You are the Few, We are the Many

Posted: February 23, 2016 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , ,

This post will be talking about plot elements from the fifth season of HBO’s excellent Game of Thrones, an adaptation of George RR Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s possible that someone not caught up with the show has stumbled across this blog. Hi!

I hate to scare you away, but I’d hate even more to spoil you on any of the details.

olenna-and-high-sparrow-house-tyrell-38591038-4498-2994

High Sparrow: I assume you’re familiar with the holy text of the Faith, the Seven Pointed Star?
Lady Olenna: I keep putting it down. Too much sex and violence for my taste. But don’t spoil me on the ending, I might finish it one day.
High Sparrow: Just don’t get too attached to any of the characters.

Now that I know you’re reading this properly informed, I can continue.

Season Five introduced a new player in the struggle for power in the Seven Kingdoms, as the Faith of the Seven flexed its muscles due to the arming of the Faith Militant, with the initial approval of King Tommen.

This proved to be something like letting the angry genie out of the bottle, one that would not be so easily tricked into getting back in.

But for awhile, it appeared as if the militarized ministry was a benefit to (former) Queen Cersei by imprisoning Tommen’s bride Margaery (and rival to Cersei) on perjury charges.

(I assume everyone’s up-to-date on the particulars, including Loras’ geographically relevant birthmark.)

With her grandchildren held in custody by the Faith, the wise and no-nonsense Olenna Tyrell visited the High Sparrow to see if she could negotiate their release, possibly as the result of a generous contribution to the collection plate.

Then things got interesting.

You are the Few, We are the Many

The High Sparrow was not interested in accepting cash. His interest lay in enforcing the laws found in the holy text, the Seven Pointed Star.

When Olenna suggested that Highgarden might cut off the food shipments from the Reach to King’s Landing, which benefited the refugees and citizens that made up the Faith Militant’s popular support, the High Sparrow’s counter implied that the small folk of the Reach might not side with Highgarden.

Have you ever sowed the field, Lady Olenna? Have you ever reaped the grain? Has anyone in House Tyrell? A lifetime of wealth and power has left you blind in one eye. You are the few. We are the many. And when the many stop fearing the few…

We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Just like the Stark/Lannister rumble is an echo for the York/Lancaster conflict in England’s War of the Roses, the defiance of the Faith Militant in opposition of the crown and other nobility reminds me of another defining dispute in England’s history. The Peasants Revolt of 1381.

England had been dealing with two major issues: the aftermath of the Black Death, and the ongoing series of conflicts with France (that would eventually be called The Hundred Years War.) Fed up with onerous taxation and inspired by a socialist-leaning clergymen named John Ball, peasants near London rioted in June of 1381 and headed for London.

King Richard II, then aged 14, retreated to the safety of the Tower of London, but most of the royal forces were abroad or in northern England. On 13 June, the rebels entered London and, joined by many local townsfolk, attacked the gaols, destroyed the Savoy Palace, set fire to law books and buildings in the Temple, and killed anyone associated with the royal government.

It’s not an exact analogy. It’s not like the mother of Richard II gave royal authority to John Ball, and he armed his flock and captured London, but it still feels very similar. England at the time had a young weak king, the capital was under-defended with royal troops elsewhere, and the local populace had a grudge against the conditions they were saddled with.

PedantsRevolt

In Westeros, the fighting in the Riverlands have forced a great many refugees towards King’s Landing, where they’re being cared for in part by the Faith, who now have a de facto military force and managed to effectively take control of the city, with the ruling class holed up in the Red Keep.

The first handful of teasers for the upcoming sixth season featured a Lannister banner in tatters, with narration by the High Sparrow:

Every one of us is poor. And powerless. And yet together … we can overthrow an empire.

This seems like a rather radical notion, especially combined with the unspoken threat the High Septon made to Lady Olenna, about what might happen to the few when the many no longer fears them.

It certainly seems like the High Sparrow is planning for something like a peasants revolt. (Or rather, the Smallfolk Revolt, which is Martin’s typical term for the serfs, plebes, and villeins of the Seven Kingdoms.)

So, what do I think their chances are? Pretty bad, actually.

When I Fight for Anarchy, the Monarchy Always Wins…

The High Sparrow might be implying that should the Tyrells cease food shipments to King’s Landing, that the working class of the Reach would rise up in solidarity of their starving brethren and join the popular revolt, under the guidance of the Faith.

I think that’s highly unlikely.

In the War of the Five Kings, the kingdom of the Reach has been doing pretty well, all things considered. Their troops were victorious at the Battle of Blackwater, while the Lannister army had suffered many defeats in the Riverlands against the forces of the King in the North.

