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Religious aesthetics in Game of Thrones

Shannon Wells-Lassagne


La série de romans de George R.R. Martin A Song of Fire and Ice se distingue par sa construction d’un monde, en particulier en ce qui concerne sa représentation d’une assez grande diversité de religions coexistantes (même si trois seules font l’objet d’une attention auctoriale importante). Dans l’adaptation des romans au petit écran, l’indication de ces différentes religions est presque entièrement visuelle: les rituels sont mis en avant et l’iconologie est accentuée. Dans ce sens, la série met l’accent sur l’importance de la cérémonie et de l’esthétique pour la conversion et le maintien des « fidèles » : la conversion n’est pas fondée sur l’idéologie, puisque celle-ci demeure rudimentaire au mieux dans le temps accordé à ce sujet, mais sur la théâtralité. À cet effet, Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011-) fait une déclaration, que ce soit volontaire ou non, sur la religion aussi bien que la politique dans la culture américaine contemporaine.

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  • 1 The saga is currently composed of five out of seven projected novels: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of (...)

1George R.R. Martin’s series of novels A Song of Fire and Ice1 is well-known for its world-building: the epic scope allows for various cultures, with their attendant political, ideological, and religious systems. Indeed, A Song of Ice and Fire is notable for its representation of a relatively peaceful co-existence of various religions. The saga is fraught with conflict, but this is inspired by power struggles, rather than religious preference; likewise, there is no apparent narratorial or authorial preference as to the “correct” religion to which the characters should be adhering (thus no doubt revealing Martin’s own atheism). When adapting the novels to the small screen, shorthand for these different religions is almost purely visual: rituals are heightened, and imagery is emphasized, whether it be the Silent Sisters of the Faith of the Seven caring for the dead, the glowing red necklace and monstrous shadow birth of Melisandre, priestess of the Lord of Light (Carice van Houten), or the faces of the Old Gods carved into the weirwood, weeping blood-red sap. In this sense, the series subtly emphasizes the importance of ceremony and aesthetics in converting and sustaining their “flocks”: conversion is not based on ideology, since it remains rudimentary at best in the time allotted to this subject, but on theatrics. In so doing, Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011-) makes a statement, be it voluntary or no, on both religion and politics in contemporary American culture.

  • 2 See for example a recent interview with Martin: “I don’t think any gods are likely to be showing up (...)
  • 3 James Poniewozik, “GRRM Interview Part 2: Fantasy and History,” Time, April 18, 2011. http://entert (...)
  • 4 Indeed, in the climax of Season Two, sorcerer Pyat Pree (Ian Harmore) uses this as his justificatio (...)

2Choosing to focus on religion in a fantasy series may seem obvious; the presence of the supernatural has become one of the defining characteristics of the genre, after all. However, several elements make this a less clear-cut choice than it might at first appear: as mentioned above, Martin is an avowed atheist, who has explicitly said that there will be no Deus ex machina to come and save the day, no divine intervention2. And indeed, Martin has also commented on his desire to use the supernatural elements of his saga sparingly, especially in his first volumes3 (and therefore the seasons that have thus far appeared on our TV screens): in the first book of the saga, A Game of Thrones, despite the clearly high fantasy world of Westeros in which the story is set, and the fact that the story begins and ends with spectacular use of magic (terrifying hostile creatures referred to as “White Walkers” and their possessed victims, “wights,” open the book and series, while the rebirth of Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons from the flames ends it), but the rest of the book sticks to a realism that the viewer or reader can identify with, a recognizable world that has links to our own past, making different eras and cultures coalesce. Though the supernatural takes on increasing importance as the saga continues, clearly, the author seeks to ground the story in the non-supernatural rather than using fantastic elements to allow the characters an easy way out of their difficulties. Though we are told that dragons are powerful harbingers of magic4, the spectacular birth of the dragons (Plate 1) is not a magic cure-all for Daenerys, but one more responsibility she must shoulder in her efforts to survive and retake the Iron Throne.

