Community and the Faith of the Seven

Posted: May 20, 2020 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, TV
Tags: , ,

The 2020 quarantine time has encouraged a lot of TV binge-watching, with people either catching up on shows they’ve never seen or getting a chance to re-watch some old beloved shows. My wife started listening to Joel McHale and Ken Jeong’s podcast The Darkest Timeline, which is a blend of medical info, observations on the dystopia we’re currently in, and nostalgia for the television series Community. My wife and I started re-watching Community, and to our delight, the cast reunited recently for a table read of one of the season 5 episodes.

One of the hallmarks of Community was its meta-referentiality. Although not necessarily a rule, episodes would often be constructed on pop cultural properties: nods to The Right Stuff, Star Wars, Spaghetti Westerns, Mafia movies, zombie outbreaks, all can be found in exemplary episodes of Community. The show was excellent at adapting pop culture for engaging storylines about seven study group misfits at Greendale community college.

Coincidentally, one year ago Game of Thrones had its finale. The bulk of my blogging career hobby has been writing about Game of Thrones (or the source material, A Song of Ice and Fire) and when I get a reason to write about Game of Thrones, I do. Even if the reason is extremely thin. Bear with me. Also, spoilers for Community will be in this post. If you haven’t seen the show, reconsider reading further. I must emphasize that you would be much better served to stop reading this and watch Community. All of Community. Even Season 4.

Before I get started, Community had an episode featuring a television series (based on a book-series) called Bloodlines of Conquest – a property clearly based on Game of Thrones. I won’t be talking about that, but it’s a great episode highlighting Spoiler/Spoiler-Avoidance conflicts.

Because a running thread in Community is the pop-cultural framing that student Abed Nadir constantly applies, especially in regards to his fellow study group members, this post will evaluate the archetypes that the Community study group represent, in association with strong archetypes enshrined (literally) in the Faith of the Seven, the New Gods religion in Westeros.

Open Your Copy of The Seven Pointed Star, Class

A quick refresher (or introduction for you folks wandering in blindly here) to the Faith of the Seven: the two prime religions of Westeros can be summed up as the Old Gods and the New. The Old Gods represent the natural world as worshiped in the north of the continent, adopted by the First Men from the elfin Children of the Forest. The New Gods was a pantheon-of-sorts brought to Westeros by the invading Andals, who brought with them a hierarchical, patriarchal society and a hierarchical, patriarchal religion to the continent.

The Seven are a group of abstract aspects representing a divine force worshipped by the invading Andals.

  • The Father
  • The Mother
  • The Warrior
  • The Maiden
  • The Crone
  • The Smith
  • and lastly, The Stranger

I’ll expand on those a bit later, but the Seven are a mix of gender-based and profession-based roles, with female roles established in the traditional Maiden, Mother, Crone trinity that is found in various real world religions, aka the Norns or the Fates, with the Father being the classical patriarchal role of large-and-in-charge, with the Warrior and the Smith representing the catch-all military-industrial and civilian-industrial professions. The Stranger is that weird spooky Holy Ghost addition, often considered an aspect of Death and not really worshiped.

The reason I want to talk about Community in relation to these aspects of the New Gods, is that the central focus of the majority of the show featured the dynamics and conflicts among the Study Group, a group of Seven characters.

Senor Chang: This is erasure and I will not stand for it.
Dean Pelton: I don’t see why I’m being excluded from this comparative analysis.
Me: Sorry Dean, sorry Chang. You’re definitely major characters. But no.

To enumerate the seven characters I want to feature in this Game of Thrones religious archetype comparison, the Study Group (for you people who mysteriously are reading this without having seen Community) is composed of:

  • Jeff Winger: disbarred lawyer who has come to Greendale Community College to get that pesky college degree and become a lawyer once again
  • Britta Perry: somewhat unlucky feminist
  • Abed Nadir: aspiring filmmaker and pop-culture aficianado
  • Troy Barnes: former high school football star, and close friend to Abed
  • Pierce Hawthorne: senior citizen and absolute idiot
  • Shirley Bennett: divorced mother and small business owner
  • Annie Edison: high performing student forced to attend Greendale due to shenanigans

The bulk of this remaining post will be me mapping each character in the Community Study Group to an aspect of the Seven from Game of Thrones. I’ll suggest my mapping (with maybe some alternate picks) but before I do that, I’ll let anyone choosing to do so to initially vote for their preferred associations. (I can’t stop any of you from doing something weird, like not voting in a one-to-one way –  choosing everyone to be the Stranger, for example. But c’mon. Don’t do that.)

