This post will be discussing plot points in HBO’s Game of Thrones, specifically relating to one of the show’s major religions, the Faith of the Seven. (After my controversial pro-Olly posts last month, I thought I should talk about something safer. Like religion. By the way, this is my 100th post on Game of Thrones. Yay me.)
I’ll be covering details from the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, so if you’re behind in your viewing, you’ve been warned about spoilers.
Now that we’ve scared off the heretics, let’s begin.
The New Gods
The Seven have had a presence in the show from the start, although until the fifth season the religion was usually bundled up as an equal to another faith (“by the Old Gods and the New“) or treated as a false religion to be supplanted (by the newer religion of the Lord of Light.)
But season 5 highlighted several aspects of the faith, particularly how it is woven into the political landscape as a secular force, as well as a spiritual framework in the Seven Kingdoms.
I’m not a religious scholar, nor do I play one on TV, but that hasn’t stopped me before from talking about the religions of Westeros. Besides, it’s now September, and the Faith of the Seven has so many sept- words, Septs, Septons, Septas… it’d be a missed opportunity if I didn’t tackle the topic this month.
I’ll try not to be pedantic. (Is that the word? The one that means pretentiously obnoxiously dull? Too late?)
The show doesn’t delve deep into religious details and why should it? The people of the Seven Kingdoms don’t need expository lectures on their faiths. But we can infer some information (and I’ll cheat by bringing in some very small non-spoilery details from the books.)
- The gods that are worshipped as the New Gods or the Seven are seven anthropomorphized aspects of some divine force. It’s not really a polytheistic religion, but kind of similar to the Christian concept of the Trinity.
- There is an established order of holy people, septons and septas, and places of worship, the septs.
- Seven is a recurring number that appears to be significant in the religion.
- There is a holy text, the Seven Pointed Star, that represents a book of faith and a basis for some of the laws.
- Trial by combat is totally a thing in the legislative purview of the religion. (To be fair, R’hllor might be fine with it too, since Beric Dondarrion invoked it against Sandor Clegane, and respected the outcome of the fight as the Lord of Light judging the Hound innocent.)
- The ruling monarchy is apparently invested with the blessing of the Seven. In fact, the Faith of the Seven appears to be the official religion of the Seven Kingdoms, although the Northerners cling to the worship of the Old Gods, and the Iron Islanders follow the Drowned God.
- Knighthood also has a religious aspect, with a vigil required and being anointed with the seven sacred oils. It’s what separated not-a-knight northerner Jory Cassel from the doomed novice knight Ser Hugh of the Vale. (There’s less of a class difference between them now that they’re dead.)
Of the religions, the Faith certainly seems to be the most organized, with dogma and a caste of devotees. But it seems to lack the supernatural power the some of the followers of the Lord of Light seemed to wield.
What the Faith lacked in mystical power in Season 5, it made up for with manpower.
The Faith Militant
In the past, according to Cersei, the Faith had a group of spiritual men who would take up arms in service of the religion. Although the Faith Militant had had their militia authority stripped from them hundreds of years before, the Queen Mother saw fit to reinstate their martial aspect with royal blessing. Her intent was to use her influence with the new High Septon, the “High Sparrow”, giving her some assets in her shadowy war against her daughter-in-law, Margaery.
The re-arming of the church did work in Cersei’s favor initially, as the High Sparrow imprisoned Margaery on various pretexts. But to Cersei’s detriment, she found herself incarcerated in religious jail as well. Some scandalous chickens had come back to roost.
The sudden shift in power took some viewers by surprise. Suddenly King’s Landing was filled with armed, robed fanatics, enforcing some dusty laws from the Seven Pointed Star, and acting all twentieth century Taliban. How did that happen? It seemed awfully plot-convenient that an armed force could spring up to essentially capture the city. Or at least the areas external to the Red Keep.
It’s a reasonable question. The show provides us a reasonable answer, and one that satisfyingly comes back to bite Cersei.
In her meeting with the High Sparrow, right after Cersei decided to fire the previous High Septon and promote this mild-seeming charity worker, the Queen Regent talks about troubles out in the countryside.
All over Westeros, we hear of septs being burned, silent sisters raped, bodies of holy men piled in the streets…
Maybe everyone in Westeros is hearing about this, but those atrocities are not happening all over Westeros. They are happening in the Riverlands. And this is a situation that has been going on since season 1, when Tywin Lannister sent Gregor Clegane into Tully controlled lands to punish Catelyn for the arrest of his son Tyrion.