Plate 1: 1.10, “Fire and Blood”: Daenerys may be “Mother of Dragons” but lacks any trappings of power

Plate 1: 1.10, “Fire and Blood”: Daenerys may be “Mother of Dragons” but lacks any trappings of power

3Instead of heralding her success, they signal her frustrated ambition, as she is unable to feed them, and is helpless to defend them from theft. They are a powerful tool, of course, but Martin and series showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss seek to show that they are not a solution for all ills, that recourse to the supernatural is a hindrance as much as it is a help.

4Beyond this, of course, is the distinction to be made between the supernatural and religion in book and series. The dragons may increase the magic in the world around them, but they do not belong to any religion per se; where does the supernatural end, and religion begin? For my purposes, I will be discussing only recognized religions in the world of the television series, rather than supernatural events, though even then, the distinctions are not necessarily always clear. I will be focusing primarily on the three religions that dominate the series: the Old Gods, the Faith of the Seven, and the God of Light.

  • 5 A word on the organization of Martin’s novels: though all are written in the third person, the nove (...)

5In order to do so, I’d like to take a closer look at how each is introduced, first in the books, and then in the series, to see how these religions are presented in each media. In so doing, I hope to show how they reflect a fundamental change between Season One and Seasons Two and Three, as well as how the aesthetic presentation of each religion in fact could be seen as commentary on the place of religion in contemporary Western society. I will first focus on the Old Gods and the Faith of the Seven, which are presented consecutively in the pilot, before moving on to R’hllor, as it does not appear until Season Two. Martin loses little time in introducing the two primary religions of Westeros; Catelyn’s (Michelle Fairley) first point-of-view chapter5 opens with these words:

Catelyn had never liked this godswood. She had been born a Tully, at Riverrun far to the south, on the Red Fork of the Trident. The godswood there was a garden […].
The gods of Winterfell kept a different sort of wood. It was a dark, primal place, three acres of old forest untouched for ten thousand years as the gloomy castle rose around it. […] This was a place of deep silence and brooding shadows, and the gods who lived here had no names.
But she knew she would find her husband here tonight. Whenever he took a man’s life, afterward he would seek the quiet of the godswood.
Catelyn had been anointed with the seven oils and named in the rainbow of light that filled the sept of Riverrun.
She was of the Faith, like her father and grandfather and his father before him. Her gods had names, and their faces were as familiar as the faces of her parents. Worship was a septon with a censer, the smell of incense, a seven-sided crystal alive with light, voices raised in song. The Tullys kept a godswood, as all great houses did, but it was only a place to walk or read or lie in the sun. Worship was for the sept.
For her sake, Ned had built a small sept where she might sing to the seven faces of god, but the blood of the First Men still flowed through the veins of the Starks, and his own gods were the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest.
At the center of the grove an ancient
weirwood brooded over a small pool where the waters were black and cold. “The heart tree,” Ned called it. The weirwood’s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful. They were old, those eyes; older than Winterfell itself. They had seen Brandon the Builder set the first stone, if the tales were true. […]
In the south the last weirwoods had been cut down or burned out a thousand years ago, except on the Isle of Faces where the green men kept their silent watch. Up here it was different. Here every castle had its godswood, and every godswood had its heart tree, and every heart tree its f
ace. (GoT, p. 22-23)

