Throughout the book series A Song of Ice and Fire and the television adaptation Game of Thrones, the weight of history and the influence of religion are clasped hand-in-hand and standing toe-to-toe in the struggle for power. More often than not, those hands are wrapped around the throat of one of our favorite characters.
Religions in both Westeros & Essos vary from place to place. In each geographical location, there is a different predominate structure of faith. The Old Gods of the Forest in the North, The Faith of the Seven in the South, The Drowned God in the Iron Islands, The Many-Faced God in Braavos, The Lord of Light in Essos and wherever Melissandre goes, The Great Stallion in Vaes Dothrak, and many, many, many others yet to be introduced.
Religion has played a very important role in Westerosi politics for the past two seasons and has had major repercussions in each of the storylines, but why religion plays such an important part in Game of Thrones, has nothing do with ‘faith’ and has everything to do with ‘belief.’ Regardless of what belief system you want to use as the example, religion is a vehicle for the power of influence.
It is best exemplified in a riddle Lord Varys poised to Tyrion earlier in the series.
“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me – who lives and who dies?”
This is a question of power and who people will ultimately follow. Undoubtedly, they will follow the most powerful leader, however, money, birthright, and faith do not necessarily dictate power. Power lies wherever men believe it lies.
The title of this episode, ‘The Book of the Stranger’, tugs on each potential outcome in the riddle. In the show’s mythology, The Stranger is one of the seven gods that make up the Faith along with The Father, The Mother, The Maiden, The Crone, The Warrior and The Smith. Each representation has their own specific area of expertise. Praying to one of these specific points in the star would be akin to praying to St. Anthony for lost items, or St. Jude for lost causes.
The Stranger is the most mysterious side of the faith and represents death and the unknown and unlike the other gods is rarely prayed to. He/She/It is a harbinger of doom; an archangel with a flaming sword. Like the Grim Reaper, The Stranger is not the guy you want knocking at your door. Invoking The Stranger’s name in the title means there are bad things on the horizon and this episode spent 60 minutes setting them all up.
THIS POST IS DARK AND FULL OF SPOILERS
In a synopsis for the ‘Book of the Stranger,’ HBO said: “Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) strikes a deal. Jorah (Iain Glen) and Daario (Michiel Huisman) undertake a difficult task. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei (Lena Headey) try to improve their situation.”
THE WALL: Picking up where we left off last week, Jon Snow and Dolorous Edd are debating the specifics of the oath Jon swore when all of a sudden Sansa Stark arrives at The Wall. This is the first time in the history of the show that something decent has happened to Sansa Stark, and I was nearly positive The Wall was going to fall down and crush everyone around her just to keep the ‘Sansa can’t have nice things’ theme alive.
My entire theory on Game of Thrones is best encapsulated by Sansa Starks’ story arc. In A Song of Ice and Fire, every character ultimately gets what they want, but they are unaware of for what they they are truly asking. Sansa wanted to marry Joffery and the fates said, “ok.” It was hell on earth. Sansa wanted to go home to Winterfell and the fates said, “ok.” It was somehow even worse. Now, Sansa wants to take her home back. While she may get what she wants, the path to doing so will most likely be the most difficult she is yet to travel.
MEEREEN: The first three episodes of season six have seen Tyrion reduced to a meme-machine and he put his ‘I Drink and I Know Things‘ prowess on full display while meeting with the Wise Masters and brokering a deal that seemingly no one wants and most likely no one will keep. Tyrion best represents the King in the previously mentioned riddle of power. He has the title and ability to make decisions, but does not hold the faith of the people he commands. No one believes that what he is doing is right. What good is a king without subjects to follow him?
KING’S LANDING: You wouldn’t think it to look at her surroundings, but Margaery Tyrell is currently winning the Game of Thrones. As she did so deftly with both King Joffery and King Tommen, she is playing the role that the person with all the power– in this case The High Sparrow– wants her to play. He preaches and she listens. She shows that she’s being penitent, so as a show of good faith, she gets to see her brother. Once she is back with Loras we see what she is up to… patiently waiting to pounce.
