dominant theme throughout Game of Thrones
and its book counterpart, A Song of Ice
and Fire, written by George R. R. Martin, is the role of religion in politics. To understand how religion affects politics
in Game of Thrones, one must first be
aware of the different religious systems that exist in Westeros and Essos. Martin has stated that he based all of the
religious denominations in A Song of Ice and Fire off of real religions, due to
the difficulty of creating new religions.
The main religion in Game of Thrones is The Faith of the Seven, which is based off of
the medieval Catholic Church. The Seven
is one god with seven different aspects:
Father, Mother, Maiden, Crone, Smith, Warrior, and Stranger; therefore,
it is monotheistic. Each aspect represents
a different element. This religion is
headed by the High Septon, and supported by clergymen and clergywomen known as
Septons and Septas (“Faith of the…”).
The Faith of the Seven, also known as The Faith, has
a minimal role in Game of Thrones until season five, due to Tywin Lannister’s
presence in King’s Landing. After his
death in Season 4, Episode 10, the Sparrows (a movement that arose from The Faith)
appear regularly in King’s Landing. In
Season 5, Episode 1, Kevan Lannister tells Cersei Lannister that his son Lancel
Lannister has joined the Sparrows. In Season
5, Episode 3, the Sparrows break into Baelish’s brothel and find that the High
Septon is a regular customer who engages in lewd acts, and they force him to
walk naked in the streets. Cersei has
the High Septon arrested, and goes to visit the High Sparrow, who turns out to
be a very humble man who helps the poor.
Cersei tells him that she wants to unite the Crown and the Faith so that
King Tommen can reign peacefully. Loras Tyrell is arrested for his homosexual
relationships, and in Season 5, Episode 6, Margaery Tyrell falsely testifies
that Loras did not have homosexual relations; Olyvar, Loras’s lover, states
that she has seen them in bed together, and Margaery is arrested. This situation reveals how Cersei used the
faith to her advantage to get what she wanted, but it backfires on her when
Lancel, one of the Sparrows, reveals his sexual relationship with Cersei to the
High Sparrow. Cersei was trying to use
the Faith for her own political motives (to get rid of Margaery), but she is
forced to do a Walk of Atonement in Season 5, Episode 10, which creates her
strong hatred for the Faith, and pushes her to commit a serious act of
destruction. In Season 6, Episdoe 10,
Cersei does not show up to the Sept of Baelor for her trail, and prevents
Tommen from going as well. Margaery,
along with many others, is present at the Sept and realizes that something is
wrong and tries to get everyone to evacuate, but the High Sparrow does not
allow it. It is revealed that Cersei
placed wildfire in the basement of the Sept, and it explodes, killing everyone
inside. Tommen watches the Sept explode
from the Red Keep, and commits suicide because of Margaery’s death. Cersei is then named queen. This sequence of events demonstrates how
Cersei used the Faith to further her political agenda by killing everyone who
was preventing her from sitting on the Iron Throne.
The Old Gods is the religious system that individuals
who live in the North and who live beyond the Wall practice. This religion is polytheistic and worships
the streams, forests, and stones, and originated from the Children of the
Forest, who honored Weirwood trees. This
system is based off of Pagan and Celtic systems. This was originally the main religion of
Westeros, but was replaced by the Faith of the Seven (Old Gods of…).
The role the Children of the Forest play in the
politics of Game of Thrones spans multiple seasons; in Season 4, Episode 10,
Leaf, one of the Children of the Forest, saves Bran from a group of the undead
so that he can begin to train with the Three-Eyed Raven. In Season 7, Episode 7, Bran has a vision and
learns that Jon’s parents are actually Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark,
which makes him the true heir to the Iron Throne. If Leaf hadn’t have saved Bran, this
information would never have been revealed.
Jon is not aware of this information yet, and this will likely make a
difficult political situation for him, as his queen, Daenerys Targaryen, has
already laid claim to the Iron Throne.
The Drowned God is a monolatristic religion practiced
by the inhabitants of the Iron Islands.
The origin story of this religion states that the Storm God submerged
the Drowned God in the ocean, and it now lives in the sea. People who live in the Iron Islands believe
that dying in the ocean is the natural way, and do not fear this type of
death. The Drowned God is loosely based
on Norse Mythology, as it supports piracy, which was a common act of the
Vikings (“Drowned God”).
Followers of the Drowned God justify their actions,
such as piracy, raiding, and raping, by saying that it is a part of their
belief system. Cersei creates an allegiance
with Euron Greyjoy in order to gain access to his fleet; he wants to marry her
so he has a chance of sitting on the Iron Throne, but she declines. In Seaon 7, Episode 2, Euron attacks Yara’s
fleet ands takes her prisoner. He kills
many of the men in her fleet, and justifies this action because, according to
the Drowned God, a death at sea is honorable.
The Lord of Light, also known as R’hllor, is a god
that has a very small following, with Melisandre the most prominent follower;
this system is monotheistic. The Lord of
Light appears to followers in flames, and is said to be the combination of a
god of love and light and a god of darkness and evil. Martin has stated that this religion is somewhat
based off of Zoroastrianism (“R’hllor”).
Melisandre, a priestess of the Lord of Light, gains
the trust of Stannis Baratheon and advises him during his fight for the Iron
Throne. Melisandre uses her visions that
she sees in flames to further Stannis’s political agenda, and claims that he is
the Prince That Was Promised. Melisandre
promises to give Stannis a son, and in Season 2, Episode 4, she gives birth to
a shadowy figure that kills Renly Baratheon.