6We can see here that the accent is immediately placed on two elements, contextual and structural: religious tolerance, and narrative scope. Catelyn is aware of the existence of the godswood, grew up with one, though it was different from the one in her new home, and does not share the reverence for the place that her husband does. Nonetheless, we are repeatedly told that these religions peacefully coexist, and physically reside side by side in her experience of Westeros: the houses devoted to the Faith have septs (the churches of this religion based on a god with seven aspects), but also godswoods, and the Starks, who observe the Old Gods, have had a sept built to allow her to continue practicing her faith. Initially, then, we are presented with a multicultural society that is surprisingly tolerant, though there are mentions of past strife in the reference to weirwoods being burnt down further South. The element of narrative scope also seems crucial: through this exposition on the co-existence of the two faiths, we have an idea of time and space involved in the saga. The Old Gods are related to the North, and here to Winterfell in particular, while the Seven hold sway in the South, with the example of Riverrun: religion here acts as an indicator of regional and cultural differences, expanding our understanding of the breadth of this world. Likewise, the mention of the history of the Stark family in relation to this tree and a vanished people (the children of the forest) suggest the depth of the Westerosi universe: religion, we’re being told, is related to memory, both personal and ancestral. The power of the ritual that Catelyn mentions in relation to the Seven is in the memories of childhood it evokes, the power of the weirwood tree in its link to the very beginnings of the Stark family. As such, this evocation of religion is clearly a means of world-building, reminding the reader of the breadth and depth of the world of Westeros, as the fact that events recounted in this book are rooted in events centuries beforehand. The physical elements of each religion are also mentioned, but remain peripheral – we don’t have an actual description of the heart tree until the end of the quote, though we’re given some idea of setting (the woods rather than the incarnation of gods in the tree), and the images of the gods are secondary to the ceremony surrounding them – again, the object of worship itself is secondary to the culture built up around it.

  • 6 Andrew Higson, Oxford, OUP, English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama Since 1980, 2003.

7The series makes similar use of religion in its worldbuilding, notably during its pilot episode, where the two religions are again juxtaposed, but here, of course, the visual is central. The adaptation of the passage (1.1, 18:13-22:10) is typical of the work done by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss – they have summed up the expository material, added specifically visual elements, and insisted on narrative elements in the text rather than having a camera linger fetishistically on the attention paid to the surroundings, a filmic equivalent to the description that Martin so enjoys. Without calling into question the aesthetic pleasures of the series, we can say that theirs is not the “museum aesthetic” that Andrew Higson denounces in costume dramas6. Our first experience of King’s Landing, the capital of the seven kingdoms, as we’re told, is an establishing shot (see Plate 2), and before the camera enters into what seems at first to be a sept, where we have an example of the censers, the seven-pointed star (though here it is not a crystal), and familiar trappings that are not in the book, but are evocative for a Western audience.

Plate 2: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Introducing the capital

Plate 2: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Introducing the capital

8They are reminiscent of Greek mythology (with the painted stones on Jon Arryn’s eyes, reminiscent of the coins on the eyes of the dead taken by Charon to cross the River Styx) or the Christian traditions (bells ringing to signal a death, a religious preparation of the body for death, as seen with the Silent Sisters circling the funeral bier) (see Plate 3).

Plate 3: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: The Faith of the Seven between the familiar and the exotic

Plate 3: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: The Faith of the Seven between the familiar and the exotic

9The enormous signs on their backs make the Silent Sisters (a religious order that deals with the dead and dying) a very eloquent presence, the incarnation of the Faith of the Seven. The elaborate nature of the ritual, the stone bell tower and the ornate glass windows all point to the institutional nature of this religion, something that is confirmed when we realize that this is not in fact a sept, but a throne room – the Iron Throne (to which the series title, Game of Thrones, refers) sits just beyond the bier. Likewise, the following scene in the godswood is also preceded by an establishing shot of Winterfell, complete with a raven winging its way towards the keep with the message of the death we’ve just witnessed (Plate 4).

Plate 4: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Moving north to Winterfell

Plate 4: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Moving north to Winterfell

10Like in the novel, these examples of religion are useful in establishing setting and geography – in an echo of the opening credits, place is associated with characters and, it would seem, religion. As in the preceding scene of King’s Landing, we move from the outside in – we begin with an establishing shot, then move outside the place of worship (first the King’s Landing bell tower, then the Winterfell castle keep), and then inside it (inside the throne room or the godswood, itself located within the castle walls – we see Catelyn walking through the gates into the heart of the castle, and beyond it, the greenery and the red leaves of the godswood), suggesting that religion is at the heart of this culture (see Plate 5), the building blocks on which they rest.

