A Guide To The Many Religions On Game Of Thrones

Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO
Game of Thrones exists in a far deeper, wider, more complicated universe than even a network as devoted as HBO can explore within eight seasons. That’s why so much of watching Game of Thrones feels like you’re learning on the fly. For example, you’d need an entire article to understand why Oberyn Martell demand an apology from the Mountain, and got his head bashed in as a result.
When it comes to understanding the society of Westeros and beyond, religion is as important as bristly family trees. Game of Thrones has religions devoted to stallions in the sky, a secret cult devoted to death, and prophecies up the wazoo. At the beginning of the show, religion was vaguely alluded to — mentions of the Old Gods here and there; Septa Mordane chiding a sassy Sansa. But with red priestesses bringing Jon Snow to life and the Sept taking control over King’s Landing, we can’t put off our theology lessons any longer.
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If you’re going to understand the political maneuverings this season, you might as well get a grip on its underlying value system. It’s time to figure out what Melisandre is the priestess of, anyway.
So, hold tight. Here’s the Game of Thrones Theology 101 course you seriously should’ve gotten years ago.
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The Old Gods

Headquarters: The North, both in Winterfell and above the wall.
Notable worshippers: The Children of the Forest, the Wildlings, the Starks
Symbol: Weirwood trees, known for their red leaves and white barks

There’s no better place to start than with an ancient religion. Even before the First Men moseyed into Westeros, the Old Gods were worshipped by Children of the Forest — creatures like Leaf, Bran’s protector in Season 6.

By way of worship, the Children carved faces into Weirwood trees. These trees — called heart trees — serve as a connection to the land; some believe that the phrase, “The North remembers” has a literal meaning. The trees do remember.

Weirwood trees in southern Westeros were cut down by invaders who brought their own religion, and effectively wiped out traces of the Old Gods everywhere but the North. When a child of the forest says they have no power in the South, it's because there are no trees.

Worshippers of the Old Gods seek out quiet place in nature to be one with the unnamed, innumerable, but very much present deities.
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The Old Gods are alive and well, thank you

Though the majority of Westeros practices the Faith of the Seven (the "new gods"), belief in the Old Gods has been passed down thanks to the North's active oral tradition.

The Old Gods’ powers are especially palpable in Bran’s storyline. Bran’s warging ability — or the ability to control other mammals with his mind, as well as see into the past — was bestowed upon him by the Old Gods.
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The Faith of the Seven
Headquarters: Throughout the majority of Westeros, save Winterfell
Notable worshippers: Almost everyone you know in Westeros aside from the Starks
Symbol: A seven-pointed star

You've probably heard the phrase, “The Old Gods and the New." Well, the Faith of the Seven are the "New Gods." Here’s the deal. Back in pre-history, the First Men made peace with the Children of the Forest after they vanquished the White Walkers together (seriously, read about it). After making peace, the First Men and the Children of the Forest worshipped the Old Gods together.

When the Andals, another race of man, invaded Westeros and conquered, they instituted their own religion: The Faith of the Seven.
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Seven Gods is a lot of Gods to keep track of

Followers of the Seven worship seven personas, or faces, of a singular god. When conceiving the Faith of the Seven, George R.R. Martin was inspired by the medieval Catholic Church, and turned the Holy Trinity into a Holy “Seven.”

Depicted as a bearded man carried scales, the Father represents justice.
The smiling figure of the Mother embodies love and mercy, and is prayed to for fertility and compassion.
The sword-carrying Warrior is prayed to for courage and victory in battle.
Since, of course this exists, the Maiden represents innocence and chastity, and protects “virtue.”
When work needs to be completed, worshippers pray to the Smith, who carries a hammer.
Wisdom-seekers seek out the Crone carries a lantern and provides guidance.
Not many people pray to the Stranger, who represents death and the unknown.

Each persona has his or her own day of worship.
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Instituting social order

Before the High Sparrow upended the entire social structure in Season 6, the highest member in the Faith was the High Septon. The High Septon did the crown's bidding, giving the Faith a corrupt reputation.

The High Sparrow reinstituted the way things used to be, before the Targaryen kings unified Westeros and curtailed the Septs' power. Back in the day, a branch of the Faith called the Faith Militant held trials and dispensed justice.

The High Sparrow was the head of radical fundamentalist branch of the Faith. When Cersei deposed the High Septon and instituted the Sparrow as the religion's mot powerful member, she gave the Faith the power it had held before the Targaryen kings. The High Sparrow reinstituted the Faith Militant, and began to pass justice on those who broke the the holy laws, like drinking alcohol, promiscuity, and homosexuality.

Of course, not all septs and septas are zealots like the High Sparrow. Compare the Sparrow's righteous interpretation of the Faith to the gentler, more compassionate teachings of Brother Ray (Ian McShane), who takes in the Hound.
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The Great Stallion
Headquarters: the city of Vaes Dothrak and all other Dothraki territory
Notable worshippers: Khal Drogo, Daenerys' army of bloodriders
Symbol: A stallion (duh) made up of stars in the night sky

For the Dothraki, religion and custom are fully intertwined. Dothrakis' belief in omens completely governs their clan behavior. For example, a khalasar might be completely suited up and ready to go to war, but will wait for “favorable omens” before hitting the Dothraki sea. Though there are no priests or priestesses, the dosh khaleen, the widows of khals who live in a house in Vaes Dothrak, conduct rituals and interpret omens.

