in the show is its strong Islamic and Turkish identity. What’s lacking in many shows today is not good writing or good costumes, but a foundation in faith, good messaging, and admirable values.

First and foremost, the Islamic faith permeates throughout the show and cannot be separated from it. The dialogue is full of ‘inshallahs’ and references to Allah and Islam. All good and upright characters call upon Allah and are people of integrity. Characters who walk in the ways of Islam always have the favor of Allah and far better fortune than those who do not. Even if it seems as if the enemy has the upper hand, they never win in the end, and justice is always served. Ibn Arabi, a real-life Islamic poet, plays a prominent role in the show, often going into little teaching monologues where he gives wisdom to other characters. There are even some miracles in the show, always upon the invocation of Allah by a righteous character. Prayer is frequent, and Islamic practices and traditions appear often in the episodes, whether it be a marriages, burials, prayers, or sayings. If you are a Christian, you are probably turned off by all this. “How could you, as a faithful Catholic, watch a show that so heavily promotes Islam!?” I would ask them how they watch shows that promote secularism, sin, modernism, hedonism, immorality, Liberal ideology, and other such things. Moreover, I would point to the Second Vatican Council, which says this:

3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, (5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

This is one of my favorite Ibn Arabi scenes

Watching Resurrection: Ertugrul has given me a much greater appreciation for our Muslim brothers and sisters, as I can see that they have a true love of God, that their faith teaches solid and agreeable values, and that it preserves traditions. It does not have the fullness of Truth like the Catholic Church, but it certainly contains some Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, certainly far more than our own decadent society. In this way, not only do I tolerate the show’s Islam, I think it enriches it and serves as a model for how Christians could be portrayed in media.

From left to right: Turgut, Ertugrul, Bamsi, and Dogan

Apart from its Islamic faith, Resurrection: Ertugrul displays a clear and grounded view of morality and right and wrong and seeks to advance those morals. Suleyman Shah, Ertugrul, Mother Hayme, Wild Demir, Turgut and Dogan and Bamsi, these characters serve as role models for the viewer. They are people to emulate and look up to. They are all faithful to Allah, just, honorable, honest, and virtuous people. Moreover, the show sticks to a set of values and morals in its production. There is no nudity; the most romantic affection displayed on screen is a kiss on the forehead. Rather than take away from the show, it actually makes romance feel even more special and intimate, transcending physical relations. Characters with a romance speak in flowery and poetic language to one another and share intimate bonding moments. Perhaps my favorite example is in season 2 between Dogan and his love interest. Gore and heavy blood are blurred out, which can be jarring for a modern viewer used to its shameless display in Western film. With that being said, the rare beheading is still gruesome, though it is always in the context of a truly evil character getting what they deserve. Cursing is not heavy or extreme, and when people do curse, it is often to show that they are a bad or imperfect character. For instance, the evil or deeply flawed characters will take the name of God in vain and use the most vulgar curses and language, while the upright and good characters will curse far less, with much lighter profanity when they do use it.

Another example of the show setting an example is that women and men have more traditional gender roles but are still shown as being fairly equal. The good men are shown as being strong, honest, brave, honorable, just, faithful, and loving to their wives and respectful to women. Bad men are shown as being weak or cowardly, greedy, dishonest, traitorous, disrespectful towards women, and cruel. Women are treated in much the same way, though they have some more feminine traits and conduct themselves accordingly. Contrary to what one may imagine, the women are shown as being very capable of combat when the need arises. In season two, Halime Sultan dispatches of at least a half dozen Mongols all on her own, and the women of the marquee defend the tent against a Mongol raid successfully. The women are also frequently shown as being very intelligent and capable leaders. Mother Hayme, for instance, always stands by her husband and is entrusted with leadership any time he is away or incapable of carrying out his duties. The female protagonists act in a brave and virtuous way, coming to the rescue of their men and giving them good counsel. With that being said, the dress of the times maintains a high level of modesty for both sexes, and the women still carry out their traditional roles by running the weaving business and keeping the tents in order. At no point is one sex made out to be better than another, stronger than another, or braver than another. They are shown as two distinct sexes, each with their own dignified and important roles in the tribe, and each perfectly capable of virtue.

There is a final aspect of Resurrection: Ertugrul I wish to speak about, that being how it portrays family and nation. In this show, family and people are everything. Obedience to one’s father and mother is paramount; loyalty to one’s kin is vital. Discord between family members is always shown as being a point of weakness and a failure. Unity and solidarity between family members is always shown as the ideal. Ertugrul is the most vivid example of this because he is always willing to die for his family and do what is right, even when they have wronged him or are going against him unjustly. Evil characters, on the other hand, have no regard for their family, and use their family only for personal gain. Similarly, loyalty to one’s tribe and heritage is a huge part of the whole show. Ertugrul does what he does not for himself, but for the whole Kayi tribe, in order that they might find a permanent dwelling place and that peace and justice might abound. Good characters are always looking out for their own tribe, advancing their interests, and treating them with care and respect. Moreover, characters take pride in the traditions of the tribe, and tradition is treated as something to be preserved and honored. Suleyman Shah constantly appeals to the traditions of the tribe when making decisions, and those who go against the traditions of the tribe are almost always bad characters, their rejection of tradition portrayed as a shameful and wrong thing. Characters are not merely atomistic individuals, but members of a larger group. Taking pride in that group, in one’s heritage, and in one’s tradition is portrayed positively and as the model of goodness.

Abdurrahman and Ertugrul

Contrast everything I have said about Resurrection: Ertugrul with a modern, Western TV show of your choice. It can be a sci-fi show, a historical drama, a modern drama, a sitcom, anything you like. Does modern Western television have the elements of Good and Evil? Does it portray faith and tradition in a positive light? Does it espouse or advance any set of morals or values? Does it portray characters who are supposed to act as role-models for the viewer? Does the show have nudity, crass sex talk, over-the-top vulgarity, or hedonism? Does the show dwell on higher, transcendent topics? Does the show have a clear ethnic, cultural, or religious identity?

My guess is the answer to many of these questions is either a ‘not really’ or outright no, except for the nudity and vulgarity, which is likely a resounding yes. I need not speak about Western media in too much detail. After all, it is what you are most exposed to. You know how it lacks heroes, how it is the opposite of virtuous, how it does not care about any identity or tradition, how it either ignores or attacks religion. You know these things. You may long for better television, better movies, and better media. You may understand that we have a problem, but are unsure how to solve it, or what the good kind of television would really look like. What would it look like if, instead of hating ourselves and our history, we viewed it with pride? What would it look like if we had characters who were good people, followers of God, and examples for us to follow? What would it look like if shows could have beautiful romance without nudity and obscenity? What would it look like to have a show that talks about the themes of justice, integrity, honor, love, bravery, loyalty, wisdom, family, and tradition? Well, as you may have picked up on by now, it would look a lot like Resurrection: Ertugrul.

My hope is that someday we will see modern, Western, Christian television that is very similar to Resurrection: Ertugrul. Shows where the Church is portrayed positively. Shows we can show our children, knowing that the characters they will see and emulate are good, virtuous characters. Shows where we feel a sense of pride and belonging. Shows where our traditions and past are not swept away. Shows where we learn lessons about morality. Shows where God is the center. Shows that accomplish all this while still being of high quality in their production.

If you want to see what a high quality, modern, illiberal television show looks like, look no further than Resurrection Ertugrul. I love it, and I think you will love it too.

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