Plate 5: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Life in Winterfell is built around the Godswood

Plate 5: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Life in Winterfell is built around the Godswood

11In so doing, the series is perhaps visually echoing the idea of the age and traditions of the established religions, if not their link to memory, as was mentioned in the text. The juxtaposition of the two scenes, the communication between the two places by means of the message attached to the raven, and indeed the very presence of a mixed couple, one of whom feels at odds with the old gods but who has given birth to five Northern children (again associating place and religion), all suggest the peaceful coexistence of the two belief systems for the viewer. The visual juxtaposition, however, could not be more stark: the Gothic architecture of the sept and its ornate rituals and decorations seem to confirm Ned’s (Sean Bean) comments to his wife, suggesting that the Faith of the Seven has rules absent in the Old Faith; the cinematographer takes pains to contrast the golden light of the candles and the sandstone of the throne room with the dim light of the woods, the greenery and the white trunk and blood-red leaves of the weirwood; the green and white marble of the pillars are juxtaposed with the greenery and the white trunk of the tree (see Plate 6).

Plate 6: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Difference is religious and aesthetic

Plate 6: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Difference is religious and aesthetic
  • 7 Jon Arryn was the previous Hand of the King (his second-in-command), who died suddenly and mysterio (...)

12Both are spectacular, but their aesthetics are completely opposed. Of course, the story is elsewhere. In King’s Landing, we quickly move on to the scheming of the Lannister twins over what the deceased Arryn might or might not have told others of their secret7, with a camera that pans over to the shadows where Cersei (Lena Headey) is watching, demonstrating that we should always be watching for what is happening in the wings, rather than concentrating on the action that is center stage. In Winterfell, Catelyn’s comments on the Old Gods are a means of stalling for time before breaking the bad news – religious elements are prefatory, exposition rather than action (see Plate 7). In Season One, religion is background noise, a means of creating a realistic world, but not a motivator for the story.

Plate 7: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Religion is ultimately upstaged by plot

Plate 7: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Religion is ultimately upstaged by plot

13Whether it be the recent past or the present, conflict is caused by personal enmity rather than religious hatred. Later, and throughout the series, the peaceful coexistence of the two religions is emphasized in the oaths sworn “by the Old Gods and New”, while the men of the Night’s Watch, who must swear an oath before taking on their new duties, have the choice of religious sanctuary, the sept or the godswood. One of the characters, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), freely chooses to switch religions for the ceremony, as he thinks that his father’s gods have done nothing for him (1.7).

14Season Two begins very differently, and religion takes on a new meaning with the introduction of a third major religion, that of R’hllor, the Lord of Light. Indeed, as the series continues, religion takes on increasing importance to the story, acting on the different characters profoundly as the saga continues. Here again, the relationship between the source text and the series proves enlightening in discerning both possible intentions in adapting elements of the text, and in this case significant changes made to the story that imply changed perspectives on the matter of religion. The Lord of Light is a belief that comes from abroad; his two representatives are Melisandre, who hails from Asshai, and Thoros (Paul Kaye), who comes from Myr (and who will appear in Season 3): both are across the Narrow Sea. In the novels, this religion is also introduced very early in the first volume through the character of Daenerys; she is currently living abroad after her family was ousted from power in King’s Landing, and R’hllor is simply part of the background of her life in Pentos:

The square brick towers of Pentos were black silhouettes outlined against the setting sun. Dany could hear the singing of the red priests as they lit their night fires and the shouts of ragged children playing games beyond the walls of the estate. (GoT, p. 29)

15The red priests are the clerics devoted to Rh’llor, of course, and later on in this first novel, Thoros of Myr, the red priest who appears in season three of the series, will win the melee at a tournament in King’s Landing. As such, the religion of Rh’llor is presented very matter-of-factly, as another element pointing to the rich tapestry of world-building in the saga. The series does not introduce this new religion until Season 2, and does so very differently from the Old Gods and the Faith of the Seven.

16The introduction to this new faith in the series (2.1, 27:09-34:07) centers on a new character, Melisandre, who has convinced Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), the brother of the recently deceased Robert (Mark Addy) and heir to the Iron Throne, to burn the effigies of the Faith of the Seven and accept her Red God, R’hllor, by lighting a sword aflame and running the effigies through with it (see Plate 8).