I’m looking forward to the results of the polls.

The Father – Jeff Winger

This shouldn’t require much argument to support. Jeff is literally called out as the Dad of the Group in more than one occasion, starting with Abed casting Jeff in the role of his father in Abed’s first video.

Consider this dialogue:

Annie: You need to do something.
Jeff: Why me?
Annie: Because, you’re like the dad of the group.
(Dialogue from the episode where Pierce falls in with Leonard and the other Hipsters. I might be paraphrasing.)

Jeff is constantly the one the group looks to for direction. If there is an analog to The Iron Throne in Community, it would be Jeff’s coveted chair in the study room.

The Mother – Britta Perry

Some might choose Shirley, who is a literal mother (Britta only has a succession of cats) but Britta’s maternal role to the group was established early on in the same manner Jeff was assigned a paternal role, when Abed made a video using footage of Jeff and Britta as stand-ins for his parents. The everpresent sexual tension/abrasive bickering between Jeff and Britta mirrors a father-mother dynamic (your mileage may vary) and so works to cast Britta as the Mother. But it would offend Britta’s feminist sensibilities to define her in relation to Jeff, so I’m comfortable that Britta independently demonstrates caring, nurturing behavior and so Jeff’s connection to her can define him as the Father in relation to her. Take that, patriarchy.

The Maiden – Annie Edison

Look, you can cast stones at me for my objectifying Annie by her attractiveness in establishing her as the analogous aspect of the Seven’s embodiment of love and beauty, the Maiden. But the assertion is practically self-evident based on her plotlines and roles in the show. Annie is more than just an attractive person, but she also exemplifies the innocence of youth, and inspires the group’s behavior due to that aspect.

I said what I said. Sorry Britta, Annie’s the Maiden.

The Crone – Shirley Bennett

Hear me out. Despite what negative associations you might perceive by the label “the Crone” – in terms of the Seven, the Crone’s defining aspect is not a lack of attractiveness. The Crone is defined by her wisdom from living a long life. She’s the next step for the Mother, who has gone on to provide counsel for her children’s children, should she live so long. The Crone lights the way, providing benefit of her experience to guide those younger than herself.

I’ll admit that because there were three female-gendered roles in the Seven, and there were three women in the Study Group, this caused me to early on place Annie, Britta, and Shirley into Maiden, Mother, Crone roles. I’m willing to hear debates (in fact, I’ll suggest counters to this soon) and am interested in how the voting for the Crone goes.

The next two roles to assign were more complicated.

The Warrior – Troy Barnes

Troy Barnes has proven himself well adapted to the (frequent) times that Greendale Community College called for martial prowess, starting with the very first paintball episode. Strong, athletic, Troy might not survive these encounters, but the Warrior isn’t called the Survivor per se.

The biggest conflict in calling Troy the Warrior is that Abed also seems very adept during these times. Shouldn’t Abed be in the running for The Warrior?

Troy and Abed share many characteristics, which made assigning them roles a bit complex. In the great Pillow Fort/Blanket Fort Civil War at Greendale, Troy and Abed were both equal field marshalls. Although Abed might have a certain bushido nature when he needs to exhibit one, Troy has the edge in an association of the Faith of the Seven’s Warrior aspect: the fraternal order or sworn brotherhood.

Troy is not just athletic the way spry Abed is, Troy is an athlete. He’s the backbone of Greendale’s ridiculous football team. Sports and warfare connections are inherent in our society and so should be recognized here.

In later seasons, Troy is inducted into a secret society (of air conditioning repairmen) where he literally engages in a trial by combat ordeal (with broken air conditioners as weapons in a life-or-death contest of skill.)

In Pierce Hawthorne’s post-funeral will reading (look, I said that there would be spoilers) Pierce has left a message for Troy that Troy has the heart of a hero. This all underlines the Warrior aspect in Troy.

With Troy assigned, that now leads us to …

The Smith – Abed Nadir

I would not be surprised if people voted for Abed to be The Stranger. After all, Abed is strange. But The Stranger as an archetype is practically unrelatable, whereas Abed, in his oddball way, is charming and extremely relatable.