Arya Stark witnessed Team Clegane and its mercenary methods of torture in search of loot. After the Red Wedding, Arya and the Mountain’s brother Sandor got to hear a dissertation from Lannister goon Polliver on how lucrative it was to be a King’s Man in the Riverlands, putting down the formerly rebellious province.
The Rule of Cool is “Show, Don’t Tell” but in this case, I’m fine with us taking Cersei’s word that the constant warfare in the Riverlands had been making things awful for everyone, especially the church. The Riverlands have seen multiple invading armies: first Lannisters rapaciously executing a chevauchee campaign, then northern forces which unfortunately included shady Bolton troops, and then Lannisters who again punished the populace.
And there’s always banditry. Banditry is all the time when there’s a breakdown in legitimate authority.
With war comes refugees, but where would the refugees go if the Riverlands are in general unsafe? Heading west to Lannister territory isn’t a plan, the border with the Vale is dangerous with the feral mountain clans, and the Vale was closed off by order of Lysa Arryn anyway. The North was inaccessible with the Ironborn controlling Moat Caillin, so the only option would be to migrate around the Riverlands, hoping not to get killed.
Or head to King’s Landing.
Righteous Riverland Refugees
King’s Landing is a proper city, already with a large population (if Jaime Lannister is to be believed when he told Qyburn that he was personally responsible for saving the lives of half a million people.) We’ve seen that population previously harboring anti-Lannister sentiment in season 2 when the riot broke out. The city’s numbers would be added to with refugees who would feel intense negativity towards the Lannisters, and a sense that the monarchy as an institution had let them down (since the final wave of marauding Lannister troops were declared as serving the king.) With nothing tangible left to them, all these refugees would have to hold on to would be their intangible beliefs. And if the High Sparrow was presented as the representative of their Faith, and was in opposition to the Lannister-controlled monarchy, it’s not hard to see how the Faith Militant would gain recruits.
Particularly among peasant militiamen who were forced out of their homes when their lords were either killed in battle or betrayed and slain at the Red Wedding. Fighting men with an urge to crack some skulls.
All these conditions can be laid at the feet of the Lannisters and their agenda for power. Granted, it’s mostly Tywin Lannister’s fault, but Cersei’s “Rains of Castamere” attitude and “everyone who isn’t us is an enemy” philosophy certainly did not help her in relation to the people her family has destroyed.
The Future and the Faith
What influence or relevance can the Faith Militant have going forward? Certainly, Kevan Lannister seemed unable (although that might just be him being unwilling) to rescue his niece from captivity, ending up with her making a torturous walk of shame (an event that might have Tywin Lannister spinning in his grave.)
The Militant must have reasonable control of King’s Landing proper, which makes some sense since Lannister forces had otherwise been in the Riverlands, brutally keeping the peace (and creating streams of refugees.)
As far as we know, the Faith still have Loras and Margaery, but it seemed like Littlefinger and Olenna were working on something to deal with that situation. It’s unclear if the High Sparrow could really rally support from the common folk in Highgarden should the Tyrells move on the Faith. (That’ll be a discussion for another time.)
But it’s Daenerys Targaryen and her relation to the Faith that is of interest to me.
The Targaryens were followers of the Andal religion of the Seven. Aegon the Conqueror’s grandson Baelor built the sept that bears his name. The king of the Seven Kingdoms is considered to have the blessing of the gods, but it’s unlikely that the High Sparrow truly backs Tommen’s legitimacy. He’s certainly questioning Cersei about it. Assuming that the High Sparrow would recognize the Baratheon claim to the throne (not necessarily Tommen Baratheon’s claim) then who could he put his support behind?
Stannis was championing a heretical religion that demonized the Old Gods and the New, and besides he’s dead in the North. (We all assume.)
Unless Gendry and his rowboat can be found, and King Robert’s bastard somehow promoted from being Gendry Waters to Gendry Baratheon, Daenerys Targaryen might be the logical and divinely-approved-of candidate for sitting on the Iron Throne.
It would be ironic if the Lannisters, in their brutal actions to maintain power, succeeded in gift-wrapping the Iron Throne for the last Targaryen to reclaim.
But Dany shouldn’t trust that High Sparrow.
I have no faith that he’s on the up-and-up.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) Film-Book.com apparently had the image of the Sept exterior and the poor women hanging in the Riverlands.
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. (Obviously not the line of show-dialogue from Cersei.)
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
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