Plate 8: 2.1, “The North Remembers”: Introducing the Red God and his priestess

Plate 8: 2.1, “The North Remembers”: Introducing the Red God and his priestess
  • 8 Though music is used in presenting both the Old Gods and the Faith of the Seven, in neither case is (...)

17When his chief advisor, or maester, exhorts the onlookers to stand up for the faith that has knighted them, they remain silent in fear of their king, and the meeting of king and advisors makes clear that Melisandre’s threat to power is both religious and secular – something that the maester attempts to counteract by poisoning her cup – only to die by the poison while the red priestess herself remains imperturbable. The sequence is first noticeable for its length, especially as compared to the other religions – it is twice as long as the presentation of the other two combined. Clearly, this new faith is no longer simply exposition, as in the books or the religions of Season One – it is part of the action. Indeed, we see that this faith is not immediately associated with symbols or setting like the old gods or the faith; instead it immediately associates action with religious teachings, calling on their god to act (and save them from the dark) while acting themselves by destroying the statues of the Seven. There is clearly a rivalry shown between the Lord of Light and the Faith of the Seven: allowing these statues to be burnt, we’re told, is “spitting on your ancestors” (again reinforcing the emphasis on tradition in the presentation of the different faiths), and the maester (the chief advisor for a given castle, not necessarily linked to any religion) is willing to die to do away with this attack on his faith, while the red priestess delivers up these “false gods” as a sacrifice, a recurrent theme with this new belief. The mixing of religion and politics, implicit in the presentation of the Faith of the Seven with the presence of the funeral ritual before the Iron Throne (and confirmed here when Maester Cressen (Oliver Ford Davis) tells them that they were all named knights in the Faith of the Seven) here becomes explicit, where the new king is defined as “a Warrior of Light” by the priestess, while her detractors insist he is surrounded by “fools and fanatics”: Stannis will later insist that he is not interested in religion as much as he is in the power that religion harnesses. When Melisandre later insists that he needs no ships, no compromises, only the favor of the Lord of Light, clearly politics and religion have merged – the new king is not just heir to the throne, but heir to a prophecy about the one who bears the sword Lightbringer, the Warrior of Light. Divine right here takes on a more literal meaning than has been used thus far, and here again, there is a significant contrast in the treatment of this new religion. Effort is made to accentuate the hypocrisy of the priestess – though she seeks salvation from her Lord of Light, her work takes place in the dark; though she seeks salvation, we see her bring only destruction. Most importantly, the sinister music that will come to be associated with Melisandre and her religion suggests that one is to regard this faith with suspicion8. At the same time, this introduction also makes much of Melisandre’s power, both miraculous and spectacular: darkness may have been chosen to make the burning more dramatic (see Plate 9), and her ability to resist the poison the maester uses in his attempts to stop her suggests the power of her god.

Plate 9: 2.1, “The North Remembers”: Beyond pageantry to spectacle

Plate 9: 2.1, “The North Remembers”: Beyond pageantry to spectacle

18Though this is the most aesthetically remarkable of the belief systems presented thus far, between the fire in the darkness and the miracle of immunity, it is also the only religion where the series makes explicit the judgment that we should have in relation to it. Though the Faith of the Seven is also seen more directly involved on the political scene (the Silent Sisters are present on the battlefield to care for the dead, and the Grand Septon has the power to make or unmake royal betrothals), only the Lord of Light is given these negative associations that are non-diegetic (and therefore less open to suspicion).

