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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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