Along with the Vale, the Reach is a particularly fertile area. Olenna’s pretty crafty. She knows better than to take food away from her smallfolk, this is clearly coming from surplus. But even if she was putting the Reach on a diet to support the Riverlands refugees, making good on her threat to cut off food shipments to the capital could easily be spun into a public relations win with her own people.

Hungry Reach Peasant: It bugs me that I can’t eat all I want, and all this food is being carted away.
Lady Olenna: Change in plans. Eat, my lovely peasants!
Hungry Reach Peasant: Yay!
Faith Militant Missionary: Overthrow the Man! Send your food to the starving masses in the capital!
Reach Peasant: Hmmmm. No.

s3-margaery-charity

Do the orphans in Flea Bottom know that the High Sparrow has imprisoned their angel of mercy, Margaery? He might get ripped apart by some angry street urchins if he’s not careful.

If, for some reason, the people of the Reach would be inclined to rebel, the Tyrells are one of the kingdoms whose military hasn’t been reduced by the war. And as I mentioned above, their morale is pretty good. Crushing the rebellion would probably be swift, and any substantial farm worker losses could be filled by refugees from the capital, who fled the burning farmlands of the Riverlands, and would probably be looking to move where the food is.

So, a rebellion in the Reach could possibly rob the High Sparrow of numbers.


I’m not saying that things won’t be bad for the Lannisters in the capital, and it’s a definitely a problem for the Tyrell family that the High Sparrow has high-value hostages.

Unless he lets them out on parole after they’ve done a walk of shame, you know, with the understanding that there’d be a trial in the near future, like the deal with Cersei.

Screen_Shot_2015-08-12_at_3.29.39_PM

Time for the sacred walk of shame. ALL NUDE! Make sure the innocent children have a good view, my people.

Should he press the issue with Olenna, or if he doesn’t prepare for the Lannister reprisal now that Cersei is back at the keep, the High Sparrow might end up suffering the same fate as John Ball, the religious leader of the English Peasants Revolt.

John Ball was hung, then drawn and quartered. His head graced a pike in London, and the rest of him was displayed in four towns. At the same time, you understand. (Seems a bit excessive.)

But I could be wrong. We’ve seen allegedly divine interventions occur for Stannis Baratheon from the Red God (not that it did Stannis any good), so maybe the High Sparrow will be getting some miraculous interventions from the Seven, to assist in spreading the influence of the Faith throughout Westeros, in this godsless time.

Or maybe Dany will show up with a dragon, burninating like an avenging angel. If the High Septon is smart, he’ll claim that Dany has got the backing from the Seven and grant her popular support.

He needs to do that before Melisandre of Asshai claims Daenerys is Azor Ahai reborn, the chosen of R’hllor. Religious smackdown!

Feel free to speculate in the comments section! We have roughly two months to go before we see the High Sparrow start his empire-dismantling. Or his own dismemberment. (Or something in-between, sure.)


(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.) Except for that great Pedants Revolt image. I’m not sure where I found that. Possibly Facebook.

I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there. Just not where I’m quoting the High Sparrow. Or that big quote from the Wikipedia article on the Peasants Revolt. In fact, I can’t take credit for “When I Fight for Anarchy, the Monarchy Always Wins” – that’s the title of a great song from the Boogie Knights. Who aren’t the Boogie Knights that show up in Google, sadly. The Boogie Knights I’m talking about are a parody group who perform at Science Fiction Conventions, usually in Maryland. You know I’m a huge geek, right?

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.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. joanna says:

    There is a fan theory out there that the real identity of the High Sparrow is Howland Reed, father to Meera and Jojen. That would put a whole new perspective on absolutely everything: Yes we already know he went with Ned Stark to the Tower of Joy and by association, must have first hand knowledge of Jon Snow’s true birth parents. But it also implies much more: that he already knows the truth of everything and everyone, with or without trials, testimonies and witnesses. And he is playing a cat and mouse waiting game. If Jon Snow is reborn in some shape or form, could he be laying the path for a future king?

    Problem is he promotes the Faith of the Seven – could this also be a clever scam?

    It does seem a bit over the top, seriously but interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jennnanigans says:

      WHOA. That’s a new one I hadn’t heard! I kind of like it for the novelty but I also see how it doesn’t work… unless Reed’s playing the long, long, LONG game where avenging the Starks is the only goal.