19This sequence becomes even more polarizing when compared to the source text. The passage is set in A Clash of Kings, the second volume of the saga, which opens with a prologue depicting the second scene, where Cressen attempts to poison Melisandre with “the strangler,” a poison made from the leaves of plants that grow near the Jade Sea, and is unsuccessful – she seems immune, while he dies by his own hand, as in the series. In the novel, however, he notes that Melisandre is from Asshai, a city on the borders of the Jade Sea, and that he knows little of the poison, while the people living there knew more of its ways. As such, Melisandre’s feat may be astonishing, but the reader can assume that it is not necessarily supernatural. It is only after this feat that she burns the statues of the Seven, over 100 pages later (CoK, p. 145), but does so in broad daylight, and the general sentiment is discomfort:

The smell in the air was ugly. Even for soldiers, it was hard not to feel uneasy at such an affront to the gods most had worshiped all their lives.
The red woman walked round the fire three times, praying once in the speech of Asshai, once in High Valyrian, and once in the Common Tongue. Davos understood only the last. “R’hllor, come to us in our darkness,” she called. “Lord of Light, we offer you these false gods, these seven who are one, and him the enemy. Take them and cast your light upon us, for the night is dark and full of terrors.” (CoK, p. 146)

20We should note that all of these religions are presented in relation to death – Ned is in his godswood to recover from having to execute a deserter from the Night’s Watch, and is to be told of John Arryn’s death, we witness the Faith’s rendition of a wake for Arryn, and now the Red God is associated with the destruction of other idols and of rival voices. However, the latter is the only one who seems to take active part in this destruction. Why change the order of events from the book, and why add this explicit critique of the religion through its sinister musical theme?

  • 9 Of course this is not an unproblematic assertion for a television show that has become renowned for (...)

21In a sense, this reversal of events is in keeping with the presentation of the two other religions – the religious aspect is presented first, before moving on the political intrigues that are the crux of the story in the series. Likewise, beginning with the burning of false idols reinforces the spectacular nature of the new faith, and confirms its active role – the burning of idols is both setting and action, in the same way that this religion will insist on mixing religion and politics. And this heady mixture – of aesthetics and action, of religion and politics – may explain why the series chooses to explicitly denounce R’hllor. It is the only belief system that seeks to convert new members, and the fascination with its power of spectacle (to birth shadow monsters (2.4), to resuscitate the dead (3.5)) must not blind the viewer to its limitations9. While its adepts will insist on knowing the one true god, the author of the source text insists that there is no truth:

  • 10 interview, op. cit.

Well, the readers are certainly free to wonder about the validity of these religions, the truth of these religions, and the teachings of these religions. I’m a little leery of the word “true” — whether any of these religions are more true than others. I mean, look at the analogue of our real world. We have many religions too. Are some of them more true than others10?

22It may be this skepticism that the series is trying to invoke in the viewer through the darkness and the musical leitmotifs. The comet that we see at the very beginning of the sequence (see Plate 10) is a structuring device in this episode (and in a good part of the corresponding volume of A Song of Ice and Fire), and its significance seems to be quite simply that no one can agree on its significance – each of the different religions (and each of the political factions) claim it portends good things for themselves, and downfall for their enemies, and the dissonance of opinion makes clear that there is no clear-cut answer in this universe, just as there are no clear heroes or villains, no “true” religion.

Plate 10: 2.1, “The North Remembers”: The comet, an ambiguous portent

Plate 10: 2.1, “The North Remembers”: The comet, an ambiguous portent

23The pull of aesthetics towards belief, the fascination of the spectacular, as such becomes a warning to contemporary viewers: truth is relative, and fanaticism is always destructive. As the production of a country where religious concerns allow people to decide on such private concerns as the right to contraception and the right to marry, the series creators seem to be making a statement about the desirability of a peaceful coexistence of religions, where religion and politics are perhaps side by side, but do not mix. The authors of both text and series seem to be more in keeping with a less than religious character, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), so I’ll leave you with his thoughts:

Tyrion. The Lord of Light wants his enemies burnt, the Drowned God wants them drowned – why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where’s the god of tits and wine?

Varys. In the Summer Isles, they worship a fertility goddess with six teeny teats.

Tyrion. We should sail there immediately. (2.08)

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1 The saga is currently composed of five out of seven projected novels: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons. It is primarily the first two tomes that have been adapted to the screen (though elements from the other novels occasionally occur in the series), and they will be referred to respectively as GoT and CoK in the body of the text. George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones, New York, Bantam Books, 1996 (2011); George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings, New York, Bantam Books, 1999 (2011).

