Adominant theme throughout Game of Thronesand its book counterpart, A Song of Iceand Fire, written by George R. R. Martin, is the role of religion in politics. To understand how religion affects politicsin Game of Thrones, one must first beaware of the different religious systems that exist in Westeros and Essos.
Martin has stated that he based all of thereligious denominations in A Song of Ice and Fire off of real religions, due tothe difficulty of creating new religions. The main religion in Game of Thrones is The Faith of the Seven, which is based off ofthe medieval Catholic Church. The Sevenis one god with seven different aspects: Father, Mother, Maiden, Crone, Smith, Warrior, and Stranger; therefore,it is monotheistic. Each aspect representsa different element. This religion isheaded by the High Septon, and supported by clergymen and clergywomen known asSeptons and Septas (“Faith of the…”).The Faith of the Seven, also known as The Faith, hasa minimal role in Game of Thrones until season five, due to Tywin Lannister’spresence in King’s Landing. After hisdeath in Season 4, Episode 10, the Sparrows (a movement that arose from The Faith)appear regularly in King’s Landing. InSeason 5, Episode 1, Kevan Lannister tells Cersei Lannister that his son LancelLannister has joined the Sparrows.
In Season5, Episode 3, the Sparrows break into Baelish’s brothel and find that the HighSepton is a regular customer who engages in lewd acts, and they force him towalk naked in the streets. Cersei hasthe High Septon arrested, and goes to visit the High Sparrow, who turns out tobe a very humble man who helps the poor. Cersei tells him that she wants to unite the Crown and the Faith so thatKing Tommen can reign peacefully. Loras Tyrell is arrested for his homosexualrelationships, and in Season 5, Episode 6, Margaery Tyrell falsely testifiesthat Loras did not have homosexual relations; Olyvar, Loras’s lover, statesthat she has seen them in bed together, and Margaery is arrested. This situation reveals how Cersei used thefaith to her advantage to get what she wanted, but it backfires on her whenLancel, one of the Sparrows, reveals his sexual relationship with Cersei to theHigh Sparrow.
Cersei was trying to usethe Faith for her own political motives (to get rid of Margaery), but she isforced to do a Walk of Atonement in Season 5, Episode 10, which creates herstrong hatred for the Faith, and pushes her to commit a serious act ofdestruction. In Season 6, Episdoe 10,Cersei does not show up to the Sept of Baelor for her trail, and preventsTommen from going as well. Margaery,along with many others, is present at the Sept and realizes that something iswrong and tries to get everyone to evacuate, but the High Sparrow does notallow it. It is revealed that Cerseiplaced wildfire in the basement of the Sept, and it explodes, killing everyoneinside. Tommen watches the Sept explodefrom the Red Keep, and commits suicide because of Margaery’s death. Cersei is then named queen. This sequence of events demonstrates howCersei used the Faith to further her political agenda by killing everyone whowas preventing her from sitting on the Iron Throne. The Old Gods is the religious system that individualswho live in the North and who live beyond the Wall practice.
This religion is polytheistic and worshipsthe streams, forests, and stones, and originated from the Children of theForest, who honored Weirwood trees. Thissystem is based off of Pagan and Celtic systems. This was originally the main religion ofWesteros, but was replaced by the Faith of the Seven (Old Gods of…).The role the Children of the Forest play in thepolitics of Game of Thrones spans multiple seasons; in Season 4, Episode 10,Leaf, one of the Children of the Forest, saves Bran from a group of the undeadso that he can begin to train with the Three-Eyed Raven. In Season 7, Episode 7, Bran has a vision andlearns that Jon’s parents are actually Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark,which makes him the true heir to the Iron Throne. If Leaf hadn’t have saved Bran, thisinformation would never have been revealed.
Jon is not aware of this information yet, and this will likely make adifficult political situation for him, as his queen, Daenerys Targaryen, hasalready laid claim to the Iron Throne. The Drowned God is a monolatristic religion practicedby the inhabitants of the Iron Islands. The origin story of this religion states that the Storm God submergedthe Drowned God in the ocean, and it now lives in the sea. People who live in the Iron Islands believethat dying in the ocean is the natural way, and do not fear this type ofdeath.
The Drowned God is loosely basedon Norse Mythology, as it supports piracy, which was a common act of theVikings (“Drowned God”).Followers of the Drowned God justify their actions,such as piracy, raiding, and raping, by saying that it is a part of theirbelief system. Cersei creates an allegiancewith Euron Greyjoy in order to gain access to his fleet; he wants to marry herso he has a chance of sitting on the Iron Throne, but she declines. In Seaon 7, Episode 2, Euron attacks Yara’sfleet ands takes her prisoner. He killsmany of the men in her fleet, and justifies this action because, according tothe Drowned God, a death at sea is honorable.
The Lord of Light, also known as R’hllor, is a godthat has a very small following, with Melisandre the most prominent follower;this system is monotheistic. The Lord ofLight appears to followers in flames, and is said to be the combination of agod of love and light and a god of darkness and evil. Martin has stated that this religion is somewhatbased off of Zoroastrianism (“R’hllor”). Melisandre, a priestess of the Lord of Light, gainsthe trust of Stannis Baratheon and advises him during his fight for the IronThrone. Melisandre uses her visions thatshe sees in flames to further Stannis’s political agenda, and claims that he isthe Prince That Was Promised. Melisandrepromises to give Stannis a son, and in Season 2, Episode 4, she gives birth toa shadowy figure that kills Renly Baratheon.
