The following is the second part of a six part series preparing for the start of the new season of Game of Thrones, starting April 12th. Last week, we reviewed where the key characters finished last season. This week, I will be looking at the religions in Westeros and what role they play in the world of Game of Thrones.
In regards to the television series, the religions the various characters practice in Game of Thrones merely served as a background up to this point. And unlike the books, where the knowledge of the religions comes directly from the characters whose minds are telling the story, the TV series does not give much in regards to the origins and practices of the individual religions. But the importance of the individual religions will be increasing for season five and be central to at least one (but probably more) of the important conflicts. I will start with the North and the first religion practiced in Westeros.
The Old Gods
The Old Gods were worshipped by the Children of the Forest (one of these appeared in the show for the first time in last season’s finale throwing fireballs at the skeletons jumping out of the ground to assist Bran and company…still cannot believe I am typing that). When the first men came over to Westeros on a land bridge, they fought for thousands of years with the Children. But after agreeing to a truce, the first men took to the old gods of the Children. Worshippers of the old gods pray and hold important ceremonies, such as weddings and taking vows (Jon Snow and Sam took their Night’s Watch vows before one), before weirwood trees with faces carved into them. The faces were either put there by the Children or by various worshippers representing the eyes with which the old guys use to see over everything.
The next invasion of men came in the form of the Andals, who came over as crusaders worshipping the seven. They believed their mission was to proclaim their faith to all and eliminate the practice of any other religion in the lands they conquered (or Westeros own version of Manifest Destiny). The Andals were able to claim and subdue all the kingdoms and lands in Westeros except the North. As a result of this, the North still worships the old gods while the rest of Westeros worships the seven.
The seven is a single deity represented by seven different faces. They are the father representing judgement, the mother representing mercy, the warrior representing strength in battle, the maiden representing innocence, the smith representing labor, the crone representing wisdom, and the stranger representing death and the unknown (awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/The_Seven). A worshipper will pray to whichever aspect meets their current need.
The Seven are led by the High Septon, whose resides in the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing (Joffrey’s wedding and Ned Stark’s beheading took place here). Various Septs (houses of worship for the seven) are scattered throughout Westeros and led by Septons and Septas (male and female rulers respectively) of the faith.
Many of the wedding and burial customs witnessed on the show originate from the worship of the seven.
The Drowned God
The Iron Islands worship the drowned god, a god of the sea who is in constant battle with the storm god. All iron men are baptized, having saltwater poured on their head by a priest, or drowned man, and say “What is dead may never die,” believing that even if one drowns or dies in battle, they will simply join the drowned god in the bottom of the sea and serve him for eternity. The baptizing ceremony was shown during the 2nd season when Theon Greyjoy returned to the Iron Islands and decided to join his father and betray Robb Stark and the North.
The priests of the drowned god, the drowned men, are drowned at least twice. But their second drowning is a full submersion into water until they lose consciousness. They are then resuscitated by another of the drowned men. But not all resuscitations are successful.
Of Note: The Andals invaded and conquered the Iron Island successfully, just like the rest of Westeros. But the Andals who took over chose to convert to the drowned god instead of continuing to practice the worship of the seven.
R’hllor (the Lord of Light)
The best way to describe “the Lord of Light” is that cryptic god Melisandre is all melodramatic about all the time, making sacrifices and starting fires over and such. Stannis’s allegiance to Melisandre has brought the Lord of Light into the world of Westeros in a way it had not appeared before.
While rare in Westeros, R’hllor has numerous followers and temples throughout Essos (the continent where all the free lands are). They believe the world is a struggle between two forces: Rhllor, the lord of fire and life and the Great Other (think of him as he who shall not be named for all the Harry Potter fans out there), the lord of ice and death. Melisandre explained this struggle to Stannis’s daughter, Shireen, during a scene in season 4. Worshippers of R’llor also believe that a savior, Azor Ahai, will come wielding Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and bring an end this mighty struggle. Melisandre believes Stannis is Azor Ahai, as depicted by a scene in season 2 when Stannis grabs a sword from a fire in a ceremony presided over by Melisandre.
Priests of R’hllor often look into a fire for guidance and will see visions they believe to be the future. Sacrifices of unbelievers or royal blood are common place as well. And while trial by combat is not exclusive to worshippers of R’hllor, they believe that victory or defeat in a trial by battle is determined by R’hllor’s justice. Such a battle was shown in season 3 when Beric Donadarion fought the Hound with a fiery sword.
Of Note: Thoros of Myr (member of the Brotherhood Without Banners who drinks a lot a brings the occasional person back to life) is a red priest. Also, the Lord of Light, up to this point, is the only god in the world of Game of Thrones whose followers have exhibited any supernatural powers (such as Beric’s being brought back to life by Thoros of Myr, Melisandre drinking poison and living, and Melisandre giving birth to a shadow that killed Renly Baratheon).
Other faiths old and new will appear in the show this season and will play a significant part. But I focused this on gods we’ve already seen during the show. I will discuss new faiths as they appear.
Next Week: Deciphering the Code: The released episode titles are out at what they mean for the upcoming season.
(This article was written by 4LN GoT expert, Jeff Merrick.)