Is Game of Thrones anti-religion

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Danger! This post contains spoiler, i.a. for the 6th season of "Game of Thrones"!

When I watched the first few minutes of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" a few years ago, I was immediately hooked. I am not alone with my enthusiasm. The TV implementation of George R. R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire (which I unfortunately haven't read until today) is currently the most successful TV series in the world, I suspect it's not just because there is a lot of money available for production (as wonderful as it is that fantasy is getting the way out of the literary dirty corner has made it into the mainstream of popular culture). It may also be because this fiction plays pretty well with “our” (European-North American influenced) experience of world political reality and the neuralgic points in it. "Game of Thrones" is about the threat to the "status quo" - and "religion" plays a major role in this threat.

This insight came to me in the course of the 5th season when I caught myself thinking: "Now it's getting really bad!" The reaction is remarkable, as I was used to the presentation of various variants of human abysses from the four previous seasons. But now the subject of "religion" suddenly came to mind. And in its unpleasant form: Fundamentalism, fanaticism and religiously based varieties of human abysses. In addition, it became clear that the “mythical” in this fictional world is not only quite real, but is also becoming more and more intrusive. This created resistance in me - which surprised me, after all, magic and real existing myth are actually a mandatory part of fantasy! However, I felt more and more caught up in it and felt these highly religious and fantastic aspects of the fictional world as a counter-intuitive break with the previous direction of history. As a religious scholar, I naturally find such emotional reactions to (fictional) religion exciting and they are a good starting point for reflection.

Let's take a look at the “status quo” at the beginning of the series: The religions are rather harmless atmospheric background noise, nice for the fantastic aesthetics and for the feeling of completeness (because which “premodern” culture can do without religion?). In general, you can quickly find your way around the world designed by George R. R. Martin, as it is based on a traditional "western" worldview:

In the narrative center of the continent "Westeros" (association with "West" probably not by chance) with a late medieval high culture and the "new" religion "Faith in the Seven". The structure, theology and aesthetics of this religion are presented discreetly but in detail - inspired by the fundus of Christian and ancient Mediterranean traditions. There are also remains of the indigenous religion in the north, in which the “old gods of the forest” are worshiped at a few tree sanctuaries that have not yet been destroyed. Overall, a pretty obvious reference to the religious history of Europe.

The main characters deal with religion in a more functionally distant way, which is similar to the "enlightened religiosity" of the average North American or Western European television viewer. The “female-maternal” protagonists Lady and Sansa Stark are “most religious” (hello, gender!) And pray when there is a crisis. Biographical thresholds such as birth, marriage and death are shaped with the help of religious rituals. But otherwise religion does not fundamentally shape the thinking, feeling and acting of the protagonists. One notices: We are at the central starting point of the narrative gaze and there we as viewers should be able to find our way around and identify quickly.

The view of the periphery of history, on the other hand, is more like a colonialist travelogue or a fantastic cabinet of curiosities - this is definitely a “good tradition” in the fantasy genre! It is flirted with the fascinating and repulsive allure of the exotic. Cultures and religions are described rather boldly and like a mallet, z. B .: The Dothraki, a nomadic people from the southeast, not only worship horses and ritually eat their hearts, but also live out the (male) sex drive uninhibited (allusion understood?); a mysterious assassin community has its basis in the cult of the "many-faced God", who apparently endows his followers with the ability to change their shape; in the remains of an old high culture, religion is grouped around a pyramid, a harpy deity and bloody arena fights and the followers are "still" convinced slave owners ...

It is striking that religions seem to play a much more important role in these “exotic” cultures than in the “central” culture in Westeros. And: no important main character in the TV series belongs to these peripheral cultures / religions. These religions are far away. This also supports the assumption that our "western-enlightened-secularized" view is paradigmatic for authors and series makers: From this perspective, religion that shapes culture and very religious people are something strange and create a mixture of fascination and distance - but definitely the feeling cultural superiority.

[Danger! Include the following paragraphs spoiler, i.a. for the 6th season of "Game of Thrones"!]

From season 5 onwards the massive upheaval: Appearance of the threat to the status quo from foreign religions and religious fanatics. From now on, religions hurt and are dangerous. And these dangerous religions usually come from outside.

There is the red priestess, representative of the belief in the “Lord of Light” from Essos (continent in the east), whose followers burn everything heretical, even children. This religion is powerful - also because the priests have impressive magical abilities. The latest coup is the resurrection of the dead Jon Snow, who now has the potential to be staged as the end-time warrior-messiah of the god of light.

It turns out that the “white walkers” are the relics of the prehistoric (religious) war between the “children of the forest”, the indigenous people of Westeros ‘, and the“ first humans ”. Unfortunately, these revenants have gotten out of hand and are now pushing inexorably further south, where they pose a deadly threat to the "center".

Daenerys Targaryen, master of religious-social-revolutionary self-staging, is ready to conquer Westeros; together with an army of dragons (which she hatched), former slaves (whom she revere as godlike liberators and whose owners, followers of the old religion, had her super warriors freed from her army executed) and, more recently, all Dothraki tribes (their leaders she burned).

And religion is striking back even in the center of Westeros. In the simple stratum of the population, who suffered from the war of succession, the religious movement of the "sparrows" established itself, which "passively-aggressively" used their interpretation of the belief in seven to overthrow the social hierarchy. Your militant branch is just cleaning up the “sinful” high nobility, while the latter watches helplessly as even the Queen and Queen Mother are imprisoned and forced into humiliating public penance rituals. And as a spectator I find myself that I don't think it's bad that Cersei Lannister is given a contra in this way - but that I also get scared when I see how “easily” frustrated, underprivileged masses react to them Change sides of the fanatics and a religiously based, bloody cultural revolution breaks its ground. There are certainly associations with ISIS, PEGIDA and Co.

Religion strikes back - and tremendously. While “Game of Thrones” in the first seasons was a translation of the English Wars of the Roses into a fictional world with a focus on political intrigue, religions are now increasingly “surrounding” the narrative center. Religions are a factor to be taken seriously for both fictitious and real world events - they are “more real” and “more powerful” than was previously perceptible in a secularized worldview. The popularity of the series certainly has to do with the fact that it is about how a largely secularized worldview reaches its limits in the face of intrusive religious power. The (un) conscious fears, fears and hopes of the audience in relation to the (religious) world situation are skilfully played with. I feel for the protagonists of the series who need to find a way to deal with these religions that threaten their status quo. Repression, struggle, tolerance, fraternization ... you will see which paths are chosen in “Game of Thrones” and in our reality.

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Sources for the picture at the top: “Game of Thrones. Symbol of the seven noble houses featured in Game of Thrones ”, by twipzdeeauxilia, CC BY-ND, 06.06.2016.

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