2 See for example a recent interview with Martin: “I don’t think any gods are likely to be showing up in Westeros, any more than they already do. We’re not going to have one appearing, deus ex machina, to affect the outcomes of things, no matter how hard anyone prays.”, consulted July 2011.

3 James Poniewozik, “GRRM Interview Part 2: Fantasy and History,” Time, April 18, 2011., consulted April 2011.

4 Indeed, in the climax of Season Two, sorcerer Pyat Pree (Ian Harmore) uses this as his justification for stealing Daenerys’s dragons, and holding Dany herself captive (2.10).

5 A word on the organization of Martin’s novels: though all are written in the third person, the novels generally begin with a prologue that has third-person omniscient narration, which is then followed by chapters titled only with a character’s name. That character will be the focal character for the third-person limited narration.

6 Andrew Higson, Oxford, OUP, English Heritage, English Cinema: Costume Drama Since 1980, 2003.

7 Jon Arryn was the previous Hand of the King (his second-in-command), who died suddenly and mysteriously, and who had recently learned that the Queen’s children were not the King’s, but the result of an incestuous relationship between Cersei Lannister, the Queen, and her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).

8 Though music is used in presenting both the Old Gods and the Faith of the Seven, in neither case is the music sinister. It seems aimed instead at creating a sense of awe and respect: the funeral rites include some hushed chanting, while delicate string instrumentals accompany Catelyn on her journey to the Godswood.

9 Of course this is not an unproblematic assertion for a television show that has become renowned for its own cinematic aesthetics, where the spectacular, though not necessarily supernatural, is omnipresent. One could argue that in attempting to warn us of the dangers of this religion, the show is using the very techniques it critiques. Guy Debord’s La société du spectacle, which insisted that mass marketing has taken over the role of religion, would also seem to back up this assertion, suggesting that mass media is part of the problem, rather than a possible solution. Nonetheless, I would argue that since the show does not preach in favor of a religion, or a political faction, but against fanaticism, the dangers of spectacle are somewhat curtailed; hopefully, the series is provoking rather than curtailing critical thought, and as such is enacting Debord’s own call for “détournement”. Guy Debord, Paris, Seuil, La société du spectacle, 1992 (1967).

10 interview, op. cit.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Plate 1: 1.10, “Fire and Blood”: Daenerys may be “Mother of Dragons” but lacks any trappings of power
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Titre Plate 2: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Introducing the capital
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Titre Plate 3: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: The Faith of the Seven between the familiar and the exotic
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Titre Plate 4: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Moving north to Winterfell
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Titre Plate 5: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Life in Winterfell is built around the Godswood
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Titre Plate 6: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Difference is religious and aesthetic
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Titre Plate 7: 1.1, “Winter is Coming”: Religion is ultimately upstaged by plot
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Titre Plate 8: 2.1, “The North Remembers”: Introducing the Red God and his priestess
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Titre Plate 9: 2.1, “The North Remembers”: Beyond pageantry to spectacle
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Titre Plate 10: 2.1, “The North Remembers”: The comet, an ambiguous portent
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Shannon Wells-Lassagne, « Religious aesthetics in Game of Thrones »TV/Series [En ligne], 5 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2014, consulté le 28 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Shannon Wells-Lassagne

Shannon Wells-Lassagne is an associate professor of film and literature at the Université de Bretagne Sud (Lorient). She is the co-author of Étudier l’adaptation filmique (with Laurent Mellet, Presses Universitaires de Rennes) and the co-editor of Screening Text: Critical Perspectives on Film Adaptation (McFarland), De la page blanche aux salles obscures: l’adaptation filmique dans le monde anglophone (Presses Universitaires de Rennes), and the special issue "Expanding Adaptations" of the international journal Interfaces, with Ariane Hudelet. She has written on sitcoms (Community, The Office), and fantasy in television (Game of Thrones, True Blood, Once Upon a Time, Grimm), as well as on film and television adaptations.

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