In Season 3, Episode 8, Melisandre places three leeches on Gendry due to
his king’s blood, and Stannis burns each of the leeches while speaking the
names of usurpers to his throne: Robb
Stark, Balon Greyjoy, and Joffrey Baratheon.
All three of these individuals eventually die, which strengthens
Stannis’s belief in the Lord of the Light, as its powers have furthered his
political agenda and have gotten him closer to the Iron Throne.
The assassins in the city of Braavos worship the
Many-Faced God. They believe that the
slaves of Valyria prayed for death, and the god has many faces displayed in the
House of Black and White. There is a
fountain filled with poisonous water in the House of Black and White, and those
who are deemed “worthy” to die may drink out of it. The Many-Faced God is a culmination of the
death gods of four religions listed above, and includes the Stranger from the
Faith of the Seven, a Weirwood tree for the Old Gods, a figure made of
driftwood for the Drowned God, and the heart of the Lord of Light; therefore,
this is a monotheistic system (“Many-Faced God”).
While the political intention of the Many-Faced God
may not be blatantly apparent, it is clear that the Many-Faced God helped to
support and shape Arya Stark as a person throughout Game of Thrones. When Arya
saved Jaqen H’ghar and two other prisoners, Jaqen told her that he owed the
Many-Faced God three lives, and that Arya gets to choose who dies. One of the lives she has Jaqen take is Ser
Amory Lorch, who becomes suspicious of who she is when he finds her looking
through Lannister documents. She has
Jaqen kill him before he is able to tell Tywin of his suspicions, and Tywin
continues to not know that she is actually Arya Stark. If Tywin had been able to find out her true
identity, it could have affected how the storyline played out.
The Role of Religion in Politics – America
America is unique in the sense that
religion is a strong factor in politics.
According to a Gallup Poll, sixty-five percent of Americans say that
religion is an important factor in their daily lives. This is abnormally high for a developed
country, as religiosity tends to be highest among poorer countries. For example, ninety-nine percent of people in
Bangladesh, Niger, and Yemen state that religion is an important factor in
their daily lives; more developed countries have much lower percentages, such
as France (twenty percent), Japan (twenty-four percent), and the United Kingdom
(twenty-seven percent) (Crabtree). America
is considered to be “rougher” than European countries, due to health problems,
lower life expectancy, and higher crime rates, which provides religion a chance
to be a support system for many Americans.
Due to the relatedness of church and state in America, politicians
almost always ask God to bless America and its citizens and meet with prominent
religious leaders (Barber). Every U.S.
President, with the exception of Lincoln and Jefferson, have identified as
Christian (Masci). Jefferson was a
rarity in post-revolutionary America: he
strongly advocated for the separation of church and state, and likely would not
be elected in modern times with that attitude.
This fate has plagued many presidential hopefuls; Mitt Romney was a
Mormon, which many Americans consider to be an “outsider” religion, and it
caused him to lose the 2012 election. In
addition, John Kerry lost the 2004 election due to his inability to convey
faith to the American people (Butters). America
is a country of immigrants, who tend to have stronger religious tendencies than
American citizens. Democrats are often
forced to publicly promote their religious affiliations, as a majority of their
constituents include poor immigrants who believe religion is extremely
important. Many of these poor
individuals end up voting for Republicans, who more prominently display the
importance of religion, and in doing so, worsen their condition because the
Republicans place more wealth in the hands of the affluent (Barber).
To bring this discussion to a recent
and relevant example, we will look at the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton’s religious beliefs are more
simple and easier to understand than that of Donald Trump’s. Clinton grew up with Methodist parents and
her family belonged to the First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. Her youth pastor brought her and the others
youths into inner-city Chicago churches, where they met black and Latino
youths, creating connections that form the backbone of her Democratic
beliefs. She remained a Methodist even
after marrying Bill Clinton, a Southern Baptist, and still attends a Methodist
church in New York. She has stated that
Jesus taught her to step up and serve the community, and has adopted a
Methodist mantra as one of her slogans:
“Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways
you can, as long as you ever can.”
Despite this, less than 50% of Americans saw Clinton as very or somewhat
religious (Burke). As aforementioned,
religion is important in political elections, and this may be one of the
reasons Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. While
Trump is a professed Presbyterian, he has kept quiet about his faith for a
large majority of his campaign. His attempts at public faith have been mostly
failures. He has made many mistakes, and
has not asked for forgiveness from God.
He mispronounced a book of the Bible, and when asked about his favorite
verse from the Bible, he has either avoided the question or answered with “an
eye for an eye,” which has specifically been denounced by Jesus. He tends to give very broad answers to
questions that involve God, but his supporters have defended him by stating
that he is a businessman, not a pastor. Many Christians have criticized Trump
and rejected his religiousness, citing his casinos, multiple marriages, and
extramarital affairs (Burke).
The 2016 election was a decision
between the lesser of two evils, but religion still played a part in the
decision of the American people. Trump
gained the majority vote for Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals, and Mormons,
which was enough to make him the winner of the election (Smith and Martínez). Although Trump blatantly stumbled through
religious questions and conversations, many American people saw Hillary come
across as disingenuous with her faith, and voted for Trump instead. There are obviously many other factors that
were at play during this election, but there is no doubt that religion has, and
will, always will be an important part of politics.