      Liked by 2 people

      • joanna says:

        It’s totally out there as an idea, but fascinating. Something that always stuck in my mind is how Howland Reed allowed his children to go alone on a dangerous quest, unless he too has a quest elsewhere. Something to think about.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I am happy to discuss the theory, but I’m not a supporter of it. The High Sparrow gives the impression of having done this a long, long while, and it seems weird that Howland Reed, once word came of Ned’s capture and Robb mobilizing forces, chose to go impersonate a holy man in the hopes of maneuvering up the ranks in the King’s Landing religious circles. I suspect the High Sparrow is a Riverlander, and not someone from the swamps.

          For starters, all of the crannogmen are considered small in stature, and the Sparrow seems to tall.

          As for the Reeds’ questing, in the books they were sent to Winterfell to carry word that Greywater Watch supported Robb as King in the North, and they got caught up in the Ironmen attack… the show kind of worked around that. But Meera and Jojen are adults, they’re as old as Robb on the show, so it doesn’t seem like Howland would have cause to shelter them.

          My hope is that he’s plotting something cool in Greywater Watch.

          I don’t want to stifle discussion though, I love hearing theories. Thank you so much for sharing that one.

          Liked by 1 person

          • joanna says:

            it’s not my theory – at all 🙂 I saw it somewhere a while back. Since we are High Sparrowing today, I thought I throw it out there and see what happens. I knew about the Crannogmen stature and of course the High Sparrow is tall and doesn’t fit at all in that profile. (Jonathan Pryce is 6 foot by the way).

            Oh yes, maybe Meera and Jojen are the same age as Robb, but they seem a lot younger, and far more delicate, especially Jojen.

            Liked by 1 person

            • It’s cool, you said it was a theory you heard and I figured you weren’t invested in it. You sharing here is totally welcome.

              It is interesting to imagine what Reed would know other than the details of the Tower of Joy.

              Like

        • jennnanigans says:

          Yeah… and you can’t even make the ‘well it’s Westeros and people aren’t that attached to their children’ because Jojen and Meera are basically the heirs to the Crannogmen title.
          I feel like when Howland finally makes the scene we’re going to get some answers.

          Liked by 1 person

      • I think I’ve heard it once before… I will say more further down…

        Liked by 1 person

    • Okay! I’ll give my opinion a bit further down the thread. I’m glad you brought up this interesting theory!

      Like

  2. jennnanigans says:

    Oh man, nice call on the Peasant’s Revolt! I can definitely see those parallels.

    I am intrigued by your breakdown of how things might go down between the Reach and the Faith Militant. The easiest thing to do is manipulate people into believing they’re protecting their own self-interest, which is all Olenna has to do. ‘You know how everything’s kind of great right now? Those dirty sparrows want to come take our food away so you and your children will starve. I’ll leave you all to make well-informed and objective opinions based on this input.’ I can see her doing that – but only if something happens to Maegeryarer (can’t spell it, won’t look it up) and/or Loras. I think she’ll play ball until she knows something has happened to her family – and then the gloves will come off.

    Olenna’s my hero.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! And I love your spelling of Margaery!

      Liked by 1 person

    • eagleeyes05 says:

      It will be interesting to see the two of the smartest people left in Westeros go face to face. I feel like there have been hints in the past couple of seasons the the peasants are ready to stick it to the man, as it were. Joffrey might as well have stuck a nail in the Baratheon/Lannister coffin. I think the High Sparrow will have a much easier time getting the people on his side.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The people in the Riverlands are certainly unhappy with the current situation, with the rightful lord imprisoned, the Freys put in charge, and the Lannister troops “keeping the peace”

        Dorne can sit things out, as can the people of the Vale (unless Littlefinger can convince them to get involved… I’m hoping Bronze Yohn Royce who is raising Lord Robin at the moment can foil that.

        I don’t know what the Stormland smallfolk might do, since they backed the losing side twice, first Renly, then Stannis.

        Should be interesting, indeed.

        Thank you for dropping by with the comment!

        Like

  3. Haylee says:

    Ooh, I fee all educated! Shamefully, never heard of this Peasants’ Revolt, despite it being British history. Good analogy but we all know the High Sparrow is actually the head of the Catholic Church!

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL! It would be ungentlemanly to disagree with you.

      I will not bust on you for not knowing this part of British History, since you have 10 times as much history as we yanks have. Don’t feel ashamed.

      Hey, we only have 2 more months! TWO MORE MONTHS! (That still seems like a long time…)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Inga Baranauskienė says:

      Oh, I never realized how similar they are; however, this similarity is misleading. Pope Francis in not a zealot, he is a reformer – unfortunately, a rather mindless one, if you look at what a declaration he signed with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I remember when this meme first circulated, it was hard for me not to imagine the current Pope as the High Sparrow. Pope Francis and Pryce have that same grin and eye twinkle.