In Season 3, Episode 8, Melisandre places three leeches on Gendry due tohis king’s blood, and Stannis burns each of the leeches while speaking thenames of usurpers to his throne: RobbStark, Balon Greyjoy, and Joffrey Baratheon. All three of these individuals eventually die, which strengthensStannis’s belief in the Lord of the Light, as its powers have furthered hispolitical agenda and have gotten him closer to the Iron Throne. The assassins in the city of Braavos worship theMany-Faced God. They believe that theslaves of Valyria prayed for death, and the god has many faces displayed in theHouse of Black and White. There is afountain filled with poisonous water in the House of Black and White, and thosewho are deemed “worthy” to die may drink out of it. The Many-Faced God is a culmination of thedeath gods of four religions listed above, and includes the Stranger from theFaith of the Seven, a Weirwood tree for the Old Gods, a figure made ofdriftwood for the Drowned God, and the heart of the Lord of Light; therefore,this is a monotheistic system (“Many-Faced God”). While the political intention of the Many-Faced Godmay not be blatantly apparent, it is clear that the Many-Faced God helped tosupport and shape Arya Stark as a person throughout Game of Thrones.
When Aryasaved Jaqen H’ghar and two other prisoners, Jaqen told her that he owed theMany-Faced God three lives, and that Arya gets to choose who dies. One of the lives she has Jaqen take is SerAmory Lorch, who becomes suspicious of who she is when he finds her lookingthrough Lannister documents. She hasJaqen kill him before he is able to tell Tywin of his suspicions, and Tywincontinues to not know that she is actually Arya Stark. If Tywin had been able to find out her trueidentity, it could have affected how the storyline played out.The Role of Religion in Politics – America America is unique in the sense thatreligion is a strong factor in politics.
According to a Gallup Poll, sixty-five percent of Americans say thatreligion is an important factor in their daily lives. This is abnormally high for a developedcountry, as religiosity tends to be highest among poorer countries. For example, ninety-nine percent of people inBangladesh, Niger, and Yemen state that religion is an important factor intheir daily lives; more developed countries have much lower percentages, suchas France (twenty percent), Japan (twenty-four percent), and the United Kingdom(twenty-seven percent) (Crabtree). Americais considered to be “rougher” than European countries, due to health problems,lower life expectancy, and higher crime rates, which provides religion a chanceto be a support system for many Americans. Due to the relatedness of church and state in America, politiciansalmost always ask God to bless America and its citizens and meet with prominentreligious leaders (Barber). Every U.S.President, with the exception of Lincoln and Jefferson, have identified asChristian (Masci).
Jefferson was ararity in post-revolutionary America: hestrongly advocated for the separation of church and state, and likely would notbe elected in modern times with that attitude. This fate has plagued many presidential hopefuls; Mitt Romney was aMormon, which many Americans consider to be an “outsider” religion, and itcaused him to lose the 2012 election. Inaddition, John Kerry lost the 2004 election due to his inability to conveyfaith to the American people (Butters). Americais a country of immigrants, who tend to have stronger religious tendencies thanAmerican citizens.
Democrats are oftenforced to publicly promote their religious affiliations, as a majority of theirconstituents include poor immigrants who believe religion is extremelyimportant. Many of these poorindividuals end up voting for Republicans, who more prominently display theimportance of religion, and in doing so, worsen their condition because theRepublicans place more wealth in the hands of the affluent (Barber). To bring this discussion to a recentand relevant example, we will look at the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton’s religious beliefs are moresimple and easier to understand than that of Donald Trump’s. Clinton grew up with Methodist parents andher family belonged to the First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Illinois.
Her youth pastor brought her and the othersyouths into inner-city Chicago churches, where they met black and Latinoyouths, creating connections that form the backbone of her Democraticbeliefs. She remained a Methodist evenafter marrying Bill Clinton, a Southern Baptist, and still attends a Methodistchurch in New York. She has stated thatJesus taught her to step up and serve the community, and has adopted aMethodist mantra as one of her slogans: “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the waysyou can, as long as you ever can.” Despite this, less than 50% of Americans saw Clinton as very or somewhatreligious (Burke). As aforementioned,religion is important in political elections, and this may be one of thereasons Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. WhileTrump is a professed Presbyterian, he has kept quiet about his faith for alarge majority of his campaign. His attempts at public faith have been mostlyfailures.
He has made many mistakes, andhas not asked for forgiveness from God. He mispronounced a book of the Bible, and when asked about his favoriteverse from the Bible, he has either avoided the question or answered with “aneye for an eye,” which has specifically been denounced by Jesus. He tends to give very broad answers toquestions that involve God, but his supporters have defended him by statingthat he is a businessman, not a pastor. Many Christians have criticized Trumpand rejected his religiousness, citing his casinos, multiple marriages, andextramarital affairs (Burke). The 2016 election was a decisionbetween the lesser of two evils, but religion still played a part in thedecision of the American people. Trumpgained the majority vote for Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals, and Mormons,which was enough to make him the winner of the election (Smith and Martínez). Although Trump blatantly stumbled throughreligious questions and conversations, many American people saw Hillary comeacross as disingenuous with her faith, and voted for Trump instead.
There are obviously many other factors thatwere at play during this election, but there is no doubt that religion has, andwill, always will be an important part of politics.