The Smith, as an archetype, is the aspect of industry and skill. Abed wants to be a filmmaker so strongly, it’s almost the only way that he can communicate with the world in a meaningful way. This destiny that he has is what makes his martial prowess secondary and why Troy is a better candidate for the Warrior. The Warrior and Smith are related in that they’re the two non-gendered profession focused aspects (ignoring the Stranger for this) and that speaks well to the close binding between Troy and Abed, who exist in their own category in the group.

And speaking of someone in their own category…

The Stranger – Pierce Hawthorne

Pierce falls nicely into the category of the Stranger, and not simply because all of the other roles were assigned.

As mentioned with Abed and why he’s not the Stranger, Pierce is an outsider in the group. They tolerate him largely because – as Abed observed in the episode where Pierce crossed a line by pantsing Shirley – that with Pierce gone, someone else was going to be The Pierce. The butt of the jokes. The outsider.

Pierce, particularly in the second season, becomes an antagonist to the group which mirrors how the people of Westeros don’t pray to the Stranger, for fear that his attention would bring with it a curse. If the Stranger is unknowable and a mystery, Pierce reflects that with his bizarre laser-centric Neo-Buddhist beliefs.

And so, Pierce Hawthorne gets my vote as the Stranger.

I could imagine the Seven aspects chilling in the heavenly afterlife of the Andals, considering events of note happening in Westeros, as the Study Group.

The Smith: And then, Cersei blew up our Sept.
The Crone: That’s not nice.
The Maiden: Father, you should do something about this.
The Father: Why me?

The Maiden: Because, you’re The Father of the group.
The Mother: Like we need him to do anything.
The Crone: That’s right. That wine-swigging brother-loving Cersei will get hers when Daenerys shows up with dragons.
The Mother: Ah, Daenerys. Mother of Dragons. I like that.
The Smith: Dragons are cool. Cool cool cool. Which is ironic because they breathe fire.
The Warrior: Dragons are dope. Hey, this sword you made for me is dope, Smith.
*The Warrior and The Smith perform a double-tapping handslap.*
The Stranger: Ah yes, Dane-Aries and her dragons. When she shows up, it’ll be “Kingsroads Ahead”
The Father: Shut up, Stranger. No one knows what you’re talking about.
The Stranger: That’s because you’re “Kingsroads Behind”
The Mother: Whatever, I’m just looking forward to a queen on the Iron Throne who isn’t a psycho.
The Stranger: Heh heh heh. The Bells. The Bells.
The Smith: That feels like foreshadowing.

Other takes

Although this is my preferred list, I’m open for other interpretations. I’d be almost as happy to swap Abed and Shirley in the roles of Smith and Crone. Shirley is a small business owner, which communicates the ethos of the Smith just as well as Abed communicates the artistic side of the Smith. And the Crone’s prophetic ability is appropriate for Abed, who in an early episode of Community was more or less accurately predicting the future when he was writing episodes about seven students in a fictional study group at Greendale and was anticipating plot points and actions for his own group.

Abed: That was meta.
Shirley: It was witchcraft!

I would also not be opposed to assigning Annie the role of the Warrior, based on her win-at-all-costs attitude (first established in the Debate Episode.) The Model UN competition between the two Annies was nearly a trial by combat (with less lethal stakes though than Troy air conditioner ordeal.)

The loose framework offered by the aspects of the Faith of the Seven is ambiguous enough that it can be applied in different ways, where the seven study group members might possess more than one aspect of the Faith. The only wrong-headed analysis would be to believe that Dan Harmon was somehow influenced by A Song of Ice and Fire when he was coming up with the archetypes for his group interaction. Because that’s clearly some woo.

And also discounts the importance of the Dean and Senor Chang.

Senor Chang: And that’s racist.

All six seasons of Community are now on Netflix (and maybe Hulu) – it’s nice (to paraphrase Shirley) that the sixth season is available on a platform other than Yahoo whose streaming service had the season originally. (Oh, Yahoo.)

Now we just have to wait for the movie. That would be cool. Cool cool cool.

(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.)

Image from NBC’s Community. (Obviously.) Oh, and that one image of the Iron Throne that’s from Game of Thrones. I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text here. So there.

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 2020 Some Rights Reserved



Speak Your Mind (Please) (Oh, first timers will be Moderated...)

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.