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Game of Thrones, Season 5, anti-religious

This is my fifth writing on medievalwisdom.com about “The Game of Thrones”. Two others are, like this one, in movie commentaries. One is under articles, and one is under discussion.

At the beginning of the Game of Thrones, religion was only slightly present. Eddard Stark worshiped the old gods at the sacred trees. He was a very good person, and so the association between religion and goodness was clear, though it was never emphasized. As I wrote in another entry, the lack of importance given to religion is one of the things that makes this otherwise very medieval tale rather unmedieval. Season five was much about religion, however, but unlike in the first season, religion was portrayed in a very negative light.

Two religions were shown in season five. Most importantly was the dominant religion of Westeros, practiced in the capital, which has seven gods and a holy book named the Seven-pointed Star. For the first four seasons, this dominant religion was like dominant religions in the real world: almost everyone claimed allegiance to it, and its leaders had power in the government, but it was doubtful if people truly believed it, and it was obvious that most people did not let it influence their behavior. In season five, however, a man called the High Sparrow is introduced. He is similar to Saint Francis of Assisi. The High Sparrow is adhears to the dominant religion, but unlike the religion’s official leaders, he disdains wealth and lives as a poor man among the poor. He has a large following and because of his popularity he has power. Cersei Lannister, in an attempt to defeat the Tyrells, especially her son’s wife Margaery, has the High Sparrow elected High Septon, which makes him the official head of the dominant religion and also a member of the government. She then begins anew an old military order – the Faith Militant – and gives it to him to use to stamp out immorality. There begins the portrayal of religion in a negative light. In their attempt to fight immorality, they violently persecute those who practice sexuality outside of their rules. The brothels are shut down, with great bodily injury and even loss of life suffered by those who were unluckily caught at the moment of the attacks. Then, accusations of homosexual sex are made against Loras Tyrell, the brother of Margaery, and he is arrested and sent to prison as a result. When Margaery testifies to save her brother, she is arrested and sent to prison for perjury. Cersei thus accomplished her goal, but she did not long enjoy it, because she was then accused of and arrested for adultery and incest. After suffering in prison, she pleads guilty to adultery, while continuing to deny the incest. As punishment for her adultery, she is forced to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing while the people mock her, spit on her, and throw refuse on her. In this scene, Cersei is a Christ-figure, which is almost blasphemous considering the fact that she is an evil bitch whose crimes and cruelties have for five years made her one of the most hated individuals in Westeros. Portraying an evil villain as Christ-like could offend many a Christian. So, in season five, the dominant religion is portrayed as violently intolerant, while Christianity is mocked.

Another religion in Westeros is that of the Lord of Light, known as R’hllor. This is a dualistic religion much like Zoroastrianism in the real world. There is a god of light who is good, and also there is a god of evil, about which we know almost nothing. The Lord of Light requires that humans be burned alive for him to bless them. Most precious of all to him is king’s blood. Because of this, the Red Priestess of the Lord of Light, Melisandre, seems to always want King Stanis Baratheon to let her burn his relatives to death. He refuses to give her his daughter, while allowing her to kill others, until he and his army are trapped in a prolonged blizzard and on the verge of death by starvation. In that dire circumstance, he finally relents and allows Melisandre to burn his daughter at the stake. That seems to work, because the blizzard stops and the snow melts, but Stanis has lost the loyalty of his soldiers, many of whom desert, leaving him with a force too small to stand against his enemies. Before he and the remnants of his army are destroyed, Melisandre abandons him and flees back to the relative safety of the wall. So, the religion of the Lord of Light is show to be so cruel that it burns little girls to death; and the representative of the Lord of Light, the Red Priestess Melisandre, is shown to be a disloyal coward.

Probably the most important anti-religious element in Game of Thrones is not the portrayal of religious leaders as despicable or evil, but rather the triumph of the forces of evil, and the utter vanity of life. Repeatedly, just when those who watch the show, or read the books, begin to become attached to some good character, like Eddard Stark, Rob Stark, or John Snow, that character dies a terrible death, betrayed and murdered.

The Game of Thrones is in the same genre as the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, but the two are diametrically opposed by the complete lack of purpose, the futility, the obvious absence of God in The Game of Thrones, and on the other hand the profound religious belief in the ultimate triumph of the good shown in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. In the end, all is good, because God, whom Tolkien names ‘Illuvatar’ is the master of history. In his book Tolkien: sur les rivages de la Terre du Milieu, Vincent Ferre writes that, "La multilinearite du recit - les personnages et le lecteur decouvrant la Terre du Milieu au cours d'une aventure qui est un voyage vers la mort, d'un recit complexe qui combine plusieurs fils narratifs - n'empeche pas une profounde unite, puisque l'alternance des chapitres rappelle le procede de l'entrelacement, qui sert ici a rendre le texte plus dynamique - il se combine avec des modulations de la vitesse, des variations, des repititions - et surtout plu intelligible. En cela, Le Seigneur des Anneaux est proche des romans medievaux en prose, dont un critique compare l'organision a celle d'une 'structure cyclique, ou chaque evenement acquiert un surcroit de signification grace aux rapports qu'il soutient avec ses antecedents et ses suites possibles'. Chez Tolkien, l'entrelacement est lie a une vision du monde: percus par les personnages qui n'en ont qu'une vision limitee, les evenemets semblent chaotique, mais un ordre apparait des que l'on envisage l'ensemble des fils narratifs; et cette liaison etroite de toutes les parties du recit va de pair avec la coherence de l'univers fictionnel, comme s'il s'agissait de donner une consistance, une armature a celui-ci."