The celestial heavens play into the Dothraki religion — think back to Khal Drogo’s term of endearment for Daenerys, “my sun and stars.” The Dothraki think the stars are the khalasar of the Great Stallion. When a warrior dies, he joins the great khalasar in the sky.

Much like practices of R’hllor wait for the Prince that was Promised (more on that later), the Dothraki are waiting for their leader, “The Stallion Who Mounts the World,” to unite the roaming Dothraki into one unified people, and carry out world domination. Ride, Dany, ride, am I right?

Sidenote: other people of the plains, like the Lhazaereen, have their own gods. The people of Lhazar worship the Great Shepherd.
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The Many-Faced God

Headquarters: The House of Black and White in Braavos
Notable worshippers: Jaquen H'ghar, a group of assassins called the Faceless men
Symbol: All of the other religions' symbols, like the Stranger and the Drowned God

We have the Many-Faced God to thank for a line on par with Inigo Montoya’s Princess Bride one-liner in terms of brevity and depth. As Syrio Forel tells Arya, “There is only one God, and his name is death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: not today.”

Death is represented in many different forms in the rest of Westerosi religions (like the Stranger in the Faith of the Seven). The Faceless Men, worshippers of the Many-Faced God who have forsaken their individual identities, believe each of these gods to be but one "face" through which death has communicated with humanity. Simply put: The Many-Faced God is death, served cold.

But wipe up your tears. This religion isn’t nearly as morose as it sounds — at least to the Faceless Men, who perceive death as a gift from the Many-Faced God. Death can bring liberation from suffering, like when sick people drink from the House of Black and White’s poisoned well. Or, the assassination of an unsavory character can liberate other people from suffering even more.

By accepting assassination contracts, the Faceless Men think they’re carrying out death’s will, since, after all, valar morghhulis — all men must die.
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The Drowned God

Headquarters: The Iron Islands
Notable worshippers: Yara Greyjoy, Euron Greyjoy
Symbol: Statues of the Drowned God made of driftwood

When it comes to their practice of piracy and pillaging, the Ironborn think God is on their side. The Ironborn believe they were created by the Drowned God for the sole purpose of having wars on the sea. Every enemy death is a sacrifice for the Drowned God. So, it’s theologically significant when Daenerys forces Yara Greyjoy to agree to their deal on the terms that she cease the Ironborns’ violent acts of theft.

In addition to justifying a society built on war and pillaging, the Drowned God makes the Ironborn impervious to the fear of drowning. Every drowned Ironborn gets the privilege of joining the Drowned God in an underwater Valhalla.

Finally, worship of the Drowned God enforces a sexist society structure. Whereas the Faith and the Lord of Light have priestesses, the Drowned Gods’ clergy is all men. While men raid, plunder, and command ships, women are expected to stay home.

That’s what makes Yara Greyjoy, commander extraordinaire, such an aberration.
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Yes, drowning is involved

Supposedly, the Drowned God himself drowned in the sea but came back “harder and stronger” for his people’s sake. That’s where the Ironborns’ famous phrase comes from. When an Ironborn says, “What is dead may never die,” he expects the response, “But rises again, harder and stronger.”

When anointing kings, the Ironborn essentially recreate the myth of the Drowned God’s resurrection. They actually drown the king-to-be, then bring him back to shore and resuscitate him.
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R'hllor, or The Lord of Light
Headquarters: All of Essos, including the cities Volantis, Braavos, Pentos, and Lys
Notable worshippers: Melisandre, everyone Melisandre touches
Symbol: A fiery heart

If we’re going to rank religions based on supernatural capabilities, then R’hllor far exceeds even Bran and the Old Gods’ warging abilities. Melisandre is able to bring people back from the dead and give birth to demon smoke baby assassins.

But what does she believe in? For the believers of R’hllor, the world is split into two forces: Good and evil, dark and light, fire and ice. To believers, the white walkers and the Night King are evil personified — that’s why priests and priestesses like Melisandre are so concerned with what’s happening above the wall.

Channeling the powers of the Lord of Light, the Red priests and priestesses are able to perform insane blood magic tricks.
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A Hunt for “the Prince that was Promised”

Followers of the Lord of Light are waiting on the Azor Ahai, a warrior who, according to legend, was able to beat back darkness (aka white walkers) with a flaming sword called Lightbringer. Azor Ahai is also referred to as the Prince that was Promised."

At first, Melisandre thought Stannis was the Prince that was Promised, and was devoted to placing him in a position of power. Now, she thinks Jon Snow is the chosen one.

Not all of the red priestesses are as convinced as Melisandre. After seeing Daenerys and her dragons at work, Kinvara, Red Priestess in Volantis, is convinced the Mother of Dragons is actually Azor Ahai.
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