DISCLAIMER: This post does not contain spoilers for Game of Thrones or A Song of Ice and Fire.
We are now in the fifth year of what may be the biggest TV sensation ever. Game of Thrones has (viewer-wise) been going four seasons strong and shows no signs of slowing down. The fifth season will be taking some liberties with the source material, which is all well and fine by me so long as it generates a compelling story.
However, the one thing that is not likely to change is the history and mythology of the fictional world the show re-created from George R.R. Martin’s map and compass. While the show may proceed in a new direction going forward, it will not likely be looking to revision its past.
A couple years ago, near the end of Season 3, I wrote a spoiler-free post with some broad strokes extra information. I mentioned at the end that I had planned to do another one of these.
This time, I’m going to focus on just one thing with a lot more extensive detail: religion. I’m going to describe in better detail the nature of two of the religions that are prominent enough in the show but without having been central up to this point. They may or may not be important down the road.
THE FAITH OF THE SEVEN
Otherwise known as the New Gods, everyone has heard of them, but the show has only scratched the surface of what the religion entails. By far the most centralized religion in Westeros, the members of the Holy Trin Septet are:
The Father (Justice)
The Mother (Fertility & Compassion)
The Warrior (Strength)
The Maiden (Chastity)
The Smith (Labor)
The Crone (Wisdom)
The Stranger (Death)
An obvious hybrid of Roman Catholicism, Islam, and Freemasonry, the gods of the Faith represent their own pillars. But unlike the pillars of Islam, the rules of the Faith, while plenary, aren’t quite as specific, or as positive. They conceptualize “sin” the same basic way Christianity does (generally decreeing what not to do).
Its place of prayer is appropriately named the sept, and its papacy takes the form of the High Septon. With no attributed name beyond his title, the High Septon lives in and leads from the Great Sept of Baelor, the center place of worship for the Faith: a heptagonal monument with a large bell next to a plaza that looks like a hybrid between the Sistine Chapel and Topkapi Palace. It might be described as the real center of King’s Landing, and it overlooks the Red Keep.
Baelor I (the Beloved/the Blessed) was the ninth Targaryen King. You’ve no doubt heard of him, as the ninth episode of Season 1 bears his namesake, and his Great Sept is where a certain plot twist in that very episode occurred. I don’t know if he’s actually supposed to look like Jesus Christ, but he has a Pope Leo I kind of story, with Attila the Hun substituted for a dozen vipers. His predecessor Daeron I had finally conquered Dorne, which of course is famous for never bending the knee. Indeed Daeron’s conquest only lasted a summer, during which he lost fifty thousand men in a failed attempt to hold it. He was then killed by Dornish insurgents during an ambush at a peace rally. Baelor, assuming the crown, sought to make inroads with them, first by pardoning all of the Dornish hostages and then by journeying to Dorne unarmed to retrieve his cousin, Aemon the Dragonknight. It didn’t go well for either of them (hence the snakes), but they made it. When he returned, Baelor brought the Faith’s version of Canon Law to Kings Landing, with a heavy emphasis on charity and chastity, outlawing prostitution and erecting the Great Sept (which wouldn’t be finished until years after his death). He refused to have children, and his increasing habit of fasting with the desire to keep himself pure from desire (similar to the fourth pillar of Islam) eventually killed him.
The septons and septas (like Mordane, who tutored the Stark girls) function as its priests. The other order is that of the Silent Sisters, a group of women responsible for preparing the dead to be buried as commanded by The Stranger. They are sworn to chastity and silence and basically wear burkas. Their work is half funeral preparation and half mummification.
Finally, the Faith of the Seven used to have its own military, called the Faith Militant. You can guess what its purpose was, but it actually served as a check on the King for a while, as they existed before Aegon the Conqueror came to Westeros. Long before Baelor’s time, the Militant rebelled against King Aenys I (Aegon’s successor). Aenys was too weak to fight them, which necessitated his half-brother Maegor succeeding him. Maegor the Cruel, as he is called, waged a brutal war on the Faith Militant for pretty much his entire reign. Maegor paid well for the scalps of any members of the Militant and slaughtered thousands of them himself, but he never defeated them. His successor, Jaehaerys I, offered the remaining members amnesty in exchange for its disbandment.
THE DROWNED GOD
“What is dead may never die.”
If you’re wondering why the Greyjoys are crazy, you need look no further than their religion. The saltwater sea is their holy fortress, and He Who Dwells Beneath the Waves is an exceptionally cruel and outward force. Whereas Poseidon was the chaotic neutral “do whatever you want, just stay out of my ocean” type, the Drowned God supports and fully condones the raping, reaving, and impressment of others.
Funnily enough, this is the only major religion to have a devil. The Storm God is the Drowned God’s eternal enemy. He exists to cause chaos on the seas and thwart the good work of the ironborn. The ironborn nonetheless believe in him and are said to occasionally deal with him.
To be guaranteed a place in paradise (where the reward is mermaid slaves) a person must endure the drowning ritual, which is like a combination of baptism and waterboarding. It’s a holy act that the faithful needn’t fear, usually done to a baby shortly after birth. Its function is to commit the body to the sea so that they will find the Drowned God’s home once they actually die. The spiritual leaders are the Drowned Men, who are drowned and resuscitated not once, but twice. Their only real rule is that they must not shed the blood of the ironborn. That’s an easy rule to follow given that their method of execution is also by drowning.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment below, or send me an email, Tweet, or Facebook message. If the answer to that question contains a spoiler, rest assured that I’ll warn you first. 🙂