That Old, Old, Old Time Religion

Faith lays heavy on the shoulders of those who live in the Seven Kingdoms like an extra sweater I insist my children take just in case it should get chilly later. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones world is enormous.  And I love the fact that it’s so filled with people and places and familial connections and obligations that even HE needs an assistant to help keep them all straight.

It makes sense that such diverse people and places would find a variety of ways to express their spiritual selves. The results are often deeply moving, conflicted, comforting and violent.

The Faith of the Sevens, the Game of Thrones’ predominant religion, is best described as walking into a renaissance fair and having spirituality explained to you by a girl taking a  ”discovery” year off from college to travel and make jewelry out of “semi-precious” stones while shacking up with the star of the jousting re-enactments.  The  Sevens has something for everyone – a father to administer divine justice, a mother who supplies endless mercy and doesn’t mind when you go three weeks without calling, a maiden (just like you or your girlfriend, but not as hot, obviously), the crone – wise but strict (i.e. me teaching my classes), the warrior (see reference to cool jousting boyfriend), the smith (nerd who fixes your hard drive and jewelry making equipment), and the stranger representing death, the unknown  and the guy calling about the Visa bill your actual mother and father are now refusing to pay.

After the Faith of the Sevens went up in flames (both in statue and metaphor), it seemed like Melisandre’s multi-named deity (Lord of Light, R”hllor, and the Red God) could be establishing a foothold and spreading faster than wildfire on the deck of a wooden ship. Or, maybe people are just afraid that she’ll 1) toss them into the flames or 2) require that newbies to the faith dye their hair that same g-d awful shade of melted crayon-under-cooked hamburger-craft felt red. Still, there’s something compelling about the Melisandre – like she’s the result of a weird gene splice between Aimee Semple McPherson and Mickie James – part evangelical grifter, part WWE Diva.

It’s a wet and dangerous kind of spirituality that flows over the Iron Islands and it’s with these tough men and women of the sea that Martin embraces one of literature’s most classic archetypes drowning/near drowning/and rebirth. Or, as the saying goes in literary circles, if he come back up, it’s baptism. Having read the entire series, I sometimes wonder if Theon might be better off sleeping with the fishes.

Ironically, the most religious men in Game of Thrones aren’t technically practicing a “religion.” The men of the Night’s Watch, by forgoing personal wealth, adopting a life of celibacy, and taking a life-long pledge to remain at their post, seem to be the most faithful of all.  Watching Jon Snow’s friends – breathless and freezing in the dark – repeating their sacred oath and ultimately stopping him from deserting was genuinely moving and yes, spiritual.


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