        I always imagined the High Sparrow from the books as a bit less charming, but we see him through Cersei’s eyes and she filters people rather negatively…

        Like

      • Haylee says:

        They are SO similar, aren’t they? I don’t follow a faith myself, so I’d never suggest comparisons of a religious nature but I do love the image. I saw it last year and now it’s all I picture when I hear High Sparrow!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Inga Baranauskienė says:

    Thank you for this analysis (love to read them all). The parallel with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 is right. I also thought of that. However, there is an even stronger parallel to Girolamo Savonarola and that guy was much more successful: he ruled Florence for 4 years, before he was hanged, and though the Medici managed to get their city back they never managed to restore their power at full extend. So, things sound bad for the Lannisters, though the Hih Sparrow will definitely clear the way for Dany and/or Jon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Merlin says:

    I loved it when we met Olenna, and we saw her meet Tyrion and Tywin in turn. These two men were capable players of the game, but Olenna didn’t play according to the same rules, and she outdid the both of them. She already understands the power of the Smallfolk, knowing that leaving them without “distraction” would encourage them to find other forms of such, like eating the nobility.

    When she met the Sparrow, he didn’t play by the same rules she did, and it seemed like he came out on top, much as she did against the Lannister men. However, he underestimates her understanding of the power of the peasants, and when she seemed bested, she was being careful. When you are dealing with a foe you cannot immediately match, it is better to bide your time, to form connections, such as she has with Littlefinger, to watch and wait, until the time is right. I’m guessing that’s her game, trusting and hoping that her grandchildren can endure.

    And there is one major vulnerability of the Faith Militant: they are too strong, too fearsome, and especially too merciless, particularly for being so small as of yet. This limits how many true zealots they can get, which makes them a bit less “many” than the Sparrow seems to think. Unless he only needs just enough of them to reach a specific goal.

    Also, to add my thoughts about the Sparrow being Howland Reed, I’m not convinced he is, but I’m not convinced he’s not, either. The show can’t depict everyone exactly how they are in the books, and there are actually several years, as I recall, between when Robb becomes King of the North (and is subsequently betrayed and murdered) and when the Sparrow comes onto the scene. It’s not like there’s no precedent for the high and mighty taking on low-born disguises in service to their machinations. So… I’d say it’s possible, but not quite probable. I’d say the odds are fifty-fifty at this point (according to my admittedly-limited understanding).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m completely in agreement with you that the Faith Militant probably aren’t as Many as he thinks they are. A lot of revolutions and rebellions got squashed over the years because the believers in the cause too strongly assumed that the common man would set aside everything they had to risk all in support.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. TC says:

    Great commentary! Love the peasant revolt comparison, well done, (studied this at school – as I’m English- also enjoy the many correlations between Martin’s story and War of the Roses). I actually love that Martin has drawn on real history for inspiration on events in this tale. If I remember correctly, the winning Lancaster’s ruled for over a century after the war was over. However, I don’t take any hints as to similarity of names for the Lannister’s to come out on top in the end of ASOIAF.

    Oleanna is fantastic and exceedingly clever. I don’t think she was defeated by the High Sparrow’s argument of peasant power, just smart enough to realise that she shouldn’t tip her hand.

    It certainly seems like forever until the new season begins. So I have decided to re-watch the previous season while I wait. Amazing how much you miss on a first viewing and how much the details and nuances stand out the second time.

    Thanks for writing such thoughtful articles and keep up the good work and I look forward to “bonus articles and nit-picks” before the new season starts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, I really appreciate your feedback! Thank you so much.

      I think you’re spot-on the Olenna was keeping from exposing too much of her play when talking to the High Sparrow.

      Re-watches of the show are great, little bits here or there jump with significance on repeat viewings.

      Just 8 more Wednesdays until the new season starts!

      Like

  7. very late to the game here but…I see the Faith militant much like the Knights Templar might have have been in the beginning, and 2 things come to mind:
    1. The small people may not be anywhere near as fond of the FM as the FM might think, seeing as how drinking & (er, other stuff – this is a family blog, right?) seem to be popular past-times; IOW, the people don’t strike me as particularly devout, and the FMs seem like party poopers of the first degree.
    2. GRRM would know about the history of the Templars and other armed religious forces (Janissaries for instance) and how they end up corrupted in the end…considering how jaded the rest of the story is, I can see High Sparrow usurped by someone simply for the power of running the FMs, and the FMs devolving into yet another power-hungry faction fighting over the scraps of empire.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome! Thank you for checking out this post, and thanks for bringing the Knight’s Templar/Janissaries examples. It would be interesting if the Faith Militant were suppressed, were forced to go underground (figuratively) and became the source of all of the future conspiracy theories in Westeros.

      Liked by 1 person

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