She’s moving a quarter-inch at time and is the only character in the series who has remained focused on her goal and is constantly moving towards it. She is strong where everyone else around her has cracked– comparatively speaking, Cersei broke immediately.
Margaery is the exact opposite of Sansa Stark and reinforces up my over-arching theory on Game of Thrones. She got what she wants and is ready to do what it takes to keep it. In another time and place, the Three Heads of the Dragon would be Margaery Tyrell, Sansa Stark, and Daenerys Targaryen. There are still two books yet to come… who knows– maybe I’m right.
Elsewhere in King’s Landing, The Lannisters and the Tyrells have begun to put a plan into action to rescue Margaery and take the Faith Militant out in one fell swoop. This collective best represents the Rich Man in the riddle of power. They have the means to pay for a coup, but only the means to pay for that coup once. What the Tyrells and Lannisters don’t realize is that once the money runs out, the people turn to faith. They’re sewing the seeds to their eventual desctruction even if their plan does work (and there is no way it does, by the way.)
Throughout the history of Westeros, rich families repeatedly go to war and poor people repeatedly die. In the books, in the wake of the War of the Five Kings, the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant gain all of their power in the most war-torn kingdoms precisely because the people have nothing left but their faith. Money can buy power, but it cannot buy sustained fealty, and the money is about to run out.
VAES DOTHRAK: Symmetry in imagery has been the name of the game thus far this season. A few weeks ago when we first experienced Bran’s ability to see the past, we saw him watching his father, Ned, as child training in the armory at Winterfell.
When we first met Bran in season one, it was through the point of view of his father watching him practicing in the armory at Winterfell. This visual storytelling device got cranked up to 1,000 as Daenerys returns to Vaes Dothrak to recapture the title of The Breaker of Chains, The Unburt, and Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea.
Over the last few seasons, Dany’s story has become a little complacent. Since her grand unveiling as the Mother of Dragons at the end of the first season, we’ve only seen glimpses of what she can do. So much of each character’s journey in Game of Thrones is saddled with the weight history. The Starks make terrible decisions because the Starks are honorable and were raised to do the right thing regardless of how dirty their enemies are playing. The Lannisters have historically been wealthy, so they act like trust fund kids even when they are dealing with people whom have never had money. Even secondary characters like Melissandre and all of the Faith Militant are following bits and pieces of prophecies because they are assuming that is what they are supposed to do.
This is where Dany is different. Her family, the Targaryens, are the ones who conquered and united Westeros in the first place, so historically speaking she is the only one who should be out there conquering. The biggest difference between her and the other major players is that she has no one around her to repeatedly remind her of the weight of history attached to her name.
Prophecies get thrown around at different people in Game of Thrones in every episode. Isn’t it interesting that the only major player not being constantly reminded how special they are is out here crushing prophetic life events at every single turn?
She is the best representation of the priest in the riddle of power because she is the one whose actions inspire faith. I guess that’s what happens when you walk into every situation as the person with the perceived least amount of power and leave with people chanting your name. She’s like a much slighter Brock Lesnar. “Eat. Sleep. Conquer. Repeat.”
Going outside of both the show and the text, the best description of season six of Game of Thrones can be found in another riddle, this time asked by Maesters Jay Z, Kanye West, and Frank Ocean.
“Human beings in a mob
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer
Who don’t believe in anything?”
THE VALE: I don’t know what Littlefinger’s game plan is, I don’t know who he is loyal to, and I don’t know if him pushing the Vale into the fight is a good thing or bad thing, but I do know this: Sweet Robin is going out that moon door before credits roll on this season.
PYKE: I am pretty sure Theon’s journey has ended. I know he’s back with his family and he may finally be able to take a bath and sleep in a bed, but I don’t think he survives to see his sister or uncle lead the Iron Islands inevitably back into war.
WINTERFELL: While providing another horrifying example of why Ramsay Bolton is the true big bad of the show (yet to see a White Walker this season and The Night’s King looks like he’s all talk at this point), Ramsay delivered another huge shout out to book readers by sending Jon ‘The Pink Letter.’ In the books, this is his ploy to solidify his hold on The North. In the show, it looks like this is the opening shot in the climactic battle of the season. He’s the worst